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    Exiles captured in Cuba during armed infiltrations cannot return to the U.S.

    Posted on Sunday, 05.11.14

    Exiles captured in Cuba during armed infiltrations cannot return to the U.S.
    South Florida exiles captured in Cuba during armed infiltrations served
    long prison terms and now cannot return to the United States.
    BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
    JTAMAYO@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM

    Branded as a terrorist by both the Cuban and U.S. governments, Tomas
    Ramos says he is essentially a non-person in Havana — no job and no
    identification papers, but lots of harassment by State Security agents.

    “We are always persecuted,” said Ramos, 70, one of several former South
    Florida men freed after serving long sentences in Cuban prisons for
    armed raids against the island in the 1990s — but prohibited from
    returning to the United States.

    Cuban authorities monitor them tightly and with deep suspicion. And the
    U.S. State Department has denied them visas and political asylum, they
    say, because of their past involvement in political violence.

    “We are watched all the time, even in our private lives. Our lives in
    Cuba are worth nothing. They can kill us anytime,” Ramos said. “And
    nevertheless, the U.S. does not allow us to go there because they say
    that we are violent.”

    All told, 21 raiders from South Florida are known to have been captured
    on the island from 1991 to 1996, when some exiles believed Cuba was
    vulnerable to an anti-Castro revolt during the devastating crisis after
    the Soviet Union’s collapse.

    At least 16 are still in Cuba, including eight in prison and seven
    released after completing long terms, according to several former
    prisoners and supporters in Havana and Miami interviewed by el Nuevo
    Herald. One other died in Cuba from natural causes. Two were allowed to
    return to Florida because they were U.S. citizens.

    Some have acknowledged that they infiltrated Cuba with weapons and plans
    to attack or sabotage government targets. Others claim they went to the
    island only to deliver supplies or information to others already there.

    Their stories were highlighted last week when Havana announced the
    arrests in April of four Cuban men from Miami who were allegedly
    plotting to attack military installations on the island on orders from
    three exile activists still in South Florida.

    On Saturday, the U.S. Interests Section issued a statement confirming a
    May 8 meeting with representatives of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign
    Affairs about the arrests. It said, “The Cubans provided some
    information about the allegations which we are now reviewing.”

    Cuba’s Interior Ministry has identified the men as Jose Ortega Amador,
    Obdulio Rodriguez Gonzalez, Raibel Pacheco Santos and Felix Monzon
    Alvarez. It said they were detained in late April for planning
    “terrorist actions” masterminded from Florida.

    Egberto Angel Escobedo Morales, whose Association of Current and Former
    Political Prisoners in Havana tries to help the raiders, said their
    conditions both in prison and after their releases are almost
    unimaginably horrible.

    The raiders are usually sent to the worst prisons, where guards treat
    them with special brutality, beating them and putting them in isolation
    cells, said Escobedo, a Havana man who served 15 1/2 years for trying to
    promote a military revolt in 1995.

    Some of the imprisoned raiders became “sick with nerves from the
    constant beatings” and were regularly denied food and medical care,
    Escobedo told el Nuevo Herald by phone.

    Jesús Manuel Rojas Pineda, 70, a raider captured in 1994 and freed in
    2013, said he went on a hunger strike for 18 days to demand treatment
    for hemorrhoids. On day 19, he was rushed to a hospital and underwent
    emergency surgery, he said.

    And once the raiders complete their sentences and are set free, said
    Escobedo, “they have no possibility of anything.”

    “No government opponent can find legal work here. And if it’s illegal,
    State Security comes after us, so we don’t do that,” Ramos said. “I have
    been arrested and beaten so many times I can’t even remember.”

    Rojas said police took away his U.S. parole card when he and six other
    armed members of the militant exile group known as PUND were captured
    near the north central fishing town of Caibarién, following a raid in
    which a local Communist Party official was killed.

    “I don’t have American papers, and I don’t have Cuban papers. I am
    nobody,” Rojas said from the city of Matanzas, where he has been living
    with a daughter since his release.

    Rojas fled Cuba during the 1994 “Rafter Crisis,” which saw more than
    30,000 people leave the island aboard homemade vessels. He had been in
    Miami only a month when he went to the funeral of two rafters who had
    drowned in the crossing. Two months later, he joined the plot to
    infiltrate Cuba.

    He said he is now almost deaf, suffers from high blood pressure and
    circulatory problems, and wants to return to the United States because
    “I want to spend my last days quietly.”

    Rojas said he was denied a U.S. visa because he has no identity document
    and because of his past. Ramos, Escobedo and another former raider, Jose
    Benito Menendez del Valle, said they were rejected because of their
    records of political violence.

    Menendez, 67, said he was first jailed for anti-Castro activities from
    1969 to 1973 and left in 1980 for Miami, where he worked as a handyman
    and obtained U.S. residence. He infiltrated the island in 1994 but was
    quickly captured and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was freed after
    serving 16 years.

    He once spent 16 months in an isolation cell and has been arrested
    dozens of times since his release, Menendez said by phone from Havana.
    He has not found work because of his record and relies on assistance
    from friends abroad and on the island.

    Menendez said he wants to return to Miami because he has three grown
    children and three siblings in South Florida, and “at my age, and with
    my years in prison, I know that my life is ending.”

    Escobedo said he was angry that while scores of Cuban government
    officials and supporters regularly receive U.S. visas, “men who have
    spent years in prison and remain under constant harassment are denied
    visas.”

    The asylum office in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana “is not doing
    a good job,” he added. “The Obama administration has practically
    abandoned us.”

    A State Department official said there are “many reasons why a visa
    application may be denied” but declined to comment on the specific cases
    of the Cuba raiders because of confidentiality restrictions.

    Tomas Ramos is a lot more critical of the U.S. mission, calling it “a
    nest of Cuban security agents” because many of its day-to-day functions
    are handled by the several hundred Cuban citizens employed there.

    Jailed from 1960 to 1970 for anti-Castro activism, Ramos left for Miami
    in 1989 and returned to Cuba in 1990 as part of a two-man infiltration
    team from a Miami exile group that called itself the Cuban Liberation
    Army. Prosecutors said the team was part of a plot to assassinate Fidel
    Castro, brother Raúl Castro and other senior government officials.

    Ramos said he suffers from Parkinson’s disease but remains steadfast in
    his opposition to the Castro brothers.

    “At no time will I stop feeling proud of having belonged to violent
    organizations,” he said. “I do not regret what I did or what I tried to
    do at one point.”

    Source: “Exiles captured in Cuba during armed infiltrations cannot
    return to the U.S. – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com” –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/11/4111095/exiles-captured-in-cuba-during.html#storylink=misearch

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