Six Cuban Boat People Still Missing In The Gulf Of Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Rafters missing along the Mexican coast. (14ymedio)
Rafters missing along the Mexican coast. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 August 2016 — Thirteen men were determined to leave the misery, despair and weariness of lives filled with official propaganda. For months they crafted a boat on the cost of the Isle of Youth, off Cuba’s southern coast. In absolute secrecy to avoid being betrayed, they prepared a catamaran and stocked it with food and water. They wanted to get to Central America or Mexico, to continue their journey overland to the United States, an ever more frequented route, but a month and a half later they are still missing at sea.

Noyri Muñoz, a Cuban, 47, who is the sister of one of the rafters, explains that, of the 13, only seven have returned to Cuba, deported from Mexico a month ago. On returning to their own country, they do not want to talk to the press nor with the families of the missing. Their silence is more eloquent. Of then other six, there is no news. “The sea is so vast, perhaps it swallowed them,” she commented from Spain, where she lives. continue reading

The weeks pass and the fear grows that the worst has happened. “They left at dawn. They were from different towns on the Isle of Youth. They bought a good quality engine and set sail for Mexico,” explained Muñoz, so said that for 15 days they “didn’t see land anywhere” and decided to separate into two groups to increase their chances of being found.

When the engine gave out they continued to paddle and use the sail they carried, but they didn’t seem to make much headway, so they decided to separate, according to the version of one of the young boys who was on the boat,” added the sister.

“Three days after we separated a boat found us,” explained one of the rafters in Mexico to a family member of the missing. According to this testimony, half of the group left with eight inner tubes, in search of better luck. They divided the biscuits and the water. Since then, they don’t know anything more about them.

The same rafter explained in Mexico that at least four boats passed them and didn’t help them. The drifting boaters were finally rescued by the supply vessel MV Fugro Vasilis, 130 miles from Arrecife Alacranes, north of the Yucatan Peninsula.

“My brother was an economist for a state enterprise. He was a fighter, intelligent, a man always looking for solutions to problems. He was very creative. We are desperate, because we don’t have any information. We have tried to communicate with the Navy and the Mexican Army and US but without success,” says Muñoz.

The lives of the rafters could have been seriously threatened by Hurricane Earl in early August in the Western Caribbean. The number of rafters has significantly increased this year. According to the United States Coast Guard, from 1 October 2015 to 15 July 2014, 5,241 Cuban rafters have tried to reach the coast of the United States.

The names of the missing are José Armando Muñoz López, Luis Velásquez Osorio, Rafael Rives Rives, Yoendry Rives del Campo, Amauri Pupo Pupo and Juan Antonio Pupo Pupo.

Humor and Exile Combine in the Sketches of Several Cuban Cartoonists / 14ymedio, Mario J. Penton

“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author
“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, 31 July 2016 – “The cartoons are not what gives the cartoonist the most laughter but how much they were made to pay for them,” joked Ley Martinez, one of the five cartoonists invited to the Independent Art and Literature Festival in Miami this Saturday to talk about exile cartoon humor, their experiences and outlooks.

The graphic artists Aristide (Aristides Miguel Pumeriega), Garrincha (Gustavo Rodriguez), Pong (Alfredo Pong), Ley Martinez and Omar Santana spoke about their work for more than an hour with about a hundred people. They remembered the years of work in Cuba when publishing a cartoon could cost them a job. continue reading

“At the end of the eighties, there came a Soviet journalist from Pravda who was interested in interviewing me because of a cartoon I had made called ‘The Bobocracia.’ They were publishing it in Moscow as a demonstration of Cuba’s glastnost progress. What they got was the next week I was prohibited from going on with that work,” remembered Aristide.

The limitations of the profession’s practice on the Island impelled many of them to create their art outside of the country. Nevertheless, censorship also is present on the other side of the Florida Straits. “Miami is a very prudish city. There are problems with placing sexual symbols in the cartoons. In important media outlets they are very careful with so-called obscene words. But in the end, there exists freedom of creation. It is another type of censorship, but it, too, is censorship,” said Santana.

For Ley Martinez, a graphic designer and cartoonist for eight years, the invitees to the meeting this Saturday represent a wide spectrum of styles and themes. “They have been, since Aristide, who is an emblematic figure in Cuban graphic art, ending with me taking the first steps in the genre.”

The artist shared his experience in the use of social networks for the spreading of his work and commented on the difference between those who stay in traditional press outlets and the young ones who use more virtual media. “We want to create an environment of opinion so that people understand from the art what is happening,” he added.

“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)
“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)

For Martinez, graphic humor in exile does not have to be limited to Cuba. “You can make local graphic humor. About the mayor of Miami or Hialeah. It is one way of raising awareness and states of mind,” he said.

Aristide, meanwhile, said that for him the cartoon is inextricably linked to the fight against the Cuban government: “I always wanted to come to Miami because it was the other side of the coin. I had to come to this city to continue the fight against the Cuban dictatorship that seized my son. That fight of the Cuban people means a lot to me.”

The artist, a veteran of the event, remembered the years in which he was persecuted because of his work on the Island, for which he had to exile himself in Miami. About the current state of the cartoon in south Florida, he lamented the decreasing presence of the cartoon in media outlets, especially those related to Cuba.

For Garrincha, the work of the graphic humorist should not be reduced to cartoons and political satire. “One should speak of the humor in the graphic and the graphic in the humor, and people should be open to other kinds of humor.”

The artist thinks that an interaction on humoristic themes is maintained between the Island and the Cubans of Miami. “Often I have found that they send me a cartoon by email from Cuba, and they tell me, look how good this is, and when I look, the cartoon is mine. The flow between shores is maintained.”

Among the attendees of the event was the Cuban writer Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, in addition to other artists and writers from the Island as well as from the diaspora.

“How not to come to an event like this? In the sketches of these artists each of us has seen a reflection of ourselves. Even Bobo de Abela has emigrated by now,” commented Elizabeth Diaz, one of those present.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Emigrant Must Earn Brownie Points to Enter Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 21 July 2016 — With blood-stained clothes and wounds and bruises on her arms, Ana Margarito Perdigon Brito returned to Miami from Havana’s Jose Marti Airport this past June. No one knew how to rationalize that the Cuban government prohibited her, a citizen of that country whose paperwork was in order, from entering the land of her birth.

“It is a form of revenge by the Cuban government towards emigrants. It is a type of blackmail by which, if you behave as they desire – which is to say, without being rebellious – you can enter your country; but if you dare to criticize the regime you may lose that right,” says the activist who left Cuba in 2012 in order to live in the US. continue reading

The Cuban exile, who lives in Homestead in south Florida, tried to enter Cuba for a second time in order to visit her sick mother in the Sancti Spiritus province. “The first time they turned me away at the Miami airport when I tried to fly to Santa Clara.   On this second occasion, they let me arrive in Havana, but once I was there, they told me I could not enter the country because, according to the system, I was prohibited entry into Cuba,” she says.

