The Hell of Fidel Castro’s Regime Told by a Cuban Refugee
Ernesto Medina, a 29-year-a native of Havana, Cuba, now living in Miami, is still haunted by memories he wants to forget. But it’s not so easy, he said during our interview.
Ernesto originated from a wealthy family, “economically fortunate” before Fidel Castro became the prime minister in 1959. That year was the beginning of a dictatorial era that would last until Castro’s death. It is not clear yet Cuba’s path in the future, but many immigrants that escape Castro’s regime hope for a better future of their native country. They have hope that one day they can go back and visit what they left behind – houses and land. When they boarded to the United States on a one way ticket, everything they had was left to the Cuban Government.
Ernesto’s maternal grandfather, Enrigue Montejo, lived outside of Havana, on a large farm that was more than enough to provide for the family. In 1959, his application was accepted to become a doctor at one of the best schools of medicine, ELAM. That was the year when Castro became prime minister. Many wealthy families lost part of their farms during the nationalization process, but Enrique managed to finish school and became a surgeon. „A very good one,” said Ernesto. He was published in journals, traveled the world as a speaker at international conferences.
The other grandfather left Cuba in the early 70’s, when it was more than clear that Cuba would become a military regime under Castro. There was once in a life time opportunity to leave Cuba, a window that shut down quickly. The grandfather wanted Ernesto’s father, Jorges, to come with him, first to Spain, and later, to Miami. But Jorges didn’t want to leave his wife Niurka behind.
Back in Havana, Jorge realized after Ernesto was born that he had made a mistake not leaving the country when it was possible. Like every parent, he wanted a better life for his son. It was too late, the opportunity was gone and his visa was denied. It turned out that the farmers couldn’t grow what they wanted, but instead, what the party told them to plant. The hunger, the limited access to information, the empty farmer’s markets brought Cuba to poverty. Jorge, an engineer, found some ways to survive the system. He handcrafted jewelry and lamps and sold them at the black market. Still, it wasn’t enough to raise two children, after Ernesto’s brother was born.
Ernesto remembers these years. „He would crush bananna peels and add spices to smell nice, then serve to us as burgers.”
At one point, Ernesto’s family, like many others, started to raise pigs. He remembers the time when they fed the pigs what they had on the table. The piglets became pets. It was hard to kill them for meat. But they had no choice.
The surgeon, Enrique, helped them to cover the food needs when he was lucky to receive some potatoes or other vegetables from his former patients living on small farms. One day he accepted an invitation to work in Columbia. Instead of a better life, he found another hell there. The war between the drug cartels and guerillas was even worst than Castro’s regime. Several times, with a patient on the operating table, he was asked to go outside for a „talk.” While the patient was killed by a bullet. After two grueling years, he returned to Cuba.
On the other side, Jorge accepted a position as an engineer for a power company, at the request of a friend, Fidel. He saved his small stipend for food every day when he had to travel, and combined with Niurka’s money from a Spanish heavy metal company in Havana, they started to save American dollars. They wanted out of Cuba, but if they were found with dollars, they would be considered American spies.
The family in the United States didn’t give up the hope to bring the rest of them to Miami. The only goal Niurka’s father had during these years was to bring his son and his family to the United States, filing paper after paper. Niurka’s father and her four sisters did everything possible to get Ernesto’s parents the visa for the United States. All, but Jorge were allowed to leave Cuba. The only thing Jorge needed was a letter of release from his work, that he is free to leave the country.
It was Ernensto who left Cuba first, in May 2007. His mother and younger brother boarded two weeks later. Jorge and his brother brought Niurka and the youngest son at the airport. Niurka was strip searched before leaving, they found $5,000 the family saved to start a new life in the United States. Once Jorge and his brother got in the car to leave the airport, they were pulled over. They were arrested and sent to a high security prison. His brother was released few hours later, but Jorge was accused of treason – selling energy plans to America. For six months he was tortured, kept naked in cell and interrogated. The security lied to him that his family was waiting outside of the building and he had to confess. hey couldn’t get from him what they wanted, after six months they released him and charged him with forgery of the release letter he was waiting from Fidel. He couldn’t wait any longer, and had signed it by himself. There was one person who knew Jorge’s plan. Fidel was the only one who knew when Niurka was leaving with their life savings. He was loyal to the communist party and informed them about the Medinas’ plans.
Ernesto visited his father for a week during the two year house arrest. „He was emotional,” he remembers. In 2009, Jorge came to the United States. Two years ago, the family reunited with Enrique and his wife.
Ernesto studied in Londra, has a Masters in Crime Science. He is a researcher in Miami, following his educated family’s path, and knowing that education is first, before money. „First thing I did when I came here was to go to Disney World and play all day, like a kid. Before I moved here, I thought that only rich kids could do that.” His last memory about Cuba is the year when he wanted a Christmas tree, but they had no money for it. „I was 8-9 years old, and my mother sold her jeans she received from our relatives in America. She worn those jeans and someone wanted them. It was an artificial tree that we kept for 10 years. We had Christmas.”
He is also an activist for human rights. Rights he didn’t have in Cuba, but want to have in his adoptive country. The country of freedom.