Sale of Airline Tickets to Mexico Begins for Cuban Migrants Stranded In Panama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)
Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 5 May 2016 — Panama began selling airline tickets, on Thursday, to Mexico for Cuban migrants who find themselves stranded in the country. Tickets cost $805 and the first to benefit from the measure will be those staying at the Millennium Hotel, in the province of Chiriqui, according to a high ranking official who spoke to this newspaper and asked not to be identified.

Starting this coming Monday, two daily flights will connect to Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, operated by Copa and Aereomexico airlines. Along with the cost of the airfare, to qualify for a Mexican visa the mirgrants will also have to pay 34 dollars for the journey by bus to the Panamanian airport and the trip to the border between Mexico and United States. The airline will offer a differential rate for children between age 2 to 11, of $322, while children one year and under will fly for $160. continue reading

So far, nobody knows if the Cubans who have recently arrived in Panama and who are not on the official lists of migrants will be part of the agreement with Mexico.

A Cuban who came to the immigration offices in the city of David, about 30 miles from the border with Costa Rica, told 14ymedio that some days ago migrants began to receive money through Western Union and MoneyGram to buy their tickets.

“Regardless of the high cost per ticket, we have been asked for a medical checkup, three ID format photos and a photocopy of our passports,” said the migrant, who asked not to divulge his name.

Many of the stranded are worried about not having enough money to pay the cost of the airline tickets.

Panamanian official institutions claim not to have a report on the costs entailed for the nearly 3,500 Cubans who find themselves stranded in their territory. However, the local press reported on Thursday that about $19,000, just from the Presidency’s discretionary funds, have been destined to the immigration crisis in the first three months of this year.

Translated by Alberto

Mexico Is Not Deporting Cuban Migrants Despite Minrex Announcement / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.
A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 May 2016 — Mexico continues to grant “exit permits” to Cuban migrants arriving in Mexican territory from Central America, according to comments made to 14ymedio by an official of the National Institute of migration in Tapachula, Chiapas. On Tuesday, the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) released in a statement saying that a memorandum of understanding between the two Nations to “ensure a regular, ordered and safe migration” was now in effect.

The document Minrex is referring to is part of a set of agreements signed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, during Raúl Castro’s last visit to Mexico with the purpose of strengthening relations between the two countries. continue reading

The publication of the official note triggered alarms among the thousands of Cuban migrants scattered across the continent, for whom Mexico is a necessary stage on the way to the southern border of the United States. The media never had access to the document, signed last November during Raúl Castro’s visit to Mérida, although the note of the Cuban Foreign Ministry clarifies that its purpose is to “enhance the cooperation between the two countries in the fight against illegal migration.”

This newspaper got in touch with Chiapas’ 21st Century Immigration Station, and an official who asked not to be identified said that they have no instructions to stop granting exit permits to Cuban migrants.

Mexico’s Foreign Secretary confirms that he is aware that the agreement has taken effect, and said that it is an update of what was already in effect. However, officials were surprised by the Minrex announcement and said they are considering issuing a public statement.

The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.
The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.

Luis Enrique Pastrana is the owner of the Plaza Emmanuel Inn in Tapachula, Chiapas. He has devoted himself for some years to hosting dozens of Cuban migrants seeking to reach the immigration station. As he said to 14ymedio, “Cubans fear that the exit permit will be withdrawn but so far everything remains the same.”

According to Pastrana, on Tuesday 21 Cubans who were staying in his hostel received the document, and this Wednesday another 11 guests have arrived who plan to follow the same path.

“Every day many Cubans arrive and replace the ones who leave, although people are fearful since a rumor is spreading saying the laissez-passer, as they call it, won’t be issued anymore,” he said.

After crossing the Guatemalan border, Cuban migrants gather outside the immigration offices from six in the morning and into the afternoon to receive the document authorizing them to travel through Mexican territory, with the condition that they must leave the country within 20 days.

Rosmery Valledor is a Cuban architect who was stranded in Panama. From 2012, she lived in Venezuela but she decided to emigrate because of the difficulties she was going through there. As she says, “the situation in that country is unsustainable.”

Valledor spent more than one month in Panama until she succeeded in continuing on her journey across Central America in a clandestine way.

For her, the most difficult thing about the journey was “the terror to which we are subjected by the coyotes (guides).” The young woman says it is “a journey for which you need not only money but also a lot of courage.”

“We were afraid that once we got there they would not want to grant us the laissez-passer, but we went to the immigration station and they agreed that the next morning we would be assisted without any problem,” she added.

According to the Mexican daily La Jornada citing IMN (Mexican Immigration), since the end of October of last year 7,455 Cubans have appeared before the country’s immigration centers, an unusually high number since records have been kept. Of these, 243 were sent back to the island.

Contacted by telephone, an official of Cuba Embassy in Mexico said he knew nothing about the matter and referred it to the press officer, who did not answer calls.

Translated by Alberto

Cuba Will Lose One Million People In Next Decade / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)
Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. (14ymedio / Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — By 2025, the Cuban population will be reduced to 10 million. The dramatic demographic change on the island—from 11 million to 10 million inhabitants—is propelled by the low rates of fertility and birth, and an elevated emigration, a group of experts recently explained at Florida International University.

In addition, Cuba will continue to have the oldest population in Latin America. Currently, 19% of its inhabitants are over 60, and forecasts indicated that this figure will reach 30% in less than a decade. continue reading

“Life expectancy is not the same as aging,” said Dr. Antonio Aja Diaz from the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Havana. In Cuba, life expectancy is high and infant mortality is low. But birth and fertility are also low. These demographic characteristics, Aja said, “are processes that occur in highly developed countries.”

“In developed countries, mortality, birth and fertility are low, but they do not lose population because they receive immigration,” said Aja. “But that is not the case for Cuba.”

Until the late 1930s, the island was receiving immigrants. Since that decade, emigration has been sustained, with large fluctuations during mass exoduses of the past century—the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s, the Rafter Crisis of the 1990s—and most recently, the exodus through South America that still continues.

According to Aja, “Cuba could not even compete from the point of view of in-migration with the Dominican Republic,” with regards to attracting migrants. One of the main problems of the island is that people who migrate are generally younger and in the fullest years of their productive and reproductive capacity.

According to Dr. Sergio Diaz Brioquets, another panelist, emigration from Cuba is a phenomenon that will continue. “The Cuban government has for decades promoted emigration of the political opposition,” he said.

