’When They Said ’Welcome,’ My Soul Returned to My Body"

Jennifer Pérez greets her grandmother in Cuba. (Courtesy JP)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 November 2019 — Less than three months ago Jennifer Pérez was desperate. The chess player had been declared a “deserter” by the Cuban authorities after she stayed to live in Ecuador, a country she traveled to participate in an international tournament. Unable to see her family for six years, the Villaclareña decided to report her situation through social networks and in an interview with 14ymedio.

This November, Pérez has been able to return to Cuba and embrace her family, travel the streets of the city where she first moved chess pieces on the board, and see how much unites or separates her from this reality.

14ymedio. What has changed since last August’s interview so that you were able to come Santa Clara and walk the streets?

Pérez. Some time after this event, I resumed conversations with the Cuban consul in Quito and told me that I should proceed to submit my humanitarian visa application again in order to enter the country. In September the paperwork was completed by my relatives on the Island and in October they notified me that it had been approved.

14ymedio. What was the bureaucratic process like prior to boarding the plane to Cuba?

Pérez. It was all very fast. I waited a while to know the response to the paperwork, until the consul notified me that I could return and that I should travel to Cuba as soon as possible. That news changed my life.

14ymedio. What did you feel when you entered the country?

Pérez. I was really very nervous, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When I went through Immigration, they knew immediately that I had left a mission, they told me. The agent called his supervisor and verified that my entry was really authorized. A few minutes elapsed which for me were like an eternity. When they said “welcome,” my soul returned to my body.

14ymedio. And the reunion with your family?

Pérez. It was very exciting to see my whole family after so many years. I experienced many emotions and feelings. My grandmother could not believe that she was hugging her beloved granddaughter after such a long absence.

14ymedio. During your stay will you have contact with Cuban sports authorities, national and provincial chess representatives or colleagues?

Pérez. I have come for a few days. Before I was notified that I had the entry permit, I had confirmed my presence in the Continental Women’s Championship of Mexico as of November 19. My trip to Cuba has been entirely family-focused and I have not been able to contact the chess people. I went through the Academy of Santa Clara and the Chess Palace, but I have not seen many people although I hope to meet some of them before my departure.

14ymedio. Have the sports authorities made any offer to become part of the Cuban team?

Pérez. No, and I don’t think they know I’m here.

14ymedio. What is the final flavor that this trip to Cuba leaves?

Pérez. Bittersweet. Nothing is the same as when I left, things have changed a lot. It is no secret to anyone that life in Cuba is very hard because of all the shortages and needs that currently exist, but I am happy to have seen my relatives and my grandparents who are very sick. It was what I longed for the most for years. Now I hope that the eight years of punishment will finally end so that I can continue returning to my home, to my family and to my roots without any restrictions.

14ymedio. Will we see you soon in front of a chessboard representing the Cuban flag?

Pérez. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible, due to different situations beyond my control and my desire.


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