Her passport is up-to-date and valid with the corresponding renewals plus the authorization, an entrance permit for which Cubans living abroad pay and that supposedly has “lifelong” validity, although it can be nullified by Cuban officials.

She tried in vain to convince the immigration agents to let her speak with a supervisor or to explain to her by what rationale they impeded her access to a universal right. The answer was always the same: “The system indicates that you are prohibited entry. You must go back,” while they insisted that if she wanted to enter the country, she would have to seek a humanitarian visa.

The practice is not new; from Arturo Sandoval to Celia Cruz, a considerable number of Cubans have had to deal with the all-powerful Bureau of Immigration and Nationality in the last six decades in order to enter the Island. In many cases unsuccessfully as has happened to several people who could not even attend funerals for their parents. Many experts thought that with the new immigration law enacted in 2012, the situation would change, but it has not.

Perdigon believes that this is another sign of the Cuban government’s unscrupulousness as regards the diaspora. “They do not forgive me for the activism that I carried out within Cuba,” she explains.

Receiving no answer about her case, she tried to escape from the room where the immigration officials had taken her, and she was hit and wounded in a struggle. “I tried not to beg for my right but to win it [because] no one is obliged to obey unjust laws,” as Marti said.

Originally from the Sancti Spiritus province, she and her family belonged to several independent movements, joining political parties and initiatives favoring the promotion of human rights.

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)
The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

“On many occasions we were repressed, and we suffered acts of repudiation. One afternoon, my little daughter came running in a fright to warn me that many screaming people were coming. It was an act of repudiation that they had prepared for me in the neighborhood. On another occasion, they gave us a tremendous beating in a town called Tuinucu and jailed us,” she remembers.

Her case is not unique. According to independent statistics compiled by media, dozens of similar stories have happened in recent years. Nevertheless, there are no official data about the number of Cubans who have been denied entry into the country.

“People do not demand their rights publicly, and they don’t denounce these arbitrary situations,” comments Laritza Diversent Cambara, manager of the Cubalex Legal Information Center, via telephone from Cuba. “When we go to review statistics, countries like Canada have more complaints about human rights violations than Cuba, and we all know that is because of ignorance or lack of information about demanding their rights, because if there is anything abundant in this country, it is human rights violations,” she contends.

According to the lawyer, denial of entry by nationals is not contemplated in Cuban legislation. “It is a discretionary decision by State Security or the Bureau of Immigration and Nationality, but there exist no laws that regulate it, so people are exposed to the whims and abuses of officials,” opines the jurist.

“They cannot give the reasons for which they deny entry into the country. They do not argue that he is a terrorist threat or that the person lacks some document or formality. It is simply an arbitrary decision,” she adds.

The practice is not limited only to dissidents, activists and opponents. Diversent says that her office handled the case of a rafter who left the Island in 2011 and who continued traveling regularly, until in 2015 the Cuban authorities told him that he could not enter the country again.

14ymedio has known of similar cases of journalists, members of religious orders and doctors who took refuge in the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) offered by the United States.

Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)
Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)

“One time I made some statements to a local newspaper in Spain about the hardship suffered by the Cuban people, and on return to the Island several officers confronted me in the airport, telling that if I did something like that again, they would revoke my temporary religious residency,” said a Spanish missionary who prefers for safety reasons not to be named.

The methods for preventing entry are as varied as the steps to take for immigration procedures in Cuba. There are people who have been denied passport authorization, as was the case of the well-known visual artist Aldo Menendez. On other occasions, Cubans are turned back at the last minute from the airport from which they tried to fly to the Island, as occurred to activist Ana Lupe Busto Machado, or they wait until they land in Havana after having spent 450 dollars on passport preparation, 20 dollars on the entrance permit or 180 dollars on the renewals, plus the price of passage from Miami which approaches 500 dollars, to tell them that they cannot ever enter their country again.

14ymedio tried to communicate with the Cuban Office of Immigration and Nationality, but authorities refused to respond to our questions.

“This kind of procedure should not surprise anyone,” says attorney Wilfredo Vallin, founder of the Cuban Law Association. “The government has a long history of actions that do not abide by its own law. Until recently wasn’t there in effect an express and unconstitutional prohibition against nationals entering hotels? What about human mobility within the Island? Isn’t that regulated, too?”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“When we achieve justice we can build a new society” / 14ymedio, Ofelia Acevedo, Mario Penton, Luz Escobar

Note: The video is a brief excerpt from the interview and is not subtitled in English.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Luz Escobar, Miami, 22 July 2016 – His name is tattooed on the skin of a Cuban graffiti artist (Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto) or is suggested by the letter L, standing for Liberty, formed by the angle between the index finger and the thumb, increasingly displayed by those asking for democracy. The legacy of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012) and Harold Cepero (1980-2012) lives on in the nation for which they worked their hearts out and ultimately sacrificed their lives. Four years after the tragic crash that claimed their lives, and that their families and international organizations have classified as a settling of accounts by the repressive Cuban apparatus, 14ymedio speaks with Ofelia Acevedo, widow of Payá, former president of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

14ymedio: A few days ago the one year anniversary of the reopening of the embassies between the United States and Cuba was celebrated. Could we be closer to justice in the case of Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá? continue reading

Acevedo: The restoration of diplomatic relations has been good. It is clear that it is the Cuban government that does not continue the normal process that this rapprochement should take. On the other hand, justice is the most important step to achieve real change in the Cuban nation. To look forward in our country we need justice. The Christian tradition makes it very clear: if there is a recognition of the truth, there will be justice and forgiveness.

Once we have achieved justice we can talk about reconciliation between Cubans. We Cubans must seek it, starting by reclaiming our rights. This is a key step for the future. The greatest injustice is to deprive the Cuban people of our rights, because of this there has been so much misery and we have not progressed. Human rights are natural and inherent in the person. When we achieve justice we can build a new society, and for this it is important that this crime does not go unpunished.

14ymedio: How has the family faced the loss of your husband?

Acevedo: We are a very close family. We love each other very much and miss him so much. We live in our faith that sustains us. Our faith makes us believe that truth, justice and democracy are possible for our people. All of Oswaldo’s work is imbued with a great deal of hope, of Christian hope. That is what helps us go on in the midst of the adverse environment in which we sometimes live. Oswaldo believed greatly in the betterment of humanity and in the individual, as José Martí said. He looked for ways to give Cubans the tools to decide their future. He understood that change begins with the ability to decide. He affirmed that dialog is the only way to change Cuba, an unconditional dialog, one without exclusions and among all Cubans.

14ymedio: How do you perceive the Cuban opposition four years after the death of its most prestigious leader?