As for fertility, between 2010 and 2015 Cuba had an average of 1.63 children per woman, the lowest fertility rate in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The early years of the republic were years of high fertility and population growth, a trend that continued until 1930. Then began a process of decline until the years 1959-1960. In 1978, Cuba fell below replacement level, which is usually established as an average of 2.1 children per woman. On the island, the downward trend has continued to the present.

According to experts, the composition of the 10 million Cubans who will remain on the island in 2015 will bring a number of challenges, among them ethical values and interpersonal relationship. With regards to the family, and in particular Cuban women, they will face a series of responsibilities that will worsen with the aging population. “In Cuba, the job of caring for the elderly falls mainly on the woman,” explained Aja.

On the other hand, wages in the island have decreased to 73% of their real value, said Dr. Carmela Mesa Lago, a renowned expert on the Cuban economy. In addition, self-employed workers, a growing sector of the economy, are at risk of not accumulating pensions and not receiving social assistance.

Panama Prepares The Final Transfer Of Cubans To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban children remain with their parents in Panama to wait to continue the route to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos, a Cuban immigrant in Panama)
Cuban children remain with their parents in Panama to wait to continue the route to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos, a Cuban immigrant in Panama)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 April 2016 — The Panamanian Foreign Ministry has begun to take a census of more than 670 Cuban migrants in the hostel of Los Planes in the province of Chiriqui, in anticipation of their transfer to Mexico in the coming days. Another three thousand Cubans, most stranded on the border with Costa Rica, will also benefit from this operation, the last of its type, according to the Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela on Thursday.

“Starting from the completion of transfer operation of the Cubans counted in the census, those who enter later will have to make a decision about what country they want to return to; we can’t become a permanent logistical support for the trafficking of migrants,” warned the Panamanian president. continue reading

According to the regional director of migration, commissioner Alfredo Cordoba, the transfer of more than 200 migrants in various shelters to the Los Planes encampment began yesterday afternoon. “This mainly involved pregnant women and families with children, who need to be brought to a place with the attentions they deserve,” he said.

The official told this newspaper that the purpose of this measure is to “concentrate all the migrants in one area where their basic needs can be met, taking into account their rights as people.”

Cordoba said that right now there are 3,704 Cuban migrants in the Republic of Panama, who should be gradually transferred to Gualaca, where a joint task force–which includes the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC), the Panama National Migration Service, the State Border Service (SENAFRONT), and the National Police–have mobilized to address the humanitarian crisis.

“I believe we are in the final stretch, at least they are already making photocopies of our passports, and that’s something,” said Angel Chale, one of the stranded who came through Ecuador. Chale decided to abandon the old Bond warehouse, in San Isidro, a mile from the Costa Rican frontier, where she shared the floor with 400 other Cubans in the most precarious conditions.

Both Angel and Leslie Jesus Barrera have spent a week at the Los Planes shelter. “This place where we are now is pretty fun. Usually we play baseball, dominoes or we dance,” says Barrera. “We help when they ask us to collaborate with some chore and for the rest, it’s like camping.” He added that he is very grateful for the treatment he has received from the Panama government, which right now includes free medical care.

The godmother of Cubans

Angela Buendia is the director of community organizing for SINAPROC, but migrants have dubbed her “the godmother.” As she herself says, “They call me that because I identify with their needs and all the pain they have gone through.”

Buendia says she learned to deal with migrants from the island in the last crisis and since then sympathizes with the plight of “these thousands of people who have to leave their land and often go through very intense trauma.” She stresses that, even after spending weeks in Panama, many still live in fear.

According to her, the migratory flow does not seem to stop, although official statistics indicate a decline. “Every day we receive between 20 and 60 Cuban migrants in Chiriqui. This is why we decided to prepare this camp.”

Buendia explained that Los Planes was originally built to shelter Swiss workers who worked on a local dam. “It’s a ten acre site with a fresh landscape and all amenities,” she added. She also stressed that “the only prohibition is not to leave at night, and this is for their own security.” She said they will have free WiFi, but right now they can use data connections on a local network.

“The biggest problem I’ve had with the Cuban people is that when they come here, having come from a place without freedom, they feel completely free and clear, sometimes confusing liberty with license,” she said.

Not everyone wants to be in the shelter

But not everyone wants to go to the shelter in Los Planes. “The problem that I see to this place is that it is very far away. From the Milennium one can at least work ‘under the table’ and earn a few bucks,” said Dariel, who prefers to omit his last name for fear of discovery. His work as a carpenter, a trade he learned in Cuba, allows him to cover his expenses and at the same time, he confesses, save something “for the end of the journey.”

“Here there were even Cubans who were whoring and charge less than the Panamanians. Those were the smart ones, because in the end, they managed to get together the money and now they’re in the [United States],” says the migrant.

In overcrowded rooms, hallways, or simply in tents put up at dusk in the doorways of neighboring houses, hundreds of Cubans have preferred to stay near the Costa Rican border.

“It’s a problem that affects communities that often find themselves overwhelmed by the number of migrants arriving,” says Commissioner Cordoba.

Many of the local inhabitants, from Puerto Obaldia to Paso Canoas, have seen a business opportunity in the Cubans. With the flow of migrants, businesses have flourished from hostels to simple restaurants where the prices are usually double for inhabitants of the island.

“I don’t want to go to the Gualaca shelter because it’s very far away, I prefer to stay here because I’m in a village and at least I can fend for myself,” says Yanieris, a 35-year-old Cuban woman who arrived in Panama from Guyana. “It’s hard, sure, but if I want to go with a coyote tomorrow, there will be no one to stop me.”

The coyotes prowl…

Juan Ramon is one of those Cubans stranded in Panama who decided not to wait any longer to reach the United States. After collecting $1,400 from family and friends in Miami, he left one night sneaking across the Costa Rican border, along with six other companions under the guidance of a coyote. “In each country a coyote handed us off to another, and we have gone all the way: through the jungles, rivers, lakes… it is very hard,” he said.

The worst thing for the young man was the moment they ran into a military checkpoint in Nicaragua, where “a thug assaulted us, sent by the same guide, who robbed us of everything we had. He even took our cellphone. It was a terrible experience because it could have cost our lives and nobody would have known about it,” he told this newspaper.

After more than 12 days on the road, Juan Ramon found himself at the border crossing station of El Paso, Texas, hoping they would process his documents to enter the United States under the “parole” program.

