A Florida family court judge on Tuesday granted custody to the father of a baby girl at the center of a dispute with US relatives of the infant's deceased mother.
In a case that local media compared to the protracted 2000 custody battle for Elian Gonzalez, Family Court Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens ruled that the child, Valeria, is the biological daughter of Yoelvis Gattorno, who lives in Cuba, and that he can take the baby to Cuba once she is cleared medically.
Valeria was born prematurely last month and her mother, Yarisleidy Cuba Rodriguez, 34, died during childbirth at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, CNN affiliate WPLG reported.
The judge also ruled that Valeria's 15-year-old sister, who lives in Miami-Dade County and is not Gattorno's biological daughter, will be allowed to visit the baby.
Nirobis Pacheco, a cousin with whom the baby's mother had been staying until her death, had temporary custody of the child until Tuesday's decision.
The judge decided that Gattorno can eventually take the baby to his native Santa Clara in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, where he lives. The father told the court he wants the girl identified as Valeria Gattorno Cuba.
Pacheco told WPLG last month that Rodriguez, who was born in Cuba, did not want her daughters to grow up there.
"Her dream was always to be here with her daughters and move forward," Pacheco told the station.
Rodriguez, a Cuban citizen, had obtained a US visa through a special lottery and planned to petition Gattorno to come to the United States to with be with his family, Pacheco told the station. She died before the process was completed.
"She was a special person," Pacheco told the station. "We were always together from a young age."
Pacheco told the station that she took temporary custody so the baby wouldn't have to go to a foster home.
"The law says that Valeria should be with her father," Pacheco said last month. "She has to be with her father. That's the logical thing. ... I would never be closed off to that."
The case differs from that of Elian Gonzalez, who was born in Cuba and was 6 years old when he was found in the water on Thanksgiving Day 1999 off the Florida coast. Valeria was born in the United States, where her mother was already living.
Elian's mother, Elizabeth, and nine other people who were taking part in a clandestine journey, drowned after their rickety boat capsized in high seas while they tried to make their way from Cuba to the United States.
Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, fought to bring the boy back to Cuba, with the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro leading massive protests on the island demanding Elian's return from relatives of his mother in Miami.
The case became a flashpoint in the already boiling feud between supporters and opponents of Castro's revolution.
As the two sides fought out the high-profile case in court, US immigration officials decided to put Elian in the custody of his father, who had come to the United States to press for his son's return.
Elian's relatives in Miami refused to hand him over, and then, in a nighttime raid, armed federal agents stormed the home of his uncle and seized the boy.
Elian was reunited with his father and after more court proceedings -- ending with the Supreme Court rejecting the Miami relatives' efforts to get him back -- father and son flew home to Cuba, where Elian still lives.