Acevedo: In Cuba there are probably more opponents than there were in Central Europe in 1989. The Cuban opposition has done a great job. We know that the government and intelligence services create moles, “construct” figures, infiltrate groups, defame and blackmail their opponents. This has existed and does exist, they are intransigents with those who don’t think like they do and who have the courage to raise their voice to express it. We Cubans who want changes have to think for ourselves and think about others, think about the Cuban people. We have to forget about egos and go where the people are to explain what are the steps for them to begin to demand their own rights, because they are the ones who should decide. We have to be with the people in this.

14ymedio: What happened to the Christian Liberation Movement after the death of Oswaldo Payá?

Acevedo: The movement received a very strong blow with the death of Oswaldo and Harold. Even before, the persecutions against them were very strong. It was the movement that had the most political prisoners and they were all exiled to Spain without the option to stay. At this time, within Cuba, the MCL is decimated, is my impression. The repression against them is very strong.

14ymedio: How was the experience of exile for your family? Will you return to Cuba?

Acevedo: My family never thought of going into exile. After Oswaldo’s murder I made the decision to go into exile for my children, because State Security was focused on my oldest son. They prevented my daughter Rosa María from starting work at a research center where she already had a place. I panicked and decided to leave because of “them” (State Security). Friends, neighbors, everyone was terrorized, because the whole world knew what had happened and that they enjoy total impunity.

I am working as a teacher and wondering when I can return to my country. I want to return to Cuba, but I hope that things improve because it costs me a lot to have to face them. My rejection of them is huge. I know I have to deal with them but it’s very difficult, because of what they are doing, what they did, how they have made my family and our people suffer.

The car in which Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá were killed four years ago
The car in which Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá were killed four years ago

Acevedo: The only meeting I had with them was a week after Oswaldo’s funeral. They called me in to ask if I was going to ask from compensation from Angel Carromero [the leader of the youth organization New Generations of the Popular Party of Madrid, who was driving the car in which Payá died and who was convicted of manslaughter). I told them I would not accept their version and I wanted to talk with the survivors. They never granted me that. The Cuban penal code does not give the victims a chance. My children were not allowed to attend the trial, which the regime had announced would be public. There was an immense repression in Bayamo [where the trial was held]. We could not carry out any legal action because a lawyer friend of the family said there was no chance to demand anything because of the criminal code.

I asked the government and the hospital for the autopsy report. They have never given it to me. I spoke to State Security, with Legal Medicine. Everyone told me that the hospital had to give me the report. The hospital administration, at six in the evening, after I did whatever paperwork was possible, told me to send it to them by mail and gave me a telephone number. The number didn’t work and we are still waiting on the autopsy. I wrote to the minister of Public Health. Rosa María tried to deliver a letter to the Cuban embassy, but they wouldn’t even let her enter the diplomatic site. Then we sent the letter in Cuba and we we had a receipt for it, but they have never answered.

14ymedio: What did Aron Modig (former leader of the Swedish Christian Democrat Party youth organization who was also in the car at the time of the crash) say about the day he Payá and Harold died?

Acevedo: Modig maintains his position. He doesn’t remember anything until reaching the hospital. It is a selective loss of memory. To me there are things that bother me sometimes in the media, because they talk about an accident, when we all know that it was a murder. A report by the international organization The Human Rights Foundation and another by physics professors at Florida International University demonstrated that it is impossible for [the crash] to have happened in the way the Cuban State says it did.

14ymedio: What legacy have Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá left?

Acevedo: The blood of freedom fighters is the seed of free men. This applies to Harold, Oswaldo, to all who have given their lives for human rights. The blood of innocent people, those who give their lives for others, is not spilled in vain. They crashed Oswaldo’s cars* when he was in the street. We keep fighting to give the Cuban people the possibility of deciding, which was Oswaldo’s fight as well. The Cuban government, in exchange, fights to destroy Cubans’ hopes.

*Translator’s note: There was a similar incident with another vehicle Oswaldo Payá was traveling in prior to the fatal crash.

See also:

Rosa Maria Paya’s Press Conference on the Crash That Killed Her Father and Harold Cepero

Angel Carromero Details Car Crash That Killed Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero

Interview with Rosa Maria Paya / Lilianne Ruiz, Rosa Maria Paya

The Political Legacy of Oswaldo Paya / 14ymedio

Human Rights Foundation suggests “Direct Responsibility of the Cuban Regime” in the death of Paya / 14ymedio

Carromero’s Courage / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Surprising Sentence for Angel Carromero for the Deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a Car Crash / Yoani Sanchez

Roberta Jacobson Queries the Castros’ Crime / Rosa Maria Paya

“The Tentacles of Castroism Are Long” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Efrain Sanchez Mateo refuses to abandon his countrymen, whom he calls brothers. (14ymedio)
Efrain Sanchez Mateo refuses to abandon his countrymen, whom he calls brothers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 July 2016 — Desolate, but firm and willing to continue fighting for Cubans, whom he calls “my brothers.” Thus, Efrain Sanchez Mateo defines himself after serving a sentence of five days in jail for allegedly assaulting a police officer during the eviction of Cuban migrants camped at El Arbolito Park in Quito, Ecuador.

“That was something they were planning for a long time, but they didn’t have the courage to do it. The turning point was our protest outside the Cuban consulate in Quito,” explained Sanchez Mateo. The unprecedented march in which hundreds of migrants repudiated the statement from the embassy accusing them of trying to score points to get political asylum “frightened the regime,” added the Cuban. continue reading

“How long are we going to continue supporting the Association of Cuban Resident in Ecuador (ACURE)? How long will we continue supporting the lies of an embassy that doesn’t represent us?” he says in a reference to the accusation of the pro-Castro association that accuses them of receiving money from abroad and “serving the interests of Miami.”

“If this inhumane action and violation of human rights committed by the Ecuadorian government in collusion with Cuban State Security has made something clear, it is that nobody has sustained and supported us from the outside,” he argues.

Mateo, a coordinator of Cuban migrants, says the presence of the Mambi or “Freedom” encampment, as he called their tents in the Quito park, had authorization from the police and the Ministry of Social Inclusion and they have evidence to prove it.

“We had been promised they would not intervene. We had an organization and lived in solidarity with other Cuban brothers and many who are still there, having no place to sleep, went to work and carried on the cause,” he comments.

Ecuador’s Vice Minister of the Interior, Diego Fuentes, told the press that it wasn’t exclusively about the Cubans, but “of migratory control that affects all citizens and all nationalities.” The official also explained that these controls sustain “a regular and responsible migratory flow” that will avoid the “abuse” of Ecuador’s image of universal citizenship and open doors, something that Mateo agrees with.

“The night the camp was evacuated, the police followed the same modus operandi as they used the first time when they evacuated the migrants from the around the Mexican embassy,” he explained. “They came at midnight and about two in the morning a large group of police and anti-riot troops evacuated the place. However, this time they used migration control as a pretext, so it could not be called an eviction, but it’s clear that the motive was xenophobia against Cubans,” he says.

