Cuba won’t let our kids leave, medical workers say
Posted on Tuesday, 11.18.08
Cuba won't let our kids leave, medical workers say
Former Cuban doctors are contemplating taking their quest to get their
kids out of Cuba to an international court.
By FRANCES ROBLES AND CASEY WOODS
Inside her bedroom on Cuba's Isle of Youth, 7-year-old Daviana González
prays to be reunited with her mother after more than five years,
relatives say. In Camagüey, Marta Daniela Batista, another little girl
separated from her parents, is said to suffer from mental health problems.
The girls are children of Cuban medical professionals living in Miami
who deserted their posts in various nations where the Cuban government
sent them to help spread ideology and earn income for their cash-starved
But the price for desertion was higher than the families believed
possible: The Cuban government is denying the little ones permission to
leave, even though they have U.S. visas that would allow them to come here.
''Marta isn't to blame for what her parents did, and yet they punish
her,'' said her mother, Melvis Mesa, 42. “She's just a child, and
children have a right to be with their parents. What the Cuban
government is doing is a terrible abuse.''
Mesa and Daviana's mother — Yaisis González — are among more than a
dozen Cuban health workers working with the Cuban American National
Foundation, or CANF, on a campaign to get their children back. CANF
representatives plan to file complaints against the Cuban government
with international organizations, such as the Organization of American
States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations.
A press conference is planned for Tuesday morning to call for other
Cuban medical professionals in the same situation to come forward and
join their cause.
The Cuban government is ''holding the children hostage'' to punish those
who leave official missions, López said.
AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT
Many Cuban medical professionals who have deserted their posts over the
years and are struggling to be reunited with their children have
remained silent until now in fear that speaking out would further
jeopardize their children's release.
''It's the normal mindset to stay quiet. But after a while, when they
realize they're not getting anywhere with that attitude, they figure if
they make a lot of noise, they might get results,'' said Omar López,
CANF's human rights director. “With the Cuban government, contrary to
what most people believe, the more you talk, the more chance you have of
González, 34, is a nurse who came to Miami in January 2007 after working
three years in Qatar. She compared her separation from her daughter
Daviana to the 1999-2000 case involving Elián González [no relation],
the Cuban migrant boy returned to his father despite a protracted
attempt by his extended family in Miami to prevent it.
''It's basic human right that parents should be with their children,''
she said. “My child is my child.''
A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch said the Cuban government regularly
denies exit visas to medical professionals, children of defectors and
relatives of Cubans living abroad legally. Cuba uses the exit visas as a
tool for revenge against the disloyal and as leverage to force the
return of Cubans who have government permission to live abroad
temporarily, the report said.
The report blasted both Cuba and Washington for violating people's
“freedom of movement.''
Experts say taking the issue to an international court would be at best
a legal long shot, but would be worth it — if just for sometimes
helpful international publicity.
''There's tremendous symbolic value in proceeding before international
tribunals, because of the moral force that such proceedings can
create,'' said former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, who was part of the
legal team that represented the Miami family in the Elián case.
''And moral force combined with consensus of support throughout the
hemisphere could be meaningful, but ultimately it would be a verdict
that could not be enforced by a judge's gavel,'' Coffey said.
“Ultimately the question is: What tribunal can enforce an order against
the Castro government if the Castro government refuses to comply?''
José Cohen, a former Cuban intelligence agent who in 1994 began his
fight to get his three children off the island, said he went to Geneva,
to U.S. members of Congress opposed to the embargo and everywhere else
he could think of, to no avail.
''I never took it to an international court, because I did not have the
money, and Cuba does not respect international laws anyway,'' said
Cohen, who now lives in Miami Beach. “But at least it's a public
denouncement. They should do it. They should struggle every way they can.''
Cohen's youngest son still lives in Cuba; his daughters, now 20 and 24,
left the island on a fast boat to Mexico this year and now live in Miami.
González said she has learned to parent by phone. Her daughter lives
with her grandmother on the Isle of Youth.
''She already thinks she's a little woman,'' González said, adding that
Daviana often asks for shoes and stylish tops as gifts from the United
In their daily conversations, Daviana recites math equations —
''two-plus-two-equals-four!'' — and reads passages out of her text
books to show her mother the progress she's making in class.
''She does it to show me that she deserves all the gifts she's asking
for,'' said González. “Anything she asks me for, I give her, because
it's the only thing I can do for her.''
Mesa, 42, often weeps when she speaks of her daughter in Camagüey.
Mesa and her husband, both physical therapists, said the couple deserted
from a medical mission in Venezuela last March and came to the United
States through Colombia a short time later.
Doctors in Cuba say their daughter Marta's mental health is suffering
because of the separation from her parents.
Sensitive and intelligent — she's at the top of her elementary class —
Marta cries constantly for her family.
'Sometimes it's hard to even speak on the phone, because she says over
and over, `Mama, when are we going to be together?' '' Mesa said. “It
tears up your heart.''