To try to circumvent the army and police control on the borders of Costa Rica and Nicaragua the migrants use unique measures such as hiding themselves in a water pipe or hiding in a boat to pass through the dangerous coastal regions of the Pacific Ocean.

In November of last year, Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista government closed the borders of his country to Cuban migrants using Central America as a path to the United States.

The measure worked like a plug, leaving 8,000 people stranded in Costa Rica, which in turn also closed its border transferring the problem to Panama. Following an agreement with Mexico, both countries managed to build a humanitarian bridge that allowed the orderly exit of a great part of the migrants.

The coyotes, or human traffickers, have turned the migration to the north into a huge business that generates millions of dollars. From October of 2014, almost 132,000 Central Americans and around 75,000 Cubans reached the southern border of the United States.

The Cuban government has reiterated that all the migrants have left Cuba legally and so can return to the country.

Former Political Prisoners Say US Failed on Promise To Bring Their Families From Cuba / 14ymedio, Abel Fernandez, Mario Penton

Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera (left) Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirez (right) speak with staff for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Courtesy)
Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera (left) Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirez (right) speak with staff for Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Abel Fernandez and Mario Penton, Miami, 28 April 2016 – Former Cuban political prisoners Niorvis Rivera, Aracelio Riviaux and Jorge Ramirezmet Thursday in Miami with staff for Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for help in bringing their relatives from Cuba.

The three were part of the group of 53 dissidents released as part of negotiations between Cuba and the United States that allowed the return to the island of the Cuban spies still in American prisons. But shortly after their release, the opposition members had been returned to prison. continue reading

Days before US president Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba on 20 March, they were released and taken to US territory in less than 72 hours, which some interpret as a goodwill gesture by Raul Castro’s government, and others as an attempt to hide the presence of political prisoners in Cuban jails.

According to the dissidents, US officials who mediated their release promised them that their families would also leave for the United States in less than a week. But to date, they remain in Cuba.

The opponents are threatening to return to the island “on a raft” if the process of reunification is not accelerated.

“We feel betrayed,” said Jorge Ramirez, an independent labor unionist from Villa Clara who claimed that the American embassy in Havana, the Catholic Church and the Cuban government had all gone back on their word.

“The American staff told us that our families would be here in a week,” commented Riviaux, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who spent nine years in prison charged with the crimes of assault, contempt and dangerousness.

“It’s been a month since our relatives went to Havana, and this is good. If we do not see any progress, we will be the next rafters, but heading in the direction of Cuba,” he said.

For Jorge Ramirez it’s “a trick” which they played on them to get them to leave the island. According to him, “possibly it involved officials of the American government and even the Vatican.”

According to Ramirez, the main problem is that while the Cuban government is putting obstacles in the way of the families leaving Cuba, they have no way to help them economically.

“Some exile groups have helped us modestly, but this support doesn’t reach our families. We have no official documents that allows us to send money to Cuba. We don’t have permission to work,” he commented.

Ramirez’s wife, Nelida Lima Conde, is also a human rights activist in Cuba, and was self-employed when the release came through. As she told this newspaper, officials at the US embassy promised that she would be with her husband in a week, so she quit her job and took her children out of school.

According to the activist, fifteen days after her husband left for the United Stated she was notified that she should ask the Cuban immigration authorities for her passport, but because she was under sanction by the courts, they didn’t give her one. After the annulment of the sentence, the next obstacle was that her husband had to send permission for the children to leave the island. The document has to be stamped by the Cuban consulate to allow the minors to emigrate.

According to Ramirez, the government is putting these obstacles in their way “in revenge.”

Yudislady Travieso, the wife of Rivera, confirmed that she is in the same situation and that she feels “deceived.”

“What they really wanted was to get them to leave Cuba. They never said anything to us about the permits they’re asking for now,” she added.

Travieso and her four daughters, who live in Guantanamo, spent almost a month in Havana, where they have no family, while making arrangements for the trip, but did not resolve anything.

“They are going from home to home,” Rivera said, adding that the situation is very difficult for his family, who are “humble people.”

A ‘Bishop Of The People’ For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.
Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2016 — After nearly 35 years as head of the Archdiocese of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the only Cuban cardinal and a crucial figure in the thaw with the United States, has been replaced. Pope Francis decided to accept his resignation, presented since 2011, and appoint in his place Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, Archbishop of Camagüey, a man who is considered a “bishop of the people” and who is connected to the world of missions.

In an interview by telephone from Camagüey, a few hours after his appointment was confirmed, Garcia said he hopes his episcopate will serve to increase the dialogue with the Cuban government, so that “the Church can be present in spaces that belong to it, such as education, the media and prison ministry.” continue reading

He also said that his ministerial service will be based on the final document of the Cuban National Ecclesial Meeting of 1986 in which the Catholic Church said it wanted to be “praying, missionary and embodied” in the reality of its own people.

Ordained as a priest in 1972 and consecrated a bishop in 1997, Juan Garcia belongs to a new generation of bishops who act as bridge with regards to the infighting among the ecclesial institution itself, especially on issues related to its relationship with the government.

“With his discretion and centrism, he is the person less engaged in the intestinal struggles of the Cuban Church,” said Lenier González, deputy director of the civic project Cuba Possible, who considers that with this appointment “the historical cycle of old Cuban episcopate is closed.”

A Surprise

The news was greeted with surprise within the Cuban Catholic Church. The Vatican is very private with the selection process. Consultations with the clergy and the faithful and decisions about whether or not the candidate is accepted take place in the deepest secrecy.

The international press had referred to the possibility that Emilio Aranguren or Dionisio García, the bishops of Holguin and Santiago de Cuba respectively, would succeed Ortega. Also contemplated as a possible candidate was Juan de Dios Hernández, a Jesuit like the Pope and one of the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese.

Dagoberto Valdes, a Catholic layman who runs the magazine Convivencia in Pinar del Río believes that “the Pope has appointed a pastoral and missionary archbishop, which is what the Church needs at this time, especially the Havana Church.”

“The missionary work of Monsignor Juan has marked the Church in Camagüey. I am sure that this identity will be very well received in Havana,” said Valdes, who also considers this appointment as “a gift from the Pope to the people of Cuba.” According to him, Juan Garcia is a bishop who “truly smells of the flock,” as the Pope wants.

For Arturo Gonzalez, Bishop of the Diocese of Santa Clara in central Cuba, Juan Garcia is a man of the people, close to the faithful. “He is a very good man, he is a man of much prayer. He is a man of few words, but very clear,” said the prelate.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, agreed and also described him as “a man of few words.” He adds that it is “very good news for the people of the Cuban capital.”

