(WSVN) - Our Lady of Charity is the patron saint of Cuba, a saint a little girl prayed to so her mother could be released from Fidel Castro’s prison. Now a South Florida homeowner’s association is forcing her to remove the statue from her yard. Can they do that? It’s why she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Beginning in 1960, 14,000 children were sent by their parents from Cuba to America to flee the Fidel Castro regime. It was called Operation Pedro Pan.

Amarilis Aponte: “I came from Cuba. I was 4 years old. I came in 1962.”

Amarilis Aponte spent her life in foster homes with one priceless possession: a small picture — a stamp, as she called it — of Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba, which little Amarilis prayed to all the time.

Amarilis Aponte: “And always asked her that I would love to meet my mother because she is a political prisoner.”

Amarilis’ prayers were answered when her mother was finally released from Castro’s prison and came to the U.S. in 1980.

Amarilis Aponte: “Always had that little stamp that I can show it to you. I still have it.”

Amarilis Aponte
Amarilis Aponte

She still has the small picture of Our Lady of Charity and a statue of her in her Miami Lakes front yard.

Amarilis Aponte: “And every time I ask her for something, I pray to her, and I get it.”

And now she could use some help from the saint, after her Lake Sandra Homeowners Association sent her a letter telling her she had to remove the statue from her front yard.

Amarilis Aponte: “I’m praying that I can fight to leave her there. They touched something that I love, someone that I really believe in.”

Not only did her Lady of Charity statue have to go, but other items had to be removed from the front yard, like the sun, an Indian, and a Japanese house.

Amarilis Aponte: “Even the own president has a Japanese house.”

In fact, Amarilis says, dozens of her neighbors have things in their front yard, and did not get a letter ordering them to remove them.

Amarilis Aponte: “And I went knocking door to door, and half of those people told me they got nothing, but I did.”

Amarilis is glad her neighbors get to keep things in their front yards, but to avoid getting fined, she removed the statue and everything else from her front yard.

Amarilis Aponte: “They’re really picking on me. I don’t know why.”

That really irritates her, but breaking her heart was having to take away the statue of Our Lady of Charity, a saint a little girl prayed to, to get her mother out of Castro’s prison.

Amarilis Aponte: “That’s what killed me. I believe in it because I came here when I was 4 years old, with a little stamp in my pocket.”

Well, Howard, does Amarilis have to take down the statue of Our Lady of Charity?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Yes, an association can ban statues, even religious statues. But the problem with this association is, they’re allowing some neighbors to keep their statues in their front yard. That’s what the law calls ‘selective enforcement.’ It’s illegal, and since other neighbors have their statues, Amarilis can have her religious statue in her front yard.”

We contacted the property manager for the Lake Sandra Association. She would not talk to us, and their attorney would not return our calls.

Howard suggested Amarilis send the property manager a letter demanding copies of any letters requiring other residents to remove items from their front yard.

They refused to give that information to Amarilis, which Howard says they have to release.

Howard Finkelstein: “Once an association sends a letter of violation, every single homeowner has a right to see it. Since they told Amarilis she can’t see the other letters, she can sue them. They will have to produce those letters, and they will have to pay for her attorney’s fees.”

Amarilis then contacted the association’s attorney regarding the selective enforcement, hoping he can straighten things out. Because all Amarilis wants is to be able put back the statue of Our Lady of Charity back in her front yard.

Amarilis Aponte: “And I’m going to keep fighting for it, because I feel it’s not fair what they are doing with me personally.”

Amarilis hopes they turn the letters over, which she believes will prove selective enforcement that will let her put her statue back up. If they won’t do that, she will be looking for an attorney who will try to mediate a solution before taking the association to court over the statue of the patron saint of Cuba.

Frozen like a statue trying to solve a problem? Feel you don’t have a prayer of getting it done? Contact us. We aren’t saints, of course, but we’re blessed to be able to help you.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN
On Twitter: @helpmehoward7

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