Leaving Cuba But Stranded on Another Island
Leaving Cuba But Stranded on Another Island / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 25 January 2017 — They left Cuba before
January 12 and are now stranded on the island of Trinidad and Tobago,
northeast of Venezuela. They arrived with the advantage of not needing a
visa, but they have lost hope of reaching the borders of the United
States after the cancellation of wet foot/dry foot policy.
Unofficial figures estimate that more than a thousand Cubans have
arrived in Trinidad and Tobago and are waiting to be able to leave for
the United States. Some received refugee status in this time, conferred
by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), but have difficulty obtaining a work permit.
Zenaida, a fictitious name, still has a son in Cuba and fears to give
her real identity to the story she has experienced in recent months, but
her desire to tell what happened demonstrates, at times, a touch of
“The word that they are offering asylum has gotten out, and if the
immigration authorities hadn’t turned back a large number, there would
be considerably more of us.” Those stuck there when their visas expire
are sent to jail.
Recently, 15 Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago for being
undocumented, among them 12 men and 3 women, declared that they would
rather die than return to their own country. They are trapped on one
island and trying to avoid being returned to another.
Zenaida had a job with the Cuban Workers Center (CTC) – nominally a
labor union, but entirely controlled by the government – but was
disillusioned with the official ideology. “Despite experiencing the time
of the mass exodus in the 1990s, I never thought to leave the country
because I’m very attached to my family and my only daughter,” she says.
Her nonconformity started from the time she was a member of the Young
Communist Union. “I realized that Robertico Robaina, our leader at the
time, obeyed the principle of ‘do what I say and not what I do’.”
Zenaida worked on a poultry farm and one day discovered, “a great
embezzlement of the birds, where the records were falsified.” On
confronting the people involved she learned that among the embezzlers
was the director general of the enterprise. Frustration washed over her.
She decided to attend the course for political cadres to get away from
the poultry farm. “I couldn’t imagine I would go from one hell to
another.” After being a witness to the opportunism and the double
standards of many of her colleagues, the little faith she still had in
the system was completely destroyed.
“I requested to be released from my job after witnessing the outrage
that the opposition figure Jorge Luis Perez ‘Antunez’ and his family
were subjected to,” she tells 14ymedio. “That was the trigger that made
me decide not to continue there.
“I started working secretly in my aunt’s paladar (private restaurant).
There they offered me 100 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly the same in
dollars) and the cost of my passport if I would go to Trinidad for seven
days in order to import clothing,” she said.
But the fate of the “mule” took a turn when, passing through the airport
in Havana, she happened to greet and speak with the author of this
article. One of the women she was traveling with, who had witnessed the
exchange, returned to Cuba before her, and told one of Zenaida’s
neighbors that she was now “one of those human rights people.” “Small
town, big hell,” she says, recalling that incident, “the news spread
like wildfire and even my husband was called in by State Security.”
“My mother and my son were also questioned about my behavior,” she says.
“I was aware of the consequences I would have to face if I returned to
She applied for political asylum and now her legal situation is complex.
“Immigration took my passport and gave me a card that’s called a
supervision order, that allows me to be in the country freely, but
doesn’t allow me to work.” Zenaida has to work in the shadows to
survive. “I do it on my own and I do the hardest cleaning jobs that the
natives here reject.”
For the moment, she is receiving some help from a Catholic organization,
Living Water Community, which consists of a food allocation that
includes rice, sugar, grains, flour, toilet paper, soap and some
clothing donated by others.
After some time she will have her first interview with United Nations
representatives and only then will she be able to obtain refugee status.
“There are families who have been stranded here waiting for a country to
take them for more than two years. I think the world isn’t aware of the
drama Cubans experience,” says Zenaida.
Although Zenaida has been optimistic since reuniting with her husband
and celebrates not being alone, her feelings are contradictory with
respect to emigration “I do not know if we are living in limbo, but only
now do I know that fleeing resolves nothing. We are left without our
customs, our families, our roots, and clash with the hard reality of the
immigrant. We will only be free when we don’t cross jungles and oceans
looking for an answer that is only inside ourselves.” And she concludes
with regret, “What a pity that it is only now that I understand all this!”
Source: Leaving Cuba But Stranded on Another Island / 14ymedio, Yoani
Sanchez – Translating Cuba –