Caricature by Bonil, El Universo, 11 July.
Caricature by Bonil, El Universo, 11 July.

“We men try to protect the women. We are beaten and threatened. Cuban State Security agents in plainclothes in among the Ecuadorian police tried to catch me. Every day I receive threats toward me and my family, because they believe it will make me abandon my brothers. I regret what happened, but I will not do that, neither those in Cuba nor those here,” he says.

Efrain Sanchez Mateo regrets that the Cuban community abroad has not shown their support for respect for the rights of their compatriots in Ecuador. “We have been beaten, our rights have been violated, we are trying to escape communism and they have left us on our own,” he laments.

“I call on the internal opposition in Cuba and those who fight for their freedom from exile. Do not leave the 75 Cubans who were deported to the island on their own. Do not let them fall back into the clutches of the government,” says Mateo says he is in contact with several of those who have been repatriated and has urged them to continue what they started in Ecuador.

At 3:30 am on Wednesday morning, a judge responsible for procedural rights and guarantees rejected the habeas corpus petition for 47 of the 48 Cubans being held at the Hotel Carrion. Yesterday afternoon a group of Ecuadorian and Cuban protestors demonstrated their support for the migrants with protest actions in front of the court. On Monday morning, Ecuador completed the second transfer of Cubans to their country of origin, bringing the number of those repatriated to 75.

“The Cubans in Ecuador could not possibly show more courage. We did everything possible, but the tentacles of Castroism are long,” he adds.

Cubans March Against Raul Castro In Ecuador / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 July 2016 — Hundreds of people went to the Cuban embassy in Quito in Monday with the purpose of “repudiating” President Raul Castro and recent statements issued by the embassy in which they were accused of “seeking points” to reach the United States.

“This is not about seeking points, but defending the truth. We fled a dictatorship, the longest this continent has ever had, so we condemn the Castros and we do so at in their own embassy. We have lost the fear,” Enrique Santana, one of the protesters, told 14ymedio. continue reading

“We stopped the traffic. The police guarded our way to the embassy. We wanted to deliver a statement of repudiation. There were about 500 people,” said another of the Cubans.

According to witnesses, the diplomatic representatives of the island accepted the document with the words of migrants who are spending the night at El Arbolito Park in Quito, after they were evicted by the police from a demonstration in front of the Mexican Embassy when they asked for humanitarian visas to enable them to reach the United States.

“They did it through a crack, but they accepted our demand,” said Jorge Sanchez, another of the protesters, who also says that “it was the first time” something happened.

“Yes, we are counterrevolutionaries. At the embassy it doesn’t matter that they mistreat us and even beat our children, so now we respond that we are not afraid,” said Efrain Sanchez Mateo, coordinator of the group. According to what Sanchez Mateo explained to this newspaper, his family on the island has been threatened by State Security because of his demonstrations in Ecuador. “They told me they’re going to deport me to Cuba. They are afraid of me,” he said.

In the document delivered to the embassy, Cubans say they have had to leave their country “because of the police corruption” there. They also reject the Cuban interference in Ecuador, manifested in the refusal of Ecuador to welcome more professionals from the island.

“The press release from the Cuban embassy in Ecuador demonstrated once again their intent to continue hiding the truth of a people who have been deceived for more than 50 years,” the document added. It also says that the Cuban people “starve while corrupt leaders engage in politics” and reminds that there is no democracy in Cuba, but rather a regime in that imposes orders that are not discussed.

Last week, hundreds of Cubans who were in La Carolina Park in Quito received permission from the municipality to move to El Arbolito Park, which since then is known as “the mambí encampment” or “the freedom encampment.”

Members of the X Cuba Movement participated in the demonstration Monday in solidarity with migrants and others in the Cuban community in Ecuador.

In 2008 when Ecuador ended the visa requirement for Cubans, the country became the largest springboard to cross the United States and hosted one of the largest communities of Cuban nationals abroad Island. The economic crisis facing the country, together with measures to discourage emigration, has led thousands of Cubans to remain undocumented in the country, so that they can go to the United States in order to benefit from the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy that allows them to legally enter the country and facilitates their obtaining the residence.

In previous initiatives, more than 5,000 Cubans have delivered lists with their names to the embassies of Mexico and Canada to allow them to travel to their countries in order to follow the US border, but so far both countries have denied this request.

The Cuban Embassy in Quito Accuses Migrants of “Seeking Points” From The US / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cubans in El Arbolito Park, where they were moved by Quito authorities. (14ymedio)
Cubans in El Arbolito Park, where they were moved by Quito authorities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 2 July 2016 — With the language of the Cold War, the Embassy of Cuba in Ecuador has responded through an official statement to the situation of thousands of migrants from the island who are undocumented in Ecuador and are asking for a humanitarian bridge that allows them to reach the United States.

The answer comes after dissimilar attempts to obtain information from the embassy that kept a veil of silence over the protests carried out by migrants which included a demonstration in front of the Mexican Embassy and requests to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the embassy of the United States in the Ecuadorian capital for assistance. continue reading

“The embassy of Cuba wishes to clarify to public opinion that these people left our country, overwhelmingly in a legal way, and none of them is persecuted for their political ideas,” says the document, which also accuses the undocumented “seeking points” from the US government.

The document, which was published unsigned on the embassy’s social network site, directly accused the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy of being responsible for the current wave of migration affecting Central and South American countries. “Once again it is demonstrated that the current immigration policy of the US government towards Cuba is inconsistent with the current bilateral context.”

Reactions to the embassy statement by the Cubans in Ecuador were not long in coming. The social networks are filled with messages of both repudiation and support of the statement.

A migrant living in Ecuador, Carlos Ramirez Durades, explains that “it such is the disappointment that, even being in situations unfavorable for their lives, no one decides to return to Cuba.” That is a sign, he says, that “the sheep are not as tame as they want to paint them.”

A political organization established in Ecuador to support freedom in Cuba, the X Cuba Movement, issued a statement in solidarity with the undocumented migrants and asked the Cuban embassy to stop being “an instrument of the regime and put yourself on the correct side of history.”

Ephraim Mateo Sanchez, leader of the Cubans who installed themselves in front of the embassy of Mexico in Quito, said meanwhile that they are preparing “a clear and strong response” to the statement issued by the Cuban embassy.

Several Cubans living in Ecuador, such as Lucía Camacho Ríos and Karel Gómez Velázquez, have expressed agreement with the statement issued by the embassy. Some have also come out against the actions of the protesters. “They want to be put on plane, shouting ‘down with Fidel’ in the streets of Quito, but they didn’t do that in Havana. All my friends who went to the United States, took the ‘little road,’ it is best that they do the same,” Maritza Suarez, a Cuban who has lived in Ecuador for 26 years, told 14ymedio.

