Sunday, November 29, 2015

Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba

Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba
Cuban politics continues to divide families across Florida Straits
Author: Hatzel Vela, Reporter,
Andrea Torres, Reporter,
Published On: Nov 20 2015 10:30:02 PM EST Updated On: Nov 23 2015
02:06:42 PM EST

The small town of Rafael Freyre, about a nine hour drive east of Havana,
has a painful history.

Local 10 News' William Damas has links to this town. He asked the crew
to visit the home where his mom grew up, and where his grandmother --
100-year-old Georgina Peña Ochoa -- was on her dying bed. He has never
met them.

His father, Roberto Damas, was a political prisoner, after Fidel Castro
took power. He found refuge in South Florida and returned during the
Mariel Boatlift to rescue relatives. He hasn't been back.

"It's very emotional, because it's like this family that I know, but
don't know," said the chief photographer, who was born in Miami and has
never been to Cuba.

The Local 10 News crew visited Damas' mom in Miami and her sister in
Rafael Freyre. He is the father of two boys born in Miami, so he asked
the crew to take a video message to introduce the boys to his family in

After Damas' aunt Rina Guerrero Peña saw the video she was in tears. She
hasn't seen her sister Idania Damas Peña in about 45 years.

"Even though they don't know me, I love them and every night I pray for
them," she said. "It's very difficult to explain."

In Miami, Damas said she too misses her sister. She talked about the
many sleepless and tearful nights that she experienced after leaving the
island with her first born son in 1970.

"I never abandoned them," she said about her continuous efforts to help
her relatives despite not being able to travel to Cuba.

She has missed birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals. Her
decision to not travel to to the island to say goodbye to her dying
mother was gut wrenching, she said.

"I just couldn't," she said. "Even though it hurts my soul, I couldn't."

A day after leaving the province of Holguin, the Local 10 News crew
drove through a storm and witnessed a sharp double rainbow. That was
when the phone rang and they learned that Damas' grandmother, Georgina
Peña Ochoa, was dead. And there were tears on both sides of the Florida

"It's very tough to have endured 45 years without seeing them," she said
in Miami. In Cuba, Guerrero said, "we haven't lost the hope of maybe one
day being able to see each other again."


In 1857, the Sanchez family, from St. Augustine, Florida, established
the Central Santa Lucia, according to Cuban historians. The sugar cane
mill grew into the Santa Lucia Company, S.A., and had a railroad
connection by 1880.

Georgina Peña Ochoa was a toddler when Cuba entered World War I and
there was a pause to the expansion of American businesses in Cuba.

She lived through six presidencies -- Mario Garcia Menocal, Alfredo
Zayas, Gerardo Machado, Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro and Raul
Castro, who outlived her.

She probably saw Santa Lucia's young dance to the Orquesta de Felix
Gonzalez, Cuban musicians who sold records in the United States. And
likely listened to beats of the hip Cuban Jazz bands. The U.S. and Cuba
had close ties.

Peña Ochoa probably never imagined that her daughters would be separated
by politics. That was until Fidel Castro's administration took over the
sugar mill in the 1960s and paranoia set in. Her son-in-law was a
political prisoner.

Her Santa Lucia changed names. Castro said he wanted to honor the memory
of Rafael Freyre Torres, whom he said followed him to the July 26, 1953
Moncada attack in Santiago de Cuba. The assault became known in Cuban
schools as the birth of the island's socialist revolution.

Freyre was born in Santa Lucia. He left school in fourth grade and
worked in construction. After learning how to use a weapon in Havana, he
followed Castro and died in Cejas de Limones.

Like many Cubans on the island, Peña Ochoa lived long, but not long
enough to see her family reunited.

Source: Family of political prisoner in Miami refuses to visit Cuba |
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