Posted on Sunday, 11.18.12
Cubans lament dirty pasts of hundreds living safe in exile
Hundreds of Cubans with dubious pasts, including State Security officers
and snitches, have moved to Miami, much to the disgust of those they
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Havana activist Elizardo Sánchez says he bears no ill will for the
Caamaños, neighbors who collaborated with State Security agents to
harass him for years. After all, he heads the Cuban Commission for Human
Rights and National Reconciliation.
But his sister Marcela, who lives with him, has no problem denouncing
the two Caamaños and a son-in-law, who now live in Miami.
"The first thing I would do is bring them back," she said. "It is not a
grudge. But it IS a lot of pity for the many people suffering here,
while they live without any kind of problem over there."
Former Cuban provincial prisons chief Crescencio Marino Rivero made
headlines over the past month amid allegations that he abused some
prisoners and ordered guards to abuse others before he moved to Miami
two years ago.
But uncounted hundreds of other Cubans with nasty pasts are also living
here, including State Security officers, snitches and collaborators,
judges, policemen and members of the Committees for the Defense of the
Revolution, the neighborhood watch groups.
Most were small cogs in the communist system's machinery for political
repression. They did not beat or torture. But they were not harmless.
Their work could land dissidents in prison or block their children from
getting into the right universities.
Yet like hundreds of thousands of other Cubans, they eventually moved to
Miami, legally or illegally, for valid or suspect reasons. And their
victims fumed when they spotted their former tormentors living in the
capital of Cuban exile.
"The fact is that he screwed up my life," Jose Varona, 73, said about
the State Security officer whose court testimony in 1973 helped send him
to prison for 6 ½ years. Varona was freed and moved to Miami in 1979.
The officer arrived two years ago.
Frank Parodi, a retired official of the human rights violators' unit of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that after the arrest of one
Cuban abuser was announced in 1992, his office received 250 tips and
leads about other abusers in Miami. He was transferred to Washington
afterward and does not know what happened to those tips.
Elizardo Sánchez said "hundreds upon hundreds" of full-time officers of
State Security, the Interior Ministry branch in charge of political
repression, moved to the United States in recent years. Ironically, he
claimed, some went searching for a safe haven.
"The smartest ones perceive that the regimen is in its final stage" and
fear revenge attacks, he said by telephone from Havana. "They are
looking to put themselves in a safe place."
U.S. government officials acknowledge it is difficult if not impossible
to weed out the bad apples when Cubans apply for U.S. visas, residency
State Security officers use pseudonyms to hide their identities when
cracking down on dissidents, and Washington does not appear to have
extensive databases that could alert to Cubans with dirty pasts.
Marcela Sánchez said she warned U.S. diplomats in Havana that three of
her Caamaño neighbors had obtained U.S. visas and were preparing to
leave. They settled in Miami in 2000 or 2001.
In the absence of full U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, Havana does not
cooperate in confirming the personal details of Cubans seeking visas or
citizenship, and almost never accepts U.S. deportations.
Rivero and his wife apparently did not reveal in their visa or residency
documents that they had held the rank of colonel and captain in the
Interior Ministry and belonged to the Communist Party — facts that might
have triggered deeper U.S. looks at their cases.
"The checks and balances we have for migrants of other nationalities
were not that effective with the Cubans," Parodi said. "These are people
who should not be here, but whatever they put on paper is all we have.
And once they're in Miami, they're in."
The former agents and collaborators also could pose a security risk for
the U.S. government because they could cooperate with Cuban intelligence
agents, willingly or under pressure, said Elizardo Sánchez.
Miami human rights activist Oscar Peña said it's time for Cubans to stop
nursing old wounds, "not to forget, but to draw a mental line and say
'this stops now.' " The same goes for islanders still holding grudges
against exiles, he added.
But that's a tough idea for victims, their relatives and friends to accept.
After El Nuevo Herald published the first story about Rivero, it
received a dozen complaints against other alleged abusers in South Florida.
One Miami man emailed the newspaper to denounce the Havana judge he said
had refused to give a break to a mutual friend convicted of a
non-political crime in the 1980s.
Another alleged that a former prison guard in Camagüey province named
Eugenio Salgado had worked at the Palacio De los Jugos restaurant on
Flagler Street. Owner Apolonia Bermudez said Salgado quit 10-12 years
ago and El Nuevo Herald efforts to find him were unsuccessful.
Miami author Rodrigo de la Luz said he was stunned some years back when
he ran into the policeman who watched but did nothing as another cop
beat him 20 years ago in Havana, for being disrespectful during his arrest.
"I was handcuffed, and you laughed," de la Luz, now 43, recalled saying
to the man, who admitted that he had been a policeman but denied ever
abusing anyone and insisted that was old history.
"After all, we're all here" in Miami, the man added.
De la Luz said he denounced the policeman to the FBI but does not know
whether the bureau pursued the case. His name was Jose Luis, but de la
Luz does not recall if he ever learned his surname.
Marcela Sánchez, 62, said the Caamaños supported the Castro government
strongly for decades and allowed State Security to use their home,
across the street from hers, as a base and permanent site of a video
camera that filmed all her brother's visitors.
A son-in law, Ernesto Estevez, punctured the tires of some of her
brother's foreign visitors and in 1992 joined a violent police raid that
carted away virtually all of his human rights archives and busted up his
office furniture, she added.
Estevez told El Nuevo Herald that the Caamaño and Sanchez families had
"differences of political criteria" but denied that he helped the 1992
raid or punctured tires, or that State Security agents had a base and a
camera at the Caamaño home.
He only lived with the Caamaños because he was married to a daughter,
Estevez said, and did not share their strongly pro-Castro views. "I was
apathetic. I am allergic to politics. Why do you think I left the
country?" he said.
Oscar Alvarez, another Sánchez neighbor now living in Miami said there
was indeed a video camera in the Caamaño home and that he believed
Estevez was a full-time State Security official. Estevez denied he ever
served in Cuba's security services.
Varona, now a security consultant, said he still bears a grudge for Eloy
Mederos, the State Security officer, childhood friend in Camaguey and
prosecution witness in the trial that convicted him of plotting to
topple the government. The charge was true, he said.
Mederos, now about 80, arrived in Miami about two years ago, Varona
said. El Nuevo efforts to contact Mederos at the address and phone
number provided by Varona, and to locate him independently, were not
He has denounced Mederos to the FBI, immigration officials and Sen.
Marco Rubio's office and considered organizing a group protest at the
address. "The least I would do is to slap him," Varona told El Nuevo
Herald in an interview.
Instead, he mailed Mederos a one-page note, written in inch-high black
6 years of prison
6 years of hunger
6 years of cold
6 years of suffering
You lack divine justice