Wenski, who recently returned from a pastoral visit to the island, said Garcia is a bishop who “has worked very hard for his diocese and is also very close to his clergy.”

The new archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, with Cuban President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the new headquarters of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary in Havana.(Gaspar el Lugareño)
The new archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, with Cuban President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the new headquarters of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio seminary in Havana.(Gaspar el Lugareño)

Raul Castro loses an ally

Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been a key figure in the thaw that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington. It was he who, in 2011, negotiated the release and subsequent departure of most of the prisoners of the Black Spring and it was he who was responsible for hosting three papal visits in Havana, which helped to strengthen an image of greater openness towards the outside.

Cardinal Ortega presided over the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba during three successive periods and was one of the main architects of the pastoral letter “Love Hopes All Things” of 1994, which harshly criticized Fidel Castro’s government in the middle of the so-called Special Period.

In recent months, Ortega was criticized by sectors of the opposition, especially after he made statements to the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser in which he denied the existence of political prisoners in Cuba.

The Archdiocese of Havana announced through an official note signed by Juan de Dios Hernández, that the cardinal will have his retirement residence in the Padre Felix Varela Cultural Center, a building that formerly housed the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary.

A Cuban priest who asked not to be identified said that the departure of Monsignor Ortega allows the placement of a figure that does not fear the Cuban government, “because he owes nothing to them.”

He recalled that when Monsignor Garcia was appointed Bishop of Camagüey, “They had to go look for him in Cespedes because he went there on a mission. He is a bishop of the people.” And he said that by naming him a door has been opened for a whole generation of priests who were his compañeros in the seminary to acquire greater prominence within the Church, although they had not been able to do it until now because of the presence of the almost octogenarian cardinal.

The Challenges for the New Archbishop

Leinier Gonzalez believes that the new archbishop has before him dissimilar challenges. Among his main challenges is “reconstructing the pastoral work of the Havana Church” which, according to this analyst, is in profound crisis. Another important aspect will be the massive exodus of young priests and laypeople to foreign countries. In several parts of the world, and particularly in Miami, there is a large community of Cuban priests who were ordained on the island and who, for different reasons, ended up emigrating.

Another obstacle the new archbishop could face is the fact of always having worked in ecclesiastical areas outside of the capital, he said. Camagüey is an extensive archdiocese, but it is predominantly rural, while Havana is mostly urban.

Taking over the leadership of a territory where the national government is located, as well as the nunciature and the different political actors and embassies, the archbishop should also be more exposed to national politics. All this along with the proximity of the former archbishop, living just a few blocks away, and the figure of the president of the Cuban Bishops Conference, which for now rests with Dionisio García.

After the replacement of the cardinal, several questions arise about who will be the visible head who will carry forward the dialogues and negotiations with the government.

Some analysts compare the appointment of the new archbishop with the election of Francis in Rome, whom many see as a pope of transition.

Ecuador And Mexico Take Steps To Stem The Flow Of Cubans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban Migrants stranded in Panama. (Facebook)
Cuban Migrants stranded in Panama. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 April 2016 — Mexico will not operate more “air bridges” for now, nor will Costa Rica allow more Cuban migrants in its territory, at a time when some 3,500 Cubans are flocking to the Panama isthmus trying to continue their journey to the United States. This is the scene at the climax of the summit where authorities of the countries involved in the flow of Cuban migrants – from the United States to Ecuador – are meeting.

Also present at the meeting, convened by Costa Rica to “follow up” on the crisis of last year, are the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Program for Development. The notable absences were Cuba and Nicaragua, allied governments who blame the immigration policy of the United States for the current situation. continue reading

Costa Rica called the meeting “constructive” and, according to a statement from its Foreign Ministry, “it has been a meeting to exchange some ideas about how to address the issue of immigration.” The Deputy Foreign Minister, Alejandro Solano, also commented on the proposal for “a normative study to try to harmonize laws” commissioned by the IOM, with a view of taking a regional approach to the practices in each country.

Moreover, it has emerged that Ecuador and Mexico are going to tighten measures to prevent the flow of Cubans. In the case of the Andean country, the cost of a visa will be increased from $100 to $400, one of the most expensive in the world, while the Aztec country has not yet clarified how it will stem the flow of Cubans to the United States. Still to be confirmed is whether Cuban migrants who reach Tapachula, Mexico will be granted safe conduct. Costa Rica has reaffirmed its position from recent weeks and according to the deputy minister will require a visa from all migrants seeking to cross its territory.

Meeting of the Central American foreign ministers Tuesday. (Costa Rica Foreign Ministry)
Meeting of the Central American foreign ministers Tuesday. (Costa Rica Foreign Ministry)

While the meeting was taking place in the Costa Rican capital, Nicaragua mobilized riot and military police near the border post at Teblillas, Costa Rica in response to an eventual furtive passage of migrants from Alajuela through this town. Also at the same time, Roberto Vega Lopez, a Cuban citizen, was captured in Colombia; he has trafficked people from the island in a complicated route that includes Guyana and the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon jungle. At the time of his arrest he was leading 15 Cubans through this dangerous route to Panama.

The conclusions of the meeting in San Jose fell like a bucket of cold water on the camps of Cuban migrants in Panama. According to Yunier Leiva, many of them had lit candles during the day in hopes of a “miracle,” that would resolve their difficult stay there. “In the end what they did is support the Cuban government and lock up even more Cubans in the floating prison that is Cuba,” he commented with a heavy heart.

For Silvio Enrique Campos, the alternative left to them by the foreign ministers was to “stick with the coyotes.” In a conversation with 14ymedio the migrant said that given “the lack of answers or solutions, Cubans in Paso Canoas are overcome by desperation.” Despite the difficulty of the moment, he calls on his compatriots not to endanger their lives because “the walls will fall again.”

In the absence of solutions to their problematic situation the migrants have decided to begin night vigils so that the international community can see the conditions they are living in. On Cuban who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, comments that every day several groups of Cubans are leaving Panama for the United States, crossing through the forests along the Costa Rican border.

He says, The only thing the authorities have done by not solving our passage in an orderly manner is to feed the bands of coyotes they are claiming to fight.” He also said that the human traffickers are now charging more for their services. “A trip that cost some $3,000 dollars has now been converted into a much more dangerous and expensive journey and last week someone wanted to charge me $7,000.”

