Las Damas de Blanco


Yoani Sanchez

Generacion Y

Movimiento Crisitano Liberacion

Miembro de Consenso Cubano





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Grief Marks Anniversary of Triumph of Castro

Published: December 31, 2008

HIALEAH, Fla. — Four months after they appeared in the waters between Havana and Miami, the four dead men remain nameless. At a morgue in the Florida Keys, they lie on stretchers stacked like bunk beds, their bodies chewed by sharks, their faces too putrified to be recognized.

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Maggie Steber for The New York Times

Ramon Saul Sanchez and Nilda Garcia, who is waiting to learn whether one of the bodies that washed ashore in Florida in August is that of her son, Osmani, who fled Cuba on a raft.


The police suspect they were Cuban rafters. Nilda Garcia thinks one of them might be her son — and the thought makes her weep. Fourteen years after she left Cuba on her own makeshift boat, she finds herself wondering once again: When will it end?

“How many mothers are going through this?” Ms. Garcia said in an interview at her daughter’s apartment here as she awaited DNA results on the bodies. “How many more are crying for their losses? How many young people have drowned in this sea? How many?”

Fifty years ago today, many Cubans cheered when Fidel Castro seized power in Havana, and even now, the revolution attracts many fans — as evidenced by the Canadian tour agencies advertising trips “to celebrate five decades of resilience.”

But the bodies speak to a different legacy. Here in South Florida, where roughly 850,000 Cubans have settled over the years, repeated waves of painful exile and family separation define the Castro era. The revolution never met their hopeful expectations, the island they love has slipped into decay, and for many, this week’s golden anniversary provides little more than a flashback to traumas, old and new.

“It pounds in everybody’s conscience every day,” said Ramon Saul Sanchez, 54, the founder of Movimiento Democracia, a Cuban-American group known for using boats to stage protests. “Fifty years is something very hard to accept.”

Some Cubans remain defiant. Huber Matos, a former revolutionary leader who came to Miami after Mr. Castro sent him to jail in 1959 for suggesting that the Cuban government included too many Communists, said that the anniversary inspired him to keep pushing for change.

“When you think of what you have to do, you can’t be sad,” Mr. Matos, 90, said. “To continue working, that’s the key.”

But for many, the revolution’s 50th anniversary has inspired a period of reflection. Cubans across Florida say they are mourning privately, or trying to forget, and formal commemorations are being kept to a minimum. If Miami in the 1980s was a place of militants, where “Havana vanities come to dust,” as Joan Didion wrote, today it is also a home to newer arrivals who ask, Must the pain go on?

A poll released this month by Florida International University shows that 55 percent of Cubans in Florida favor lifting the United States embargo against Cuba, up from 42 percent a year ago. It is the first time a clear majority has held that position since the survey began in 1991.

President-elect Barack Obama — while backing away from an earlier pledge to meet with Cuban leaders during his first year in office — condemned the current “failed policy” during the presidential campaign and promised to make it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit relatives on the island or send them larger amounts of money.

Even among those who support the 46-year-old embargo, like Senator Mel Martinez, a Republican, continued damage to families has become a more prominent concern.

“This is an ongoing tragedy,” said Mr. Martinez, who left Cuba at age 15 and spent four years without his parents. “How many people today are still being separated? How many people in Cuba are making plans to leave?”

Ms. Garcia was a “balsera,” one of the 38,000 rafters who fled Cuba in 1994. She said she left her suburb of Havana because her daughter needed medical care she could not get in Cuba for a brain tumor. Her son, Osmani, stayed. He was 20 at the time, a speaker of English and French, who became an independent journalist.

His work often put him at odds with the Castro government. In one dispatch, published on Oct. 26, 2007, he condemned Cuba’s foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, for mischaracterizing comments from President Bush.

“I will not take the time to point out all the lies told by Felipe Pérez Roque at this press conference, but I will say there was a worried look on his face and those of his cohorts,” Mr. Garcia wrote, in an article posted online. “It almost seems that they too are realizing there is little time left to the Castro dictatorship and that change is very near.”

Instead, over the next year, political pressure on Mr. Garcia increased. In June, according to a report in a Cuban online forum, he was arrested and interrogated by state officials. Two months later, his mother said, he was filmed by a Cuban television reporter at a protest against the government, scaring him enough to flee.

Mr. Garcia’s relatives said that on the night of Aug. 15, he climbed aboard a boat with no motor and seven or eight other people, pushing off from an area near Havana with hopes of reaching Florida within a few days.

