Saturday, April 17, 2010

We knew it was our last chance out of Cuba

Posted on Friday, 04.16.10
`We knew it was our last chance out of Cuba'

For brother and sister Gustavo and Encarnación Ledo-Sanchez, the
takeover of the Peruvian embassy in Havana on April 1, 1980 created a
way out for the secretly religious family.
Months earlier, Ledo had received his medical license as a surgeon.
Leaving Cuba would mean starting over, but he didn't hesitate.
``I convinced my sister and her family to come with me,'' said Gustavo,
now 61. ``Our mother agreed we should go to the embassy even though it
meant we would leave her behind; we knew it was our last chance out of
With his 2-year-old niece in tow, Ledo-Sanchez, his sister and her
husband jumped over the embassy fence on April 5, just hours before it
was sealed off, with 10,800 Cubans on the grounds. For the next two
weeks, they endured hellish conditions; no food or bathrooms and just a
sliver of ground to sleep on at night. Human waste was everywhere.
``You had to roll up your pants, or else, '' Encarnación, 59, recalled.
A photo taken by a Peruvian magazine during her stay at the embassy made
the cover. Itshows an exhausted Encarnación Ledo-Sanchez carrying her
daughter, Leonor Carrande, now 32, and a teacher at Hialeah Gardens
Elementary. She still treasures that photo.
But After 15 days, she left the embassy and went back home.
``I wanted to stay [at the embassy] because I wanted my daughter to have
a better life and not suffer like my brother and I had, but I didn't
want to endanger her life any longer,'' she said. Gustavo held out at
the embassy for 28 days, joining an unofficial medical team. But he,
too, left when the mood in the compound turned violent. He was told to
wait at home for his exit papers. By then, his sister and her family had
been given spots on boats to Key West.
Within a week, Gustavo too was on a boat headed out of Mariel Harbor,
his medical license hidden inside his shoe. He was given a passport
stamped with the letter ``E,'' the Cuban government label for escoria,
or scum, given to those wanting to leave. He is still proud of that
Four months after arriving in South Florida, Gustavo chartered a fishing
boat back to the island to bring his mother and other elderly relatives
to freedom.
Today, he is a surgeon with a practice in Hialeah. His sister is a nurse
in his office.
``We all live a very nice life in this country, which we still consider
the best in the world,'' Gustavo said.

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