“With or without the Cuban Adjustment Act Cubans will continue leaving Cuba. When one goes sometimes we don’t know if they do it for political reasons, because on the island we don’t even know what freedom is. Finally, whether for economic reasons or not, when the essence goes, the people leave Cuba because the system doesn’t allow them to be what they want to be. In the end, everything has to do with politics,” said Lazaro Ramos, a Cuban who is a member of the Cuban National Alliance of Ecuador (ANCE) who emigrated to Ecuador less than a year ago.

Recently, Cuban migrants who have been evicted from outside the Mexican Embassy in Quito, received authorization to move to El Arbolito Park in the Ecuadorian capital. There they have established what they call “The Cuban Encampment,” or “The Mambí Encampment.” Several hundred people live in tents in precarious conditions in hopes that some country will serve as a trampoline to enter the United States, where legislation allows natural persons from the island to be admitted.

Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz

Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 – Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables, tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more than 86 degrees and with a sun that “cracks stones,” they travel the city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread, literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than 12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central Union (CTC) which has seen in these “workers” an opportunity to increase their ranks.

Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party’s “instructions.” continue reading

“Our work day begins at five in the morning. At that hour we have to go wait for the truck that brings the merchandise from the towns. Those who transport the products are the ones who negotiate the price with the farmer, and we negotiate with them. Sometimes people don’t understand the high prices, but it’s because everyone needs to eat,” says Maria Elena.

The self-employed woman is 53-years-old and her son is 19. They have chosen this way of earning a living because, as they say, “working for the State does not provide.”

“Sometimes the inspectors come and fine us because we are stopped in a place. Of course, you can always resolve it with some little gift: some cucumbers, a pound of tomatoes…everyone has needs,” she says.

CTC leaders have found in these problems the breeding ground for promoting membership.

“The street vendors have basic problems with the inspectors. The advantage of belonging to the union is that if they unfairly fine you, the workers can come to our offices and have the situation analyzed. If they show that the sanction has been unjust, we can intervene for its dismissal. Belonging to the CTC, you are protected,” says a union member who prefers to not give his name.

According to the vendors, the union have been inviting them for months to become part of the Agricultural Workers Union. “We don’t understand why, but it seems that they want everyone to be unionized,” says Enrique, who also says that, “it does not solve anything for the people.”

Several leaders of the CTC consulted by this daily said that more than 80% of the self-employed people in this area are enrolled in some union.

Union dues vary between two and eight pesos according to the worker’s earnings, although the majority of self-employed pay the minimum. The members also have to pay “My contribution to the homeland,” an update of the concept of “día de haber” – the “voluntary donation of a day’s wages to the Territorial Military Troops, to be spent to acquire weapons for the “defense of the homeland.”*

“People are not much interested in unionization, they do it simply so that they don’t get screwed by them,” explains Roberto, a man self-employed as a scissors and nail clippers sharpener.

“Sometimes they fine us just for the fact of remaining a long time in the same place selling. What happens is that these days there is so much sun that we have to take refuge under a shrub for a while in order to sell, and there the inspectors fall on you. Since our license is issued for mobile vendors, we cannot spend too much time in the same place,” says Enrique, who believes that the self-employed workers are the most vulnerable.

“You can be fined about 700 pesos for selling too much on one corner. But what’s a reasonable time that you can be in that place is not noted on any official document, it is at the complete discretion of the inspectors who take advantage of any reason to impose a sanction,” he says.

Although the Government promotes its organizations by all means, barely 48% of membership attends union meetings in Cienfuegos, as recognized by the official press. Independent union organizations exist in the country, like the Cuban Independent Union Coalition, heavily harassed by State Security. However, none of the self-employed consulted for this report say they are familiar with them.

The southern city’s statistics reveal what is a fact at the national level. After some first months in which the self-employed were left alone, the CTC encouraged carrying out “political work” in order to make them enter the ranks of the organization. According to their numbers, more than 400,000 “self-employed workers,” of the 500,000 registered in the country, belong to the official organization. For the moment, the creation of a union just for the self-employed continues to be a project “under study.”

“There is no other option, in the end we will have to join like everyone else, so that they don’t classify us as disaffected and rain more blows on us. We have to keep fighting, because we have to resolve it,” say the self-employed who prepare to end their day at eight at night, counting their meager earnings.

*Translator’s note: The so-called “día de haber” was initiated by Fidel Castro in 1981, requiring workers to “donate” a days wages to the military. The program was later renamed “día de la Patria,” meaning ‘One Day’s Work’ for the Homeland. The custom (and name) goes back to the Cuban independence struggle of the 1800s.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the "export of health services." (EFE)
The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, Mario Penton, 21 June 2016 — Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought of fleeing the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela and become a “defector” who is prohibited from entering her own country for eight years. The plight of the island’s health professionals in Venezuela has led an increasing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or to take alternative work to meet their needs in the midst of the economic crisis in that “Bolivarian” nation.

“The situation of doctors and aid workers Cubans is terrible. The whole time you are living under the threat that they send you back to Cuba and you lose your mission. You’re afraid they’ll take away all the money – which is in official accounts in Cuba – and if they take some disciplinary measure they will revoke the mission,” says Rodriguez. While working in a clinic lab in the “Barrio Adentro” mission, her salary of 700 Cuban pesos (about $26 US) is deposited in Cuba and she has the right to an account of 280 dollars a month and a card giving her 25% off on purchases at Foreign Exchange Collection Stores (TDRs) in Cuba. continue reading

In 2014, recognizing that the island earned more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services, the Cuban government agreed to increase the wages of workers in the sector (to $61 US per month). However, this increase, which came after the dismissal of 109,000 workers, has not raised the pay of Cuban doctors to the average pay for doctors internationally.

In 2014, recognizing that the island earned more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services, the Cuban government agreed to increase the wages of workers in the sector

Rodriguez arrived in Venezuela from her hometown of Holguin, where she worked in the Máximo Gómez Báez polyclinic after earning a degree in Clinical Laboratory. The desire to economically improve the lives of her 13-year-old daughter led her to choose to travel outside the country in one of the coveted medical missions abroad.

Cuba maintains a “contingent” in Venezuela composed of 28,811 health collaborators, a priority for the government which, since the late Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, has invested over 250 billion in the industry, according to statements by President Nicolas Maduro .

The scheme of paying for medical services with oil has been denounced on numerous occasions by analysts critical of the Caracas government, who accuse it of being a cover for subsidies to Havana, which eventually resells some of the oil on the international market.

Rodriguez has no family in the United States, where she has lived since filing for a visa through the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, offered by the US embassy, and has combined several jobs to raise the money and buy a plane ticket for her daughter. However, when the family took the child to the offices of Cuba’s Interior Ministry to request a passport, she was denied that right, based on the claim that her mother “is serving a mission in Venezuela.”