The pace mattered; the sea was churning. By early Monday morning, Tropical Storm Fay had moved through Cuba into the Florida Straits, bringing nearly a foot of rain, swells of several feet and winds that would strengthen to 60 miles per hour.

Ms. Garcia, 64, a home health aide, said she was not sure if her son had known the storm was coming. Even if he had, she said, “he was desperate and needed to go.”

She said her son had done all he could to change Cuba from the inside. “How can Cubans confront the government, with rocks and sticks?” Ms. Garcia said. “Everyone has nothing, and the people are afraid.”

She found out about the bodies from the news. The first one, tagged 0107 in morgue records, appeared in the waters off Craig Key just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 21. A fisherman called the Coast Guard, and two Monroe County police officers pulled the dead man from the teal-blue sea. Three other bodies followed, appearing offshore over the next 24 hours in a line heading north.

Detective Terry Smith, one of the lead detectives investigating the case with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, said the locations and currents suggested that the bodies had probably spent several days in the water, drifting from somewhere to the south, though the Coast Guard’s computer analyses were not definitive.

Their identities have been even harder to determine. E. Hunt Scheuerman, the medical examiner for Monroe County, which includes the Keys, said all four bodies were naked and gnarled, with only three defining characteristics. Body 0107 wore a ring with a Celtic cross and green stone on the fourth finger of his left hand; 0109 arrived with a white sock and blue Lotto running shoe on his right foot; and 0110 had a tattoo on the inside of his lip that said “Raquel.”

Ms. Garcia said the ring sounds similar to one she gave Osmani, but the ring in the morgue is yellow, suggesting gold, and the ring she gave her son was silver.

She said she hoped her son was at the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where she was processed before coming to the United States. And initially it seemed possible. The Coast Guard stopped a boat near the Bahamas with eight or nine Cuban rafters a few days after Aug. 15. But it must have been another group, Detective Smith said; Mr. Garcia’s name could not be found on the Coast Guard’s list of repatriated refugees.

At least two other Cuban families in Miami are in a position similar to Ms. Garcia’s. In emotional phone calls, they have told Detective Smith about relatives who left Cuba on Aug. 15 in a boat, never to be heard from again.

“What if the four we received are not any of their relatives?” the detective said, discussing what haunts him most.

DNA may be the only way to know for sure. In September, Detective Smith swabbed Ms. Garcia’s mouth and sent the sample to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a comparison with the bodies. For the other two families, the DNA must be collected from closer female relatives, who live in Cuba.

Mr. Sanchez, of Movimiento Democracia, has been trying to arrange for secure samples from the island. “There are hundreds, probably thousands of Cubans who think they lost relatives in the high seas,” he said. But so far, he has received little help from either the Cuban or American governments.

And so the cycle continues. According to Coast Guard statistics, 10,489 Cubans have been stopped at sea since the beginning of 2005, more than double the 4,223 who were caught in the previous four years. A report in May from the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami found that 131,000 Cubans had settled in the United States permanently over the last four years, and its title predicts more of the same. “Not Going Away,” it says. “Cuban Mass Migration to Florida.”

Ms. Garcia said she just wanted an end to the 50-year pattern: the uncertainty, tears and tales of woe.

Three months after her DNA reached the F.B.I., she is still waiting for answers. Conversations about her son are drenched with tears, and she is never far from a photograph that shows him staring straight ahead, with a stern face, a few wrinkles and thick, dark hair.

It looks like a passport picture — of a man who may have only reached a Florida morgue.

British Broadcasting Corporation


Bridge too far for Cuban exiles

By Simon Watts
BBC News, Miami

The White House has agreed to talks about immigration policy for Cubans after pressure from the influential exile community in Miami culminated in protests and a highly-publicised hunger strike.


Cuban-Americans protest against the deportation of their relatives
Cuban-Americans have held protests demanding justice
Cuban-Americans are furious about a decision by the US Coast Guard to send back a group of migrants who reached a disused bridge in the Florida Keys island chain after making the dangerous sea crossing from Cuba.

Conscious of the political importance of the one-million-strong exile community, Florida Governor Jeb Bush intervened to ensure that the White House receives a Cuban-American delegation.

Exile groups had warned that the Republicans might not be able to count on their traditional Cuban-American support in forthcoming elections, such as the US Congressional vote in November.


The uproar started shortly after the New Year, when 15 Cuban migrants came ashore on the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which lies on the road to Key West.

