Elegguá goes to Turbo
MAYKEL GONZÁLEZ VIVERO | Sagua la Grande | 9 de Agosto de 2016 - 23:08 CEST.
Reinier González has just arrived in Cuba. "When I left Ecuador" he
says, "everything was bleaker than ever. A week before coming, the
friends that I had left went to Turbo, the town near the border where
thousands of Cubans are struggling to continue their journey to the
He indicates on a map of Colombia the routes leading to the camp. He
traced the highways and byways of Colombia, without deciding to leave:
"I didn't want to go to Turbo because I have my residency papers in
Ecuador, and the outcome of the situation in Colombia is very uncertain."
Reinier, an unemployed P.E. teacher, participated in the protests that
precipitated the border crisis. In Quito he pushed for an airlift.
Cubans unsuccessfully appealed to several governments. They dared to
employ civil disobedience and were driven from the parks.
The incidents in Ecuador incidents confirm that it is possible to stand
up to power, at least by planting the flag of peaceful civil
disobedience. And, if they attack the camp, if they throw you out, you
go and stay elsewhere, but without sacrificing that gesture of resistance.
How did the Cubans organize themselves in Quito?
First the ANCE was created, an association of Cubans in Ecuador founded
to defend the rights of Cubans, who soon began to dream of a
humanitarian airlift. The truth is that this association did not express
the reality of what was happening with the Cubans. They were afraid to
tell it like it was.
Groups were created on the social networks. There was Peter Borges, a
Cuban who speaks well and demanded a safe way to get Cubans out of