“I can not understand how in Cuba I can be considered as a doctor on mission, if for more than one year I have been in the United States. Someone has to be collecting the money that the Venezuelan government is paying for me,” says Rodriguez.

According the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, in the last fiscal year it received 2,552 petitions for the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program

According the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, in the last fiscal year it received 2,552 petitions for the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, an initiative established under Republican president George W. Bush, which allows a “medical professional currently conscripted to study or work in a third country under the direction of the Government of Cuba” to enter the United States with a visa. Since taking effect in 2006, more than 8,000 professionals have benefited from the program.

Solidarity Without Borders, an non-profit located in the United States, told 14ymedio that in recent years there has been an increase in doctors and healthcare workers taking advantage of the US government program, although not all are accepted, as demonstrated by the 367 applications denied in the last year.

Rodriguez said that upon reaching Venezuela she was assigned to the state of Falcon, along with other Cubans. “Everything in Venezuela is a lie. They forced us to throw out the reagent CKMB, a product in short supply in the nation, but we had to throw it out for the record in the statistics used so we can import more. This was the case with alcohol, bandages, medicines… Everything was produced in Cuba and the Venezuelan government paid,” she denounces.

“We made up lists of people treated and they forced us to live with the minimum, while Cuba took all the money,” she explained. In the time Rodriguez worked as a specialist, Havana allocated to each staffer around 3,000 Bolivars (about $300 US), a figure that has escalated substantially since the beginning of the inflationary crisis in Venezuela and the relentless devaluation of the currency. “Sometimes, I had to have my little ‘under the counter’ job to support myself. Thanks to God, many Venezuelans sympathize with the Cubans and help us,” she explains.

“Perhaps what happened with me is when I decided to escape, I went to the mayor and told him about the whole disaster created by the CDI (Integral Diagnostic Center) and now they want revenge because I denounced it,” she says.

Reinaldo is a Cuban doctor who worked in Anzoategui state, but does not want to give his last name for fear of being punished. “We started out earning 3,000 Bolivars and now we’re at 15,000 Bolivars (about 15 dollars on the black market). The odd things is that it doesn’t mean anything to multiply the wages if they aren’t worth anything in real life,” he laments.

“We started out earning 3,000 Bolivars and now we’re at 15,000 Bolivars (about 15 dollars on the black market)… which isn’t worth anything in real life”

“The conditions we work in are the worst, we are the wage slaves of Cuba. They keep us in groups. Since I arrived, I’ve lived with three doctors from different regions of the island, I have to share my room with someone I don’t know and at six in the evening every day I have check in, like I’m at home.”

The authorities of the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela justify the daily check on aid workers and maintain that it is to protect them due to the high levels of violence in the neighborhoods they serve. The doctors, for their part, consider that it is a practice to keep them under surveillance.

“There are a lot of Cuban State Security agents. The role of these people is to ensure we don’t escape from the mission. On arriving in Venezuela they ask us if we have family abroad, especially in the United States. We all say no, even if we do, because otherwise the surveillance is worse,” says the physician.

The economic situation in the country has become so precarious, he says, that in his last vacation on the island he had to buy cleaning and bath soaps and toothpaste to bring the Venezuela. “When we got here, it was a paradise, they had everything we didn’t have in Cuba. Today it’s the exact opposite. We come thinking about helping our families and it turns out that they are the one who are helping us. If it weren’t for my brother who lives in Miami and sends me remittances, I don’t know what I would do.”

“When we got here, it was a paradise, they had everything we didn’t have in Cuba. Today it’s the exact opposite.”

According to several doctors consulted by this newspaper, cases of violence in which Cuban healthcare workers have been involved are kept secret, even if the person dies.

“It is impossible that we wouldn’t be assaulted here, because here everyone is assaulted. A stray bullet, a thug who doesn’t like you, we’re exposed to all this,” says a Cuban doctor who prefers not to give her name. “One day two children assaulted me, they couldn’t have been more than 12. I had to give them all the money I had, because the guns they were playing with were real,” she says.

The relations of the Cuban medical personnel are also regulated. “They warn you that things can go badly for you if you deal with the squalid (a word used in Venezuela for regime opponents similar to the use of “scum” and “worm” in Cuba).” The doctor says that the intimacy between Venezuelans and Cubans is formally forbidden, “although people manage.”

In the 13 years that Cuban medical missions have been operating in Venezuela, more than 124,000 specialists have passed through that nation. Thousands have fled to the United States and other countries in search of better living conditions. In 2015, Cuba assured “health professionals who have left the country that under the current immigration policy,” if they returned to the island, they would be guaranteed “a work location similar to what they had previously.” However, they put a limitation on it: the returnees will again be under the obligation to request special permission to travel outside the country.

Cubans Hold a Vigil at the Mexican Embassy in Ecuador to Ask for Humanitarian Visas / 14ymedio

Organizers estimated that about 700 people participated in the vigil. (14ymedio)
Organizers estimated that about 700 people participated in the vigil. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 June 2016 –Hundreds of Cubans held a vigil Sunday night outside the Mexican embassy in Ecuador to ask Mexico to grant them humanitarian visas that would allow them to continue their journey to the United States.

The event, attended by Cuban migrants from various parts of the country, had been called a week earlier by the former deputy to Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, Peter Borges. Organizers estimated that some 700 people participated in the vigil, despite the fact that, according to Borges, early morning temperatures dropped to 50 degrees in Quito. continue reading

In the morning, they delivered letters address to Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto requesting an airlift similar to those established by Costa Rica and Panama. The airlift would evacuate thousands of undocumented Cubans in Ecuador which, according to them, total about 5,000 people.

Cubans camped in tents outside the embassy and hung murals with photos of those presumed missing in illegal crossings to reach the United States through the Colombian and Central American jungles.

The migrants hung murals with photos of those believed to be missing in illegal crossings to reach the US. (14ymedio)
The migrants hung murals with photos of those believed to be missing in illegal crossings to reach the US. (14ymedio)

At the vigil there was also a collection of humanitarian aid for Cubans who are in distress or poverty, which will be distributed through recently structured mechanisms.

The migrants also wanted to show their solidarity with their more than 300 compatriots stranded in Turbo, Colombia. The mayor of that town, Alejandro Abuchar, said, “As of now, there is nothing new to report on the status of the Cubans. They should leave the country and continue their journey and no exceptions will be made.”

Several of those stranded in Turbo report that they have fevers and the flu but, according to ombudsman William Gonzalez, health authorities of the municipality maintain that it is a common flu and that their lives are not in danger.

Oscar Biscet Fights For “The Disintegration of the Dictatorship of the Castros” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Dr. Oscar Biscet Cuba after his press conference (14ymedio)
Dr. Oscar Biscet Cuba after his press conference (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 June 2016 — On his first trip to the United States, former political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet has shown once again that he doesn’t mince words: he has criticized President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, he has spoken in favor of repealing the Cuban Adjustment Act, and he has raised the possibility of a military coup on the island.