The bridge - built by the Florida pioneer, Henry Flagler - was abandoned after a more modern structure was constructed alongside in the early 1980s. Some sections of the old bridge have since collapsed.

The US government finds itself in a difficult political position... If it loosens the rules too much, it could encourage an influx of illegal immigrants from Cuba, like one in the mid-1990s
Under the current rules for Cubans - known as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy - migrants who reach US soil are generally allowed to stay and apply for residence, while those caught at sea are mostly deported.

In this case, the US Coast Guard ruled that the 15 Cubans had to be sent back because the part of the bridge where they had landed was no longer attached to dry land.

To exiles - who believe Cuban migrants are fleeing an oppressive regime - the decision smacked of bloody-mindedness.

And it seemed to confirm that the US authorities want to apply the "wet foot, dry foot" rules more strictly. The number of Cuban boat-people has been rising recently, with nearly 3,000 intercepted in the last fiscal year.


The Cuban-American community soon started to make its anger known in protests that united hardline opponents of Fidel Castro and moderates favouring dialogue with Havana.

Columnists fumed in the Miami Herald newspaper, two state department officials in charge of Cuba policy were harangued at a lunch with Cuban business leaders, and protesters lined up along highways with banners demanding justice.

Ramon Saul Sanchez
God has heard our prayers... The doors have been opening in Washington for the government to listen to our concerns about US migration policy
Ramon Saul Sanchez
Cuban-American politicians holding national office lobbied hard in private and were fiercely critical in public.

Republican Senator Mel Martinez said the ruling showed the "wet foot, dry foot" policy was "a complete and utter failure".

The anger in Miami really grabbed headlines when Ramon Saul Sanchez, the leader of the Democracy Now pressure group, started a hunger strike to demand a response from the federal government.

As television bulletins carried interviews with Mr Sanchez from his roadside bed in the Little Havana district, Governor Bush made calls to the White House, which is run by his brother.

Under pressure on several fronts, the White House agreed to receive a Cuban-American delegation and Governor Bush was able to announce the news on a visit to Miami.

"God has heard our prayers," Mr Sanchez said, as he consumed his first food for more than 10 days. "The doors have been opening in Washington for the government to listen to our concerns about US migration policy."

Better chance

In their meetings to discuss the "wet foot, dry foot" rules, the Cuban-Americans will push for wholesale change.

Mariela Conesa, holds a photograph of husband and son who were among the repatriated Cubans
Some exiles fear the US is becoming stricter on immigration
First, they want a clear definition of what qualifies as US soil, to avoid a repeat of decisions like the one involving the Old Seven Mile Bridge.

A judge has already agreed to consider a request by Cuban-American lawyers to define dry land as anywhere within US territorial waters - a ruling that would sharply increase the number of migrants eligible to stay.

Exile groups also want Cubans caught at sea to have a better chance to make their case for residency in the US. This would mean giving migrants proper legal representation and a formal immigration hearing.

Another suggestion is that some of the 20,000 visas allocated to Cubans each year be set aside for those caught on the sea crossing to Florida.


Some sort of reform seems likely, especially as the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is committed to reconvening her department's strategy panel on Cuba.

But the US government finds itself in a difficult political position. If it loosens the rules too much, it could encourage an influx of illegal immigrants from Cuba, like one in the mid-1990s.

At that time, President Clinton was forced to adapt Cold War legislation which had given all fleeing Cubans the right to asylum from a communist government. The "wet foot, dry foot" rules introduced a threat that at least some boat-people could be sent back.

The Bush administration also knows that other migrant communities resent Cuba being a special case because of its long-running conflict with the US.

Most Haitians, for example, are deported if they enter without papers, even though their country is poorer than Cuba and has experienced decades of political turmoil.




Los Domingos a las 8:00 PM
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Miami, Florida o por Internet, conectando a:


Castro's Legacy in Half a Century:
A Revolution or a tyranny?

~With over 30,000

Political Executions


~With over 250,000 political prisoners throughout 50 years


~With over 20% of Cuba's population exiled


~With over 10,000

seeking political asylum in the Peruvian Embassy in just one day


~With over 125,000 leaving the Island by sea in one month


~With hundreds of thousands rafters loosing or risking their lives to escape from Castro's rule.


~With two brothers ruling the country for over 50 years without democratic elections


~With the 2nd largest foreign debt with the Paris Club of debtors


Then, isn't it time for a change?


P.O. Box 440661 Miami, Florida 33144

Tel. 305-264-7200

E-mail: movimientodemocracia@gmail.com

Web: www.democracia.org