Sociedad Jose Marti

viernes, julio 01, 2005

A Cuban holiday from hell

Sociedad Jose Marti

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Received: Fri, 01 Jul 2005 05:13:34 AM CDT
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Subject: "A Cuban holiday from hell" / Jailed for not having proper papers, woman finds herself without any rights

A Cuban holiday from hell

Jailed for not having proper papers, woman finds herself without any rights

The Globe and Mail

Monday, June 27, 2005 Page A5

Onelia Ross, a Cuban-Canadian, looked forward to sipping mojitos and swimming in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean during a trip back to Cuba with two friends in February.

Instead, she spent five days sitting in a Havana prison cell, choking down watery soup and brown rice, wondering how her beach adventure had turned into every tourist's worst nightmare.

"They held me for five days while they investigated the case and they didn't let me call a lawyer," Ms. Ross said from her Ottawa home. "It was an undignified way to be treated over essentially a bureaucratic mix-up. When you're in Cuba you have no rights whatsoever."

She also said she was manhandled by her jailors and suffered bruising and scrapes. But worst of all was the psychological trauma. "This is what a police state is like."

The Globe and Mail's calls and e-mails to the Cuban embassy in Ottawa were not returned.

But Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, confirmed that Ms. Ross was held in prison for five days. "We sent a diplomatic note to Cuban authorities requesting they check into the allegation of Ms. Ross being beaten or roughed up and no reply has been received so far," he said.

Ms. Ross's dual citizenship "may be a complicating factor" in receiving a timely response, he said. "However the treatment of a Canadian citizen as reported by her is of concern to Foreign Affairs and deserves a full explanation. We hope they will provide one."

Ms. Ross, a 47-year-old accountant, has never been involved in politics or been critical of Cuba, and left the country 28 years ago when she met and married a Canadian diplomat who was posted in Havana. All Cubans, even those with dual nationality, must enter the country using their Cuban passports, and Ms. Ross had returned twice without incident.

This time, Ms. Ross went to the Cuban embassy in Ottawa and paid $160 to have her passport renewed.

On Feb. 6, 2005, she flew into Holguin in Oriente province with two friends, and was surprised when an immigration official said her Cuban passport didn't have the right entry permit. He said she would have to return immediately to Ottawa.

"He accused me of trying to enter the country illegally. I said no, that there must be a mistake," recalled Ms. Ross. As she argued with the official, the situation devolved into a shouting match at the small airport in Holguin, in the west of Cuba.

That's when two Interior Ministry officials detained her in a room. Her friends had already passed through immigration and were unaware of her predicament.

"The security agents tried to make me agree that I would leave the country. I refused and asked them to fax the Cuban embassy in Ottawa and clear up the problem with the entry permit. Finally, two women came in and started grabbing me."

They detained her for four hours, and then told her they were transporting her to Havana where she would be placed in an immigration detention centre.

On board the plane, Ms. Ross says she bribed a security guard into allowing her to call her family in Havana when she landed.

At the detention centre, she was searched, and her money and belongings locked up. "They didn't let me take a change of clothing or a bar of soap, nothing," she said.

She shared a cell with a Cuban-American who also lacked the proper entry documents, and a Mexican woman engaged to a Cuban. The Mexican woman had been denied entry because officials didn't believe her relationship with her fiancé was genuine.

"The jail was dirty and there was no water. I slept on a metal bed. Written on the walls were the telephone numbers of all the foreign embassies and notes about how much the prisoners had suffered," Ms. Ross said.

After several interviews, Cuban officials finally allowed her to contact the Canadian embassy for consular assistance. Canadian officials visited her in prison and made inquiries on her behalf. After five days she was released and put on a plane to Ottawa. Cuban authorities kept the $500 (U.S.) in cash that Ms. Ross was carrying, saying it covered the cost of feeding her for five days, and flying her from Holguin to Havana.

Mr. Doiron noted that while Cuba has the indisputable right to refuse entry to visitors, Canada is entitled to check up on its citizens who are taken into detention and allegedly mistreated.

Once safely back in Ottawa, Ms. Ross said she asked consular officials at the Cuban embassy what happened, and they told her they didn't give her an entry permit because they assumed she had a special permit that allowed her to reside outside the country. Ms. Ross also said she did not check her passport because she was unaware she needed a special visa.

"It was an honest bureaucratic mix-up that could have been resolved," she said.

Ms. Ross says the experience saddened her as she realized how terrorized Cubans are. "They are so scared of the government and are scared to talk to you. One of the guards apologized for treating us harshly, saying he would lose his job if he didn't." She said she is speaking out now because she wants the half million Canadian tourists who visit the Caribbean island every year to be aware of the country's dark underbelly. "Canadian tourists don't see what is going on in Cuba because they're only taken to the resorts. They don't see the reality," she said.


"Juntarse, es la palabra de orden"
José Martí

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