A doctor by profession, Biscet is backed by the Lawton Foundation, the National Democratic Party and the New Union for a Free Cuba Foundation. He presented the Emilia Project at a press conference this Saturday; the project is named in honor of Emilia Teurbe Toulon, who in the mid 19th-century first sewed the first Cuban flag. According to Biscet his initiative is a “project of freedom” that seeks “the disintegration of the dictatorship of the Castros.” continue reading

Biscet was sentenced to 25 years in prison for presenting research that denounced the abortion practices of the Cuban health system, but was released in 2011 and decided to stay on the island. Recently, the Cuban government allowed him to travel abroad “only once,” and the regime opponent is in the midst of a tour that has taken him to Spain and the United States. He has expressed fears for his life on his return to Cuba.

“The Emilia project declares that the Communist Constitution and the organs of state power are unconstitutional,” said the Biscet, arguing that the 1940 Constitution had been violated by Fidel Castro in 1959 with the arbitrary application of capital punishment. “In the first month they shot 900 people, 400 of whom were people who had nothing to do with the previous regime, simply because they dared to dissent,” he said.

The Emilia project has been signed by more than 3,000 Cubans with their names and identity card numbers. In it he demands that “the legal system of our country has as its base the democratic principles that prevail in other nations of the civilized world.”

Biscet argues that his movement is based on the 1940 Constitution which, since its amendment in 1976, has been an “eyesore” imposed by the Cuban government against the will of its own people.

Dr. Oscar Biscet from Cuba presented The Emilia Project in Miami
Dr. Oscar Biscet from Cuba presented The Emilia Project in Miami

With regards to relations between the US and Cuba, Biscet believes that the steps taken by the current administration, including President Barack Obama’s visit to the island, “complicate the fight against the dictatorship.”

“It is a mistake to support a dictatorship that is falling. Free governments should demand freedom for Cuba,” said Biscet. “Emilia activists want to strengthen the people in their idea of achieving freedom, strengthening non-governmental organizations, seeking a multitude willing to end the dictatorship and execute a strategic plan to end this.”

According to the leader of the Emilia Project, there are several possible scenarios: that a group of “worthy” soldiers would put an end the regime (he would support this option), or that the son of Raul Castro, Alejandro Castro Espin, succeeds his father, or that there is a evolution towards a “softer dictatorship” in the style of the former Yugoslavia of Milosevic.

“Our purpose is to make a change from the base to the superstructure, a national insurrection,” said Biscet, who pointed out however the peaceful nature of his movement said. “There are many people who have hatred but we want justice to prevail.”

According to Biscet, the Cuban government has always lived on foreign aid, first from the Soviets and now Venezuela. “The Venezuelan people are starving like the Cuban people, not only materially starving but hungering for freedom,” he added. “Socialism has caused chaos and failure wherever it has been implemented, we knew that Venezuela would end like this.”

On the current immigration crisis the former political prisoner believes that “it is a human right to emigrate,” but regrets that the Cuban Adjustment Act allows people to continue leaving the island and then return in a year and a day “to speculate.” He said, “I agree with what Marco Rubio and Congressman Curbelo are doing; asylum must be for those who deserve it, the rest should stay in Cuba to fight.”

For Biscet “you can not enjoy a foreign freedom, with the resources of another country.”

Leaders of Cubans in Colombia Deported / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Nelson March and his wife, Maidelin Hernandez, who documented the situation of Cubans in Turbo (Colombia) were deported to Ecuador on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 31 May 2016 – Colombian immigration officials arrested Maidelin Hernandez and her husband, Nelson March on Monday night; the couple documented the daily situation of hundreds of Cubans who are stranded in a shelter in the Colombian city of Turbo.

The couple was reportedly deported to Ecuador, according to William Gonzalez de la Hoz, Ombudsman, despite the fact that Hernandez has cancer and wants to reach the United States so that his family can pay for treatment.

“This is a sign. Slowly they continue to deport small groups so as not to cause a scandal,” said a Colombian official who requested anonymity. continue reading

Turbo’s mayor, Alejandro Abuchar, confirmed that the Cubans had been arrested, but the mayor says he has no tied to the Colombian immigration authorities. “We continue making every effort for migrants, trying to ensure that their rights as human beings are respected,” said the mayor.

The deportation of this couple happens after last Sunday’s repatriation to to Cuba of an undocumented immigrant couple, who were arrested near Medellin.

“That was very unjust, we are all in the shelter or homes, according to what each person is able to pay, but we thought they would make a collective decision. Now we see that is not the case,” said Aylin Gari Cruz, an activist in the Republican Party Cuba currently in Turbo.

The process of detention occurred when the couple left the hostel where more than a hundred Cubans are sleeping in this Caribbean city. According to statements by the Hernandez himself, he was brought down by an official of Colombia Migration while trying to find medication to alleviate the pain of his illness. After a quick scuffle, they were arrested and forbidden to communicate with family and friends, and one of their cell phones was confiscated.

Hernandez managed to hide his cellphone in his underwear and from the immigration office sent brief messages to the press on the situation they found themselves in.

In documents shared with this newspaper by Turbo’s Municipal Ombudsman Office, the migrants refused to give their names and, on being considered “undocumented,” the deportation process began.

Colombia Repatriates Undocumented Cuban Couple Who Arrived From Ecuador / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Two migrants were repatriated to Cuba on Sunday from Colombia (courtesy)
Two migrants were repatriated to Cuba on Sunday from Colombia (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 May 2016 – A Cuban couple who arrived from Ecuador, were repatriated to the island by the Colombian authorities this Sunday, after being detained in the center of the country without proper documentation.

Leira Valle Piedra and Yoandy Boza Canal, ages 19 and 23 respectively, entered Colombia through its border with Ecuador with the intention of joining the Cubans who are in the town of Turbo, in Antioquia Department, but they were discovered two hours from Medellin and transferred to Pereira, where they were informed they would be returned to Cuba. continue reading

“They told us it will be the same for all Cubans who are in Colombia without a visa,” Leira Valle told 14ymedio. She said that they decided to cross into Colombia with the aim of continuing the journey to the United States, where they have family. “They refused to renew my husband’s visa in Ecuador so we had to leave there,” she said.

The deportation to Cuba happened after Colombia Migration issued a statement on 25 May in which it expressed that the new measures that the country was taking in the face of human trafficking are beginning to show good results.

The new actions consist of an increase in checkpoints both along highways and at border points. The authorities referred to the new irregular migration routes they detected in the departments of Nariño, Huila and Amazonas.

The communiqué also said that more than 150 migrants were deported in recent days to their countries of origin or to the location where they had entered Colombia.