From Ecuador, the Cuban National Alliance also released a note which encourages Cuban who have decided to emigrate not to get discouraged. “We knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be an easy task,” it says, and at the same time it calls on its members to “continue appealing to the reason and humanity of the governments.”

At this point it is not yet known what will happen to the thousands of Cuban migrants who are stranded in Central America. In a report presented by the Panamanian immigration authorities it stated that the number of Cubans has already reached 3,500 people, of which more than 150 are children.

Cuban migration crisis in numbers.
Cuban migration crisis in numbers. (14ymedio)

Panama Is Preparing A New Shelter For More Than 1,000 Cubans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)
In Puerto Obaldia, Panama, there are already more than a thousand Cubans. (La Estrella de Panama)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 9 April 2016 — An old and abandoned building in the district of Gualaca, in western Panama, is being refurbished to accommodate some of the more than 2,000 Cuban migrants who have been arriving in that country from Ecuador and Guyana in recent weeks.

The flow of migrants has continued despite warnings from the Panamanian authorities to discourage Cubans seeking to reach the United States through Central America. In the coming days at least 1,300 more Cubans are expected to arrive, joining those who are currently stranded on the western border of the country. continue reading

The local news channel Telemetro reports that the preparations for the shelter have not been well received by Gualaca’s authorities, who claim they were not consulted on the issue. However, after a meeting between residents of the community of Planes, local authorities and governor Hugo Mendez, it was agreed to allow the Caribbeans to be sheltered in exchange for social projects in the district.

The Panamanian press has also reported that among the conditions imposed by local authorities is the presence of the National Police along with troops from the National Civil Protection System to prevent the migrants from leaving the immediate area. A situation that has been denounced by human rights activists which categorize it as “forced confinement.”

Local people are also sensitive to issues of health and public safety, and the government will guarantee the presence of primary care personnel to provide for the healthcare needs of the migrants.

In the information published so far it is unclear whether the new shelter will be for Cubans who are arriving from Puerto Obaldia or those already in Paso Canoas. The latter have received the news with skepticism and concern.

For Silvio Enrique Campos it is “another media lie.” According to this migrant the conditions in the current camps are subhuman, the food is terrible and they have to pay for medical attention. “It is not like they say in the media,” he said.

Orislandy Diaz, meanwhile, told this newspaper that the Panamanian government has “a strategy” to keep them away “from the view of the pres.” The young man wonders why they want to keep them 50 miles from the Costa Rican border and believes that the purpose is to “hide” the thousands of migrants.

Isleyda Lelle, a Cuban who reached the Isthmus a week ago, considers the crowded conditions of the thousands of Cubans “grim,” and calls on the international community to help them continue their journey.

This week Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister said his country has no capacity to serve more islanders and will not allow access because the country’s capacity is exhausted after receiving more than 8,000 migrants last year. He added that “the problem can not come here,” referring to the nearly 2,000 Cubans settled on the Panamanian border.

This coming week there will be a meeting convened by Costa Rican President Guillermo Solis; invited to attend are United States immigration authorities, the Central American countries, along with Cuba, Colombia and Ecuador. Costa Rica is expected to again call for an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act and the tightening the conditions for granting visas to citizens of the island.

“What is appropriate,” said the Costa Rican Foreign Minister, “is the elimination of this legislation that responded to a historical context that is not current and that is affecting all of us who are in the middle.”

Facts and figures to understand the crisis of Cuban migrants in Central America. (14ymedio)
Facts and figures to understand the crisis of Cuban migrants in Central America. (14ymedio)

Costa Rica Calls Emergency Meeting on New Immigration Crisis On Its Border / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 5 April 2106 — The Costa Rican government has called an emergency meeting of the countries involved in the migratory flow that includes that nation as a transit point to the United States. The meeting of foreign ministers and representatives of the different nations involved will be held in the third week of April, with all of the affected nations from the United States to Ecuador.

As reported by the Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion, the Costa Rican meeting will aim to find solutions to the flow of undocumented immigrants coming mainly from Ecuador and Colombia, mostly Cubans, along with Asians and Africans. continue reading

At present, about 2,000 Cubans are stranded in the province of Chiriqui, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. As reported by Hugo Mendez, governor of the region, 100 Cubans arrive in Paso Canoas every day, on average, coming from the eastern border with Colombia. Colombia is an unavoidable transit country for all Cubans who leave the island for Guyana and Ecuador, countries whose legislation is more flexible in granting tourist visas.

The number of Cuban migrants in Puerto Obaldia and other areas of the isthmus is unknown. So far, the expenses of accommodation and food are being shared between local governments and religious organizations. The difficult conditions in which these migrants live has led to several protests calling for international help in getting them to the United States, their final destination.

“The meeting has raised the hopes of the people here, because people are grasping at straws,” Silvio Enrique Campos, a Cuban stranded in Panama, told 14ymedio. However, he believes that the problem is not exclusive to the islanders, since there are dozens of migrants of other nationalities who also share the fate of the Cubans waiting to continue their journey to the United States. “I think this meeting is just going to serve the fatten the wallets of the coyotes,” Campos said, as he suspects the crisis is more of a business than a expense, and he doesn’t see an early solution.

Meanwhile, Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry denied last week that Cuban citizens are victims of discriminatory treatment by Rafael Correa’s government. An official press release noted that between 2012 and 2016 the country awarded 26,936 non-immigrant (temporary resident) visas, and 16,738 immigrant (permanent resident) visas to Cuban citizens. In addition, during the same period 697 Cubans have been naturalized and are now Ecuadorian citizens.

In a recent statement from the Cuban National Alliance of Ecuador (ANCE) it was announced that, as a result of negotiations with the Ecuadorian government the legalization of all those Cubans who entered the country before December 2015 has begun. The process of accepting applications will run for six months. However, Cuban citizens who entered after that date remain at risk of deportation.

With regard to efforts to achieve an airlift that allows the orderly exit of Cuban migrants from Ecuador to Mexico or the United States, the government made clear that it “does not deny the right of Cubans to emigrate but it cannot take responsibility for any negotiations,” according to comments to this newspaper from Rolando Gallardo, one of the coordinators of ANCE who attended the meeting. According to Gallardo the official response to the creation of a so-called “humanitarian bridge,” is based on the fact that Ecuador has never asked for anything like this for its own citizens who desire to emigrate.

