US pushes harder in Brazilian custody case

March 13, 2009 12:46:18 PM PDT
A New Jersey man trying to bring his son back from Brazil says the messy custody case is really not a matter of international relations. "It's about the pure, simple and God-given right of a parent to raise their child," David Goldman said by phone Friday from Rio de Janeiro, where he had visited with his son.

But as President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva prepare for a White House meeting on Saturday, the political maneuvering in the case has intensified.

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously urged Brazil this week to "act with extreme urgency" to return the boy to his father, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she talked with high-ranking Brazilian officials about returning the child.

As the presidents meet on Saturday, supporters of the boy's father, David Goldman, are planning a rally in Washington, and Brazilian critics of Goldman will protest Sunday outside his Rio de Janeiro hotel, according to Rio's O Globo newspaper.

Goldman plans to return by Monday to New Jersey, where the state Senate is considering a resolution supporting him.

Goldman is asserting his rights under the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, and while his case has received more attention than most, it's far from the only one. State Department spokeswoman Megan Mattson says about 3,000 abducted U.S. children are currently in other countries, including 70 in Brazil, fifth most after Mexico, India, Japan and Canada.

Goldman, who says he's spent about $360,000 on the case, has appeared on TV shows from "Dateline NBC" to "Dr. Phil" in the U.S., and the saga has become a major story in Brazil in recent weeks.

His quest goes back to 2004, when Bruna Bianchi took her 4-year-old son on vacation to Brazil with her husband's permission.

Goldman says he was shocked when she called a few days later and said she would not be returning. He considers it an abduction.

The couple had met several years earlier in Milan, where he was a model and she was a fashion design student. They had a globe-trotting affair before marrying, having a baby and settling outside New York City in suburban Tinton Falls, N.J.

David Goldman, who runs a charter boat business, said in a court filing in New Jersey that he was his son's primary caregiver before Bianchi took him to Brazil. In her response, Bianchi disputed that - she said that while she taught Italian at a high school in Holmdel, the young boy was mostly in the care of a babysitter or at preschool.

The court papers also disagree on the state of their marriage. He said they were doing well; she said they were in such disaccord that they were sleeping in separate rooms before she left and that he was not contributing financially.

She also denied Goldman's assertion that she abducted the boy.

It is clear, though, that she never returned to New Jersey and eventually married Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, a Rio de Janiero lawyer.

Goldman tried to get custody through U.S. and Brazilian courts, but the case seemed stalled in Brazil until last August, when Bianchi died hours after giving birth to a daughter. Both siblings are now being raised by the Lins e Silva family.

David Goldman says he has traveled to Brazil nine times to try to see his son - mostly before the boy's mother died. He says that until last month, the courts or his wife's family blocked his efforts to visit, a point hotly contested by the boy's Brazilian relatives.

Silvana Bianchi, the boy's maternal grandmother, said in an interview last week on Globo TV's "Fantastico," Brazil's most popular television program, that the family even offered him a place to stay in Brazil so he could visit the boy. "But he never in four years and a half came to visit his son."

U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican with a long history of intervening in far-flung humanitarian cases, went with Goldman to Rio last month and helped broker a deal for Goldman to see his son. Smith also was the primary sponsor of the House resolution, which was adopted 418-0.

Clinton compared the case to the custody battle over Elian Gonzalez, which ended in 2000 when the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton, decided that boy should be returned to his father in Cuba over the objections of his dead mother's relatives in Miami.

Bianchi's second husband, Lins e Silva, has not discussed the case publicly. But he wrote a letter dated March 5 to Brazil's National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, and the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper published it.

According to the newspaper, he claimed the case is a private custody matter, not an abduction. He also called Goldman a "gringo" and suggested Brazil's government has not supported him as strongly as U.S. officials are supporting Goldman.

"It was not our fault that (the boy) lost his links to the United States," Lins e Silva wrote, according to the newspaper.

"We cannot now become defendants accused of being kidnappers and play into the hands of an American."

The Brazilian family's media representative confirmed that a letter was sent to the council, but declined to release details.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon said Friday that President Obama knows about the case. "He understands it's important," Shannon said. But Shannon said it's up to the president to decide whether to bring it up with Silva.

The Brazilian president's aides have said that if Obama brings up the case, Silva will respond that it is being handled by Brazil's courts. Other Brazilian officials have said that the case falls under the Hague Convention and that the boy should be returned to his father.

Goldman, who says he has been fined by a Brazilian court for talking publicly about the case, was in Brazil this week to undergo court-ordered psychological testing. He has also visited with his son. He said they are bonding well.

But the boy does not want to go back to the United States, his grandmother said.

"He is very scared that they will come here and yank him from his family and take him away," Silvana Bianchi told Fantastico.


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