HAVANA - Cuba said Tuesday that it will turn over to the United States a Florida couple who allegedly kidnapped their own children from the mother's parents and fled by boat to Havana, ending days of drama that evoked memories of the Elian Gonzalez custody battle of more than a decade ago.
Foreign Ministry official Johana Tablada said in a written statement Tuesday that Cuba had informed U.S. authorities of the country's decision to turn over Joshua Michael Hakken, his wife, Sharyn, and their two young boys.
She did not say when the handover would occur, but reporters saw Sharyn Hakken leaving the dock of Havana's Hemingway Marina in the back seat of a Cuban government vehicle, and workers later said that all four Hakkens had been taken away.
Tablada said Cuba tipped the State Department off to the Hakkens' presence on Sunday and that from that moment "diplomatic contact has been exchanged and a professional and constant communication has been maintained."
U.S. authorities say Hakken kidnapped his sons, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Chase, from his mother-in-law's house north of Tampa. The boys' maternal grandparents were granted permanent custody last week.
The U.S. and Cuba share no extradition agreement, and the island nation is also not a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty for governmental cooperation on such cases.
Hakken lost custody last year after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana. He later tried to take the children from a foster home at gunpoint, authorities said. A warrant has been issued for his arrest on two counts of kidnapping; interference with child custody; child neglect; false imprisonment; and other charges.
The family's flight to Cuba harkened back to the 1999 child custody case involving Elian Gonzalez, though unlike Gonzalez, the Hakkens had no apparent ties to the island.
In 1999, 5-year-old Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube off Florida after his mother and others drowned while fleeing Cuba toward American soil. The boy was taken to Miami to live with relatives, but his father in Cuba demanded the boy be sent back.
U.S. courts ultimately ruled Gonzalez should be sent back, but his Miami relatives refused to return him. In April 2000, U.S. federal agents raided the family's home and he was returned to Cuba soon after. He has since grown into a young man and joined a military academy.