As reported by US immigration authorities, last year 44,159 Cubans arrived at border posts and were automatically welcomed legally into the United States under the “Wet foot/Dry foot” policy. In the first five months of the 2016 fiscal year, some 27,644 Cuban citizens have been beneficiaries of the “Parole Program” after arriving by sea or by land. If the current rate of Cuban arrivals continues, this year the number of applications for political asylum could exceed 60,000, a figure surpassed only by the events of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.

Cuban Rafters Dressed In Police Uniforms Reach The Coasts Of Florida / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio biggerA video posted Monday on the social network Facebook shows the arrival of 26 Cubans to the Florida Keys, aboard a rustic raft. The recording, published by the user Jose Carrera, reflects the moment when the raft touches land with the illegal immigrants on board, among them two men dressed in the uniforms of Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police (PNR).

Hector Joel Carrera, one of the rafters who appears in the video, commented to this newspaper by phone that the group left from Guanabo, on the coast north of Havana, at midnight last Saturday. There were 25 men and one woman on the boat, which was at sea for more than 30 hours, he said. During the crossing they tried to avoid the Cuban and United States Coast Guards, and so they used the engines only at night. continue reading

“The problem is that in Cuba building a boat is a crime, if you are caught taking it the sea you lose everything. That happened to us twice on land,” Carrera explained to 14ymedio, The rafter said that this was the group’s fourth attempt to get to the coast of the United States. On a previous occasion, the raft was intercepted by the US Coast Guard after traveling 75 miles from the island.

With regards to the two supposed police officers in a group of rafters, Carrera explained that the uniformed officers collaborated along with the rest of the migrants on the construction of the craft. One of the policemen was nicknamed “The Captain,” for his rank within the PNR, the rafter explained, and he added that everyone knows very well “the system in Cuba and what is happening, even the police themselves.”

This newspaper has not been able to contact any of the men in uniform.

Carrera says his main motivation to jump into the sea and reach US territory was “economic.” “In Cuba I was a rastero (truck driver), I didn’t live badly, however it wasn’t enough to support my family, to buy shoes for my children,” he adds. Remaining on the island are his four children and his wife.

“Over there, even though I work I can’t buy necessities for the family, because the work is not valued. Here, on the other hand, things are thrown away: clothes, shoes, backpacks,” he said with enthusiasm.

According to the rafter, who is currently living in Tampa with relatives who have taken him in, his main goal is “to learn English to be able to work hard,” and financially help the relatives he left behind.

The fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be repealed with the process of the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, has ignited the flow of migrants from the island. According to the Coast Guard, so far this fiscal year, which began 1 October 2015, 2,562 Cubans have been intercepted in the Florida Straits, including 269 in February.

Easter in Cuba: Death and Resurrection of the Individual / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Mick Jagger in concert in Havana on March 25. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)
Mick Jagger in concert in Havana on March 25. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 28 March 2016 – This Sunday of the Resurrection hundreds of individuals attended Mass who, the previous Friday, had sung along with their Satanic Majesties in Havana’s Sports City. From Jesus to the Rolling Stones, Cubans want to breathe beyond the narrow limits of the political system and they do it through music, faith, technology or emigration.

Easter Sunday, the last feast of Holy Week, was the time for Christians on the island to remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many came to the temples full of hope after a week charged with symbolism like none other they had ever remembered throughout their lives. continue reading

Jusr seven days ago, while Christians celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, US President Barack Obama landed in Havana. For two days he would shock the population with simple gestures and a discourse that invited them to look toward the future and to do so with hope.

On Good Friday Mick Jagger was the star, displaying his “elvis-presley attitudes*” and, with a megaconcert in the Cuban capital, burying the tiny remnants of the “New Man” still within Cubans.

It is impossible not to read “the signs of the times” that have been experienced in the last seven days. Easter has a strong liberating content. The Jews, for example, commemorate it as the end of their servitude in Egypt and their constitution as a people. For Christians, on the other hand, it represents the defeat of death in the messianic resurrection. It always continues a current message: the only way to live is to bury the archaic, be it in the Red Sea or in a tomb that represents the structure of sin that tramples the innocent.

Ironically, both the “satanic” and the Christians suffered the same fate when they tried to skew the plurality of the nation in service to an ideology. The infamous Military Units in Aid of Production (UMAP) made brothers of the priest, the dissident, the rocker and the homosexual.

In 2012, Cuba had its first Good Friday holiday since 1959. This required the visit and intercession of Pope Benedict XVI. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve true religious freedom, the persecutions and Pioneer assemblies where Christians are humiliated solely for professing a religion are in the past.

In 2016, to the dismay of those who tried to make the nation uniform, the prototype of the Anti-New-Man, with his tight pants and his big ribald mouth held the biggest concert in the history of Cuba and called to mind the moments when listening to his music was dangerous. The changes have begun, we can see that there is no going back, despite the reluctance of the forces that are trying to perpetuate the past.

Cuba experienced a peculiar Easter, a time of steps, sometimes uncertain and ajiaco-style, but certainly full of hope, and ultimately, as always, life will end up triumphing.

*Translator’s note: In a 1963 speech, Fidel Castro attacked “elvispresley” attitudes.

Cubans in Panama Ask Obama’s Help in the Immigration Crisis / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 22 March 2016 — “If it were not for the many who have died trying, it would be funny: Obama is in Cuba and we Cubans are leaving it.” In his sweaty mestizo face you can see small wrinkles, no doubt accentuated by the days spent in the journey along the dangerous route from Ecuador to Colombia. “I had to, I was desperate, no papers, no money, I had no other option to not go back to Cuba or die,” says the migrant.

For several weeks thousands of Cubans have been flocking to the Panamanian border, both in the east (Puerto Obaldia) and west (Paso Canoas), hoping Costa Rica and Nicaragua will allow the migratory flow to pass and offer them humanitarian safe conduct passes. Costa Rica closed its borders to Cuban migrants after negotiating with Mexico the departure of thousands who were stranded late last year when Nicaragua closed its borders. Something similar is happening now in Panama, only the solution is far off.

Orislandy Diaz Marrero, a young Cuban of 26 who recently managed to cross the jungle through the Darien Gap, in the central area of the country, tells 14ymedio his opinion about the visit of the president of the United States to the island. “I don’t know what Obama’s intentions are, but I am sure that nothing good is going to come of it. Those people (the Cuban government) have nothing good in mind.” He explains that his decision to abandon the country is the same as “everyone else’s.” Orislandy pauses for a long moment, sighs and adds, “It’s because they don’t let us breathe there.”

