14ymedio, Mario Penton Martinez, 2 Deceber 2015 — The first thing Frank Gonzalez (not his real name) dreams of doing upon his arrival in New York is eating ice cream, even if it is snowing. The route to the United States, however, is still a long one for this medical clinician from Camagüey who is in Ecuador, from where he is going to try to get to Colombia.
The doctor, 49, traveling with his wife and daughter, says he is “looking for freedom,” as other family members and neighbors have already done. “In my neighborhood of Camagüey very few of my friends remain, most of them are here or in the United States. Cuba is going to be emptied out,” he muses.
His motivations to leave the island, he says, “were the same as for all those who have been leaving Cuba for years.” And he added, “When I had spent two days in this country I said to myself, I spent at least 15 years when I should have been here, how stupid I’ve been, waiting for a change there.”
Gonzalez left his native country because of a lack of prospects for the future. “I don’t mean only in the economic sphere, but also intellectual freedom. It’s not about doing whatever you want, but at least being able to make plans with your salary, to be free to express your feelings and opinions. Leaving Cuba is a personal decision, but if you have dreams, goals and want options in your life, you have to do it,” he explains.
Before embarking on the trip he had to sell all his belongings, including his house. The first expense facing him was a passport, which cost 100 dollars, one of the most expensive in the world. He also had to pay some 2,000 dollars for certifications of his credentials and the ticket to Ecuador, plus about 350 dollars for a new visa because he wasn’t a tourist.
However, he thinks that “the worst is not the expense, which is hard; the worst is facing a completely new reality in capitalism.” Gonzales said that in the private clinics in Ecuador where he has worked they have paid him “much less than an Ecuadorian doctor would earn,” and even at times fired him without paying the salary owed to him, and without him being able to demand it.
However, “for professionals like us, it is best that we leave, because others cannot be legalized as quickly and are much more exploited. Their jobs are usually the lowest paid and, of course, if you get into any kind of trouble they immediately deport you to Cuba.”
Gonzales is aware that in the United States he will probably have to “paint bus stops,” but he still prefers that to the work he performs in Quito. “I want to see things from another perspective. I want to dedicate my remaining years to other activities, but not having to live in Cuba or here,”
The doctor believes that the situation in Ecuador is increasingly difficult for Cubans. “The Ecuadorians themselves do not want us, they see us as people who come to take away their jobs and they are happy with the decision to require visas,” he says. The physician estimates that the new measure, taking effect this Tuesday, has raised the prices charged by the coyotes. Before the measures, it cost 600 dollars to get to the border of Colombia and Panama. Today they are talking about 1,500 dollars,” he explained.
“In Colombia the situation is also critical, everyone agrees that it is the worst stretch of the journey, they cheat you, rob you, and many women have been raped. But desperation makes people take the risks.”
Gonzalez believes that behind the bottleneck at the Nicaraguan border is the hand of the Cuban government. “The two governments are hand in glove. I do not think that they will deport so many thousands of Cubans, but I believe the situation there could get worse. The social networks are a real blessing, letting us know the situation of our brothers,” he adds.
“People are leaving the island because Cubans are peaceful people and fear the military apparatus that governs us,” the doctor continues. He is convinced that even with a capitalist government on the island, it will be at least 20 years before the change is noticeable.
“Cuba needs a huge push to get out of the current situation,” he opines. “Our country has had development opportunities and completely lost them. The government continues to be in the hands of old men with a retrograde mentality and immersed in the same demagoguery and lies.”