A Member of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement Requests Asylum at the Zurich Airport

The reporter and activist Alfredo Martínez Ramírez. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 November 2021 — Right now, the Cuban reporter and activist Alfredo Martínez Ramírez planned to be leaving the Zurich airport, where he arrived last Thursday, to enter a refugee center in Switzerland, the country where he has requested asylum after months of persecution and harassment in Cuba. However, he will have to wait until the end of this week, according to what the Swiss authorities just informed him.

Martínez is not one of the visible faces of the Cuban opposition, but he has been an active member and is loved by his colleagues, and this Sunday he received from exile the birthday wishes of the members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), which he has collaborated with since 2019.

“Now I have to prove all the repression against me. Right now I am in the airport refuge and from here they are going to take me to the city refuge. Tomorrow is the fifth day since I have been here and the asylum process has a five month delay,” the activist told 14ymedio this Monday .

Martinez had had his ticket to freedom since February, but the pandemic thwarted his departure on numerous occasions. Finally, last Thursday, he boarded a flight from Havana that, after a brief stopover in Cancun, left him at the Kloten Airport, where the immigration police followed up on his request.

“They had me in a room for about three hours checking all my data, my criminal record, they took all my documents, right now I am without a passport or identity card. I have a green paper, which is a permit to be at the airport without documents,” explains the activist by telephone.

Although he describes the situation as “terrible,” he claims to be well and properly cared for. “They have treated me very well. I have had a bed and food, but it was difficult, I had to explain in detail what I was doing in Cuba,” he says.

His first arrest in Cuba occurred on October 10, 2020, during a concert against police violence at which he was arrested by agents who dragged him around San Isidro for five blocks before taking him to the Marianao station. “It was the first time I met agent Darío.”

It was not, however, his first encounter with the Cuban forces of order, whom he had known as a collateral victim. His partner was a freelance journalist, which began to out the pressure on him. So, for example, he lost your rental home.

The practice of pressuring the landlord to terminate the contract with a tenant in the opposition has not been unusual in Cuba. It happened to him on two occasions, the second when he shared a house with the art curator Anamely Ramos, with whom he also collaborated on a project that called for the release of imprisoned activist Silverio Portal. Getting involved in the San Isidro Movement press group was definitely a turning point in his life.

“I had to help my friends, Katherine [Bisquet], Camila [Lobón], Carolina [Barrero], whom I met 10 years ago, when none of us were thinking of doing this kind of political activism, and I took it as something very personal,” he says.

On November 27, when he was already a contributor to the independent publication Tremenda Nota, he participated in the protest in front of the Ministry of Culture and was one of the 30 chosen to participate in a meeting that the authorities sold as a will for dialogue. Since then, his engagement has become a priority.

“I was in the group to help political prisoners, bringing meals for the ‘Where you fall I raise you’ campaign, medicines for the MSI medical kit and keeping my friends communicated and fed. That cost me a lot, because it bothered State Security that I was helping them,” he says, adding that they tried to prevent him from visiting Carolina Barrero on multiple occasions.

“They were not going to take from me a friendship of so many years. How could I not go help her if she was alone and I know she was having a bad time? She was besieged [surrounded by State Security] for more than 200 days, without food, without anything, how am I going to leave her alone in that,” remember.

Already then, when he accumulated several arrests, he bought a ticket to leave Cuba on February 8, but the restrictions due to covid-19 were joined by another issue. On January 27, he was arrested before the Ministry of Culture when the police violently dissolved the sit-in that several artists were holding after paying tribute to José Martí on the eve of the 168th anniversary of his birth.

“In that arrest they made me sign a letter in which I had to renounce all activism and pass on information to them, something that I denounced when I left. But I couldn’t handle those prohibitions and I broke everything I signed. They got very upset with me, because I continued doing my things. For me those papers are worth nothing; I signed at that moment because I was leaving in 10 days,” he adds.

After July 11, the harassment moved on to his family, which State Security began to pressure to force his departure. “They have not stopped insisting that I leave. They never ’regulated’* me , they even insisted on buying me a ticket, but I always said no, that I didn’t want anything from them,” he explains.

Martínez leaves Cuba convinced that his low profile has helped fulfill his objectives and, although he is grateful for the voices that lead activism, he claims his place. “I have always liked to be behind everything, to really help, without being in the foreground, because it does not interest me. I do not want to say things that are already more than said, but to carry out actions. That is my goal.”

*Translator’s note: ’Regulated’ in this context means forbidden to travel.


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