For Adrian Cedeño, a communications specialist who decided to emigrate to Ecuador, Obama’s visit “marks a before and after,” but he questions, beyond diplomacy and protocol, what the real benefits are to ordinary Cubans. “The Cuban people want to believe that this is a hope,” said Cedeno while pointing out that the issue of emigration on the island goes beyond a purely political matter. “It’s about the dignity they have taken from us. They have left a people, a culture, a country with nothing,” he says and asks that the rulers think “the about common good and not political interests of yesteryear.”

Yordanis Garcia is one of the representatives of the Cuban National Alliance of Ecuador, a civil society group that has recently been formed to defend the rights of migrants from the island in that country. “Actually, I would like to believe that the arrival of Obama in Cuba would be a big change for my Cuba” he says. “His arrival has shocked Cubans on the island as well as those who are not there.” Garcia adds that he feels “proud” that an American president is in Havana because of the powerful message of freedom that gesture sends.

Dozens of Cubans have held vigils, rallies and protests, both in Panama and Ecuador in recent days, asking to be allowed to continue their trip to the United States. On Monday, a group of them sent a letter to President Obama and his wife Michelle asking them to intervene in the current immigration crisis.

A video accompanying the letter was filmed on 19 March, in the middle of a vigil called “Towards Freedom.” The video, just two minutes long, contains the main reasons why they decided to leave Cuba. “We want to make them (the authorities) understand that we are fleeing from Castro’s dictatorship in which for half a century we have never voted, where there are no free elections (…) where we can not speak out as we do here. The only thing we saw for ourselves was fleeing from our country leaving many of our loved ones behind.” The message ends quoting José Martí between shouts of freedom: “When the people flee, the leaders have no purpose.”

In the past fiscal year (between October 2014 and September 2015) more than 43,000 Cubans reached US territory, taking advantage of the so-called Wet foot/Dry Foot law, that allows them to stay legally until, at the end of a year and a day since their arrival, they can submit an application to reside in the United States. Since last October, 2,420 Cubans have been intercepted at sea by the Coast Guard and more than 10,000 have entered through the southern border.

“The Only Thing I Want Is For Them To Let Me Be With My Son” / 14ymedo, Mario Penton

Fernando Collazo and Tania Chacon. (Facebook)
Fernando Collazo and Tania Chacon. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 18 March 2016 — When Fernando Collazo left Cuba on 23 October 2014 heading to Ecuador, he carried painfully in his heart nostalgia for his family and the homeland he left behind and the illusion of a person who hopes to devote his best energies to succeeding in a foreign country and, at the expense of every sacrifice, to helping his family.

He was driven by his commitment to his brother, who did not hesitate for a moment to sell his possession to get the money needed for a plane ticket to Quito in which the family deposited its hopes. Finally, they would emerge from misery and illegality. Fernando would not have to keep selling orange concentrate in the capital, stolen in God only knows what ways from the few remaining citrus producers in Jaguey Grande. continue reading

Fernando is a simple man, hardened by physical labor, a man of few words, but with an exquisite sensitivity. He came to the land of Pichincha like many Cubans, with the hope of asking the coyotes, once he got the money together, to help him continue his journey to the United States. “I came to this country with $200 in my pocket. That’s all I had.”

On his third day in the country, on a tourist visa, he began working as a bricklayer in a school in Tulcán. It was there that he met Tania Chacon, an Ecuadorean woman, the single mother of an 11-year-old. They decided to live together and Collazo took over maintenance of the house, where his mother-in-law also lived.

Months passed and Tania was pregnant. Five months into the pregnancy, he needed to regularize his immigration status to be able to continue to work when his son was born, so he went to the Cuban consulate to ask for instructions about how to proceed. There he saw an official who explained that after the birth of the baby he could benefit from Ecuadorian nationality without any more bureaucratic complications. Encouraged by this hope, he took the minibus back to his city when the immigration police launched a raid and he was arrested.

“The first thing they did was take my belt, my cellphone and the thirty dollars I had,” he remembers. He never saw the money again. He was detained and held in a cell until he was taken to the Hotel Carrion, a center where they hold people who are not formally under arrest but nor are they free to leave, while awaiting processing for deportation to their places of origin.

Fernando’s trial was held and the judge ruled for his deportation. Tania Chacon has asked repeatedly that he be allowed to stay, at least until the birth of their son. The repeated appeals have exhausted the family resources to the extent that they have been selling their appliances. Not even a child support judgment they tried as a way to stop the process was successful.

Nor have the numerous letters sent by Cubans to president Rafael Correa asking about the case. The recommendations from his employers are worthless as are the interventions from humanitarian organizations. “The only thing I want is for them to let me be with my son. I don’t care if they deport me afterwards, at least let me see him,” asks Fernando.

This Friday is the last chance to secure the release of Fernando Collazo. His lawyer filed a habeas corpus plea to try to stop the deportation process. Organizations of Cuban civil society in the Andean country have expressed their support through a statement and are demanding his release.

Obama Advisor Ben Rhodes Meets With Cuban Activists In Miami, During A “Historic” Meeting / 14ymedio, Marion Penton

 President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)
President Barack Obama’s key advisor on Cuba policy, Ben Rhodes, during his meeting with representatives of civil society on the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 11 March 2016 – President Obama’s top advisor on US policy toward Cuba, Ben Rhodes, met this Friday with representatives from the island’s Civil Society and exile organizations. The meeting took place in Miami, concluding with a chat with Cuban-Americans that the official held at Miami Dade College.

The purpose of the meeting, which lasted several hours behind closed doors, was for Rhodes to listen to the aspirations and opinions of those groups in advance of President Obama’s visit to the island. Several of those attending agreed that the meeting was an “historic moment.” continue reading

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban National Foundation (CANF) in New Jersey, explained that everyone expressed their points of view regarding the national reality before the US president’s visit. “It is a unique and extraordinary opportunity. The fact that we are doing this is a sign that the work of the internal and exiled dissidence has borne fruit,” he said.

Opposition member Martha Beatriz Roque, a member of the Black Spring’s Group of 75, confirmed that she will not meet with the US president, as speculated in some media. “It is not necessary that Obama receive me because I have been able to express my concerns to Ben Rhodes,” and she added, “I am super satisfied with this meeting,” said the dissident, who will not be on the island during the president’s visit because she is going to be traveling to Spain.

