Cuba said Tuesday that it would return a Florida couple who sailed into Havana with their two sons, whom they are accused of taking from the boys’ maternal grandparents.
Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada said in a written statement that U.S. authorities had been informed that Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife, Sharyn, and their two young sons would be returned.
AP reported Tuesday evening that the family had been escorted from the Hemingway Marina dock, where they had been living aboard their 25-foot sailboat named Salty.
Before they were snatched, the boys had been staying since last year with Sharyn Hakken’s parents, who were granted permanent custody a week ago.
he Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office alleges that Joshua Hakken entered his mother-in-law’s house north of Tampa on Wednesday, tied her up and fled with his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase.
The sheriff’s office has issued an arrest warrant for Hakken on charges of kidnapping and several other counts.
Hakken lost custody of his sons last year after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana, and he later tried to take them from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities have said.
Authorities have previously characterized the Hakkens as “anti-government.”
The sheriff’s office says it has received information that the Hakken family had arrived by boat in Cuba. Investigators say they’re working with the FBI and the U.S. State Department to verify reports.
CNN’s Patrick Oppmann, reporting from Havana, said he saw the Hakken family at a marina, but they refused to talk to him. He reported that the father, mother and one child was spotted. He quotes Hakken as saying only that the children are “OK.”
CNN said the family appeared to be setting up to live on the boat as their home.
Cuba does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
Nor is Cuba a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. That means it will be up to Cuban authorities on whether to return to them.
The U.S. Interests Section in Cuba released its own statement, saying it is aware of this case and it is in contact with local authorities.
“U.S. officials are providing all appropriate assistance to the family,” the statement said. “Because of privacy reasons, we are unable to provide any additional information. One of the department’s highest priorities is the welfare of U.S. citizens overseas. This is particularly true for children, who are our most vulnerable citizens. The department works with parents and foreign governments to resolve these difficult cases.”
Detectives suspect Hakken, an experienced sailor, had drawn up an elaborate getaway plan, buying a boat a few weeks ago that can accommodate four people comfortably, WTSP-TV reported.
A truck that Hakken, wife Sharyn and the boys had been traveling in was found late Thursday, abandoned in a parking garage in Madeira Beach. Authorities say they had been searching the entire Gulf Coast from Pensacola to the Florida Keys, and the Intracoastal Waterway. An Amber Alert for the boys was issued in Florida, Louisiana and other states.
TSP-TV quoted a South Tampa attorney, Ralph Fernandez, as saying that the U.S. can do “absolutely nothing” to get the Hakkens back in their custody if the Cuban government does not want to cooperate.
Fernandez notes that American fugitive, Joanne Chesimard, a Black Panther activist convicted of killing a state trooper in New Jersey in 1973, fled to Cuba after escaping prison and “still flaunts her presence in Havana.”
President Raul Castro, Fidel Castro’s brother, however, has sent back a few American fugitives, WTSP reports. Among them was Leonard Auerbach who was deported to face federal charges in California of sexually abusing a Costa Rican girl and possessing child pornography.