With regards to hundreds of Cubans who are being housed in a warehouse in Turbo the text was categorical: “Colombia Migration and the National Government will not facilitate any aircraft to transport them to a different place that is not the border where they entered Colombia or their place of origin. To do otherwise would be contributing to the criminal bands of human traffickers.

In 2016 alone, the town of Turbo has discovered more then 3,700 irregular migrants. Most of them obtained a safe conduct giving them 10 days to pass through the country but, after the closing of the border with Panama to the avalanche of Cubans and migrants from other continents, the Colombian government has decided to deport the undocumented to their countries in origin.

In response to the request for information on the case, the communications office of Migration Colombia told this newspaper that, due to the internal policies that manage the institution, they can not address the issue only from the Cuban problem, “every time, for the Colombian state these people are victims of migrant trafficking networks and we would be ‘revictimizing’ them.”

Cubans Demonstrate In Front Of The US Embassy In Quito / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in front the US embassy in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 27 May 2016 — Hundreds of Cubans, more than a thousand according to organizers, marched this Friday morning in front of the United States embassy in Quito, to ask for Washington’s intervention in the negotiation of an immigration agreement that would allow more than 5,000 migrants reach the US border.

“They didn’t let us go past the embassy. The Ecuadorian police blocked the way,” said Peter Borges, who leads the protests along with Fernanda de la Fe. continue reading

According to the activists, it was a peaceful demonstration intended to deliver a letter to the ambassador to ask him to mediate with the Ecuadorian government for the passage of thousands of Cubans who want to emigrate to the United States and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Since 1996, the Act has given special treatment to the island’s citizens who are able to reach US territory with regards to emigration.

“Cubans do not want to leave here, we spent several hours in the demonstration,” said the activist.

The letter, which they were not able to deliver, denounced the “horrendous episodes of extortion, rapes, murders and the disappearance of entire families,” which the migrants have suffered on their journey as undocumented emigrants across the continent with the objective of “reaching the freedom and well-being permitted by the generous United States government.”

The purpose of the missive is “to seek help to avoid further loss of human lives.” The letter also states that Cubans living in Ecuador are worried because “the Ecuadorian government has implemented a document review process for a large group of ‘irregular’ Cubans who make their lives here on the occasion of this crisis and as a form of retaliation.”

The demonstration comes after the Mexican government rejected a similar request on 18 May. On that occasion, Jaime del Arenal, Mexican ambassador in Ecuador, explained in a communication that the Cubans, many of whom have not been able to regularize their immigration status in the country, “do not qualify for the granting of visas.”

According to the organizers, the initiative also seeks to avoid adding to the number of Cubans who are stranded in Turbo, Colombia, after Panama closed its border to the passage of undocumented migrants. Panama recently transfered more than 3,800 Cubans to Mexico as the result of an an exceptional migratory agreement.

Following the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States and the worsening of living conditions on the island, tens of thousands of Cubans are trying to reach the US border for fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be repealed. In the current fiscal year alone, between October 1 and April 30, 35,652 Cubans had been accepted under the special “parole” program available to them in the United States. It is expected that more than 60,000 Cubans will arrive in the United States this year.

Cuban Migrants Criticize The High Prices Of Airfares To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico
Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 May 2016 — Accustomed to standing in long lines on the island, thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Panama were waiting for hours Friday to buy an airline ticket to Mexico. Among these “middle class rafters” criticism was rising over the high price of airfares which has reached $805 for an adult ticket.

José Antonio Quesada and his wife, both lawyers, are among those who were waiting in the sun today to get tickets. As of May 5, the Panamanian Government authorized the sale of airline for Cuban migrants and at least 800 of them have already purchased their tickets to continue their journey. continue reading

The two attorneys spent 1,669 dollars in tickets, including the trip by bus to the airport, the equivalent of more than five years wages for a in Cuba. Both have managed to raise the money with the help of relatives in Miami, but they are concerned because they have no more cash for when they reach the U.S. border.

Quesada and his wife traveled from the island to Ecuador with the intention of settling there and improving their economic condition. However, the obstacles to legalizing their residence and finding jobs pushed them to make a difficult journey through Colombia and the Darién jungle. They departed with the hope of taking advantage of Cuban Adjustment Act which grants immigration benefits to all residents of the island who reach United States.

Now the two professionals are among the lucky ones who have been able to purchase a ticket for flights starting next Monday to the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. The cost of the trip by plane for a child between 2 and 11 years is $332 whereas for a child under a year the amount drops to $160.

The sale of tickets has been marked by the absence of official statements from the Panamanian president’s office, which arouses suspicions among migrants, who fear shady dealings with regards to prices or lack of transparency in the process. “The Government does not give us information,” complains the Cuban Elizander Roque.

As of noon this Friday hundreds of migrants from the island had undertaken, on their own, to travel to the David’s Mall, 25 miles from the shelters where they are staying in Los Planes, Gualaca, to buy tickets.

The prices have surprised Sisleydis Moret, a 25-year-old Cuban who says she feels “desperate” at not having enough money to buy them, due to the expenses of supporting herself during her stay in Panama.

The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)
The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)

Her companion in the hostel, Keily Arteaga, age 29, is in a similar situation. “The news was like a bucket of cold water,” she says and comments that, “now we don’t have the money they are asking for.”

Arteaga, who resides in a house in San Isidro, left Ecuador because she was not able to legalize her immigration status. She had “a good job” but she was illegal, which mean that “all the doors” were closed to her, she explains. She says she has taken advantage of “all of this turmoil” of the immigration crisis in Central America to reach Panama.

Those who travel accompanied by several family members experience the most delicate situation. Isleyda Lelle said she was glad to hear that tickets sales had begun to Mexico, but now she needs to wait for her mother, resident in the United States, to help her “complete” the cost of the trip for her, her brother and her sister-in-law.

For Andy Llanes, the situation is more difficult because he says that he does not have “a single dollar” to buy the ticket. “My journey was very hard, we were attacked along the way and they stole from us all that we had.” In the trip to Panama he details that his partner “was raped and now the poor woman is pregnant from the Coyote who abused her.”

Llanes says the only thing he owns is the “flip-flops” he is wearing and says that if he cannot continue the trip, he will stay in Panama because “I won’t return to Cuba even if they threaten me with death.”

Alfredo Córdoba, regional head of the National Migration Service in the Chiriqui province told 14ymedio that he still does not know what will happen to those Cubans who cannot afford the airfares.

An official source who requested anonymity explained that Cuban migrants found in Puerto Obaldia have not received their passports yet and so far there are no specific directions about whether they will or will not be part of the humanitarian program.

This newspaper has gotten in touch with both the Panama National Migration Service and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but so far we have not received answers to our questions.

Ed. note: Since this article was written the price of the airfare was lowered and then the sale of tickets was cut off altogether. Translations of articles detailing these subsequent events will follow.

Translated by Alberto