Leticia Ramos, a representative of the Ladies in White from Matanzas province, announced that Obama sent a letter to the organization and expressed his desire to meet with them in Havana. “So far we have high expectations and the president has informed us that he wants to meet with us,” said Ramos. Although she said they are “facing an uncertainty” because “the regime is going to prevent it at all costs” and “the arbitrary arrests will be massive to avoid this meeting.”

The Ladies in White have let Rhodes know that the visit should be directed “truly by the Cuban people” and he should try to ensure that “his speech reaches ordinary Cubans.” Initially, the position of the Ladies in White had been very critical of Obama’s visit to the island. With regards to the letter sent by the president, no details are available because “it was sent sealed” to Berta Soler, the representative of the organization.

The youngest activist at the meeting, Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, national coordinator of the Youth Front of the Patriotic Union of Cuban (UNPACU), told this newspaper that “the meeting surprised all of us in the most positive way,” because “we thought we would be coming to explain to Obama’s advisor the reality of the Cuban people, but to our surprise he knows it very well.”

Oliva Torres agrees with the rest of those present that it was an “historic” meeting and, in his opinion, “there was very good communication, great harmony between our approaches and his responses.”

“We are all demanding the same thing: we want the American president to go to Cuba and direct his discourse to the people of Cuba, not to the government,” said the UNPACU member.

The meeting was moderated by Jorge Mas Santos, president of the CANF, who praised the attitude of “these brave men and women (…) who keep alive the flame of hope on the island.” The Cuban-American extended his appreciation to the White House and stressed that meetings like this show that “beyond the Straits of Florida that separate us, we are one people.”

Mas Santos said that “President Obama’s advisor was able to listen to you directly, your dreams, your aspirations, the totalitarian nature of a regime that has oppressed our island for more than five decades, and through your suggested this liberating message can reach the mouth of President Obama on his visit to Cuba.”

“I’m Afraid That Ecuador Will Deport Me To Cuba” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Sigfredo Ochoa values the freedom he has found in Ecuador but feels rejected in the Andean country. (Courtesy of the interviewee)
Sigfredo Ochoa values the freedom he has found in Ecuador but feels rejected in the Andean country. (Courtesy of the interviewee)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 February 2016 — Sigfredo Ochoa is 40 years old. Six months ago he was one more “Palestinian” in Havana, a Cuban from Holguin living “illegally” in the capital of his own country, according to the authorities – a status that earned him that strange moniker among native Havanans. He worked as an investigator, regulator and auditor in the Provincial Trade Company, a state entity that, among other things, manages the dwindling quotas distributed through the ration book.

“The idea of coming to Ecuador arose mainly because of the state of siege I experienced because of my homosexuality. At work it was impossible not to be discriminated against, and on top of that there is the economic situation we Cubans experience. My salary wasn’t enough to live on; if I ate I couldn’t clothe myself, if I clothed myself I couldn’t eat; a question as existential as Shakespeare’s ‘to be or not to be,’ but in a tropical version. continue reading

Ochoa noted that it wasn’t easy to get the money to leave the island. His parents had to sell the old family house and buy a small apartment in order to cover the cost of the trip. The passport cost him five months salary, and adding the cost of the ticket and the first months’ living expenses, it wiped out the few dollars he had.

“My mother has Alzheimer’s disease and has already been operated on for colon cancer. My father is a retired old man. Together their pensions don’t total 30 CUC a month (under $30), tell me, who can live in Cuba on that money? I had no option, I had to sacrifice myself for them… and for me.”

Sigfredo’s expectation was, like many Cubans who set off for Ecuador, that he would be able to enter the labor market in the Andean country, where the minimum salary is 366 dollars a month, more than ten times that in Cuba, although the cost of living is higher in Ecuador.

“I thought getting a job would let me survive and be able to help my parents, but everything here has wiped me out. These people do not want to give us work and they don’t want us in their country. We go out looking for work and they simply tell us they don’t want Cubans. In a month we have no money left to pay the rent and we have to sleep in the street. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he laments.

On entering Ecuador with a tourist visa, Cubans have 90 days to try to legalize their status in the country. For several years that have done it through a professional visa, which in the interest of the nation’s human resources, allows professionals from the island to qualify for the title previously legalized by the Cuban Foreign Ministry and certified at the Ecuadorian embassy in Havana, and so to stay in Ecuador and subsequently find work in areas such as healthcare and education.

Cuban doctors and professionals took advantage of the opportunity to come en masse, which forced the Cuban government to come to an agreement with Ecuador to suspend this right to university graduates coming from the island. Over time, other alternatives to legalization were also closed, such as the temporary visa, valid for six months, know as the 12-IX and the commercial visa.

“The only option now to legalize myself is to marry an Ecuadorian and have children. It’s the only possibility left to us Cubans. Ecuadorians are asking between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars for a marriage of convenience that enables us the privileges of a spouse,” says Sigfredo.

Sigfredo is grateful to Ecuador as the country where he discovered freedom. “What struck me most when I get here is that you can speak out and say what you really believe without anyone controlling it.” However, just the fact of being Cuba, and in addition being undocumented, has led to a lot of discrimination.

“One of the many times I’ve sought work a restaurant they wouldn’t even let me speak. ‘There is no work for Cubans here. You and dogs are the same thing,’ they said. They kicked me out with these words, ‘Get out of here, you people come to this country to steal our jobs.’ That hurt me so much because I didn’t want to take anyone’s job, I simply had the idea of helping my family and getting out of the nightmare that is life in Cuba,” he lamented.

Employers in Ecuador often take advantage of these undocumented migrants as cheap or slave labor. “Once I worked in a bar for a week. I did the cleaning and served as a barman for 20 dollars a day. I never say a single cent. When I asked for my pay the owner said he would call the police. We are completely defenseless.”

Many Cubans are living in the center of Quito. “There are many who are undocumented,” comments Ochoa. “Recently there was a raid and they took several. I live with fear, I try to go out only after sunset or very early in the morning, in the hours when the police usually aren’t in the streets because I’m afraid they will deport me to Cuba.”

For Sigfredo, in Ecuador, as in Cuba, there is nothing to hope for. He does not believe he can obtain residency and, even though he has tried to join other groups departing for the United States, the extremely high cost – around 6,000 dollars – and the dangers of the jungle have stopped him. Now he sees a hope.

A group of Cubans who share his fate have decided to give a voice to those migrants who are surviving in the streets of Quito. He was one of those who went to the demonstration at English Park. “It is the only hope we have left, if they don’t want us here, at least we can go where we can grow as people and work honorably. That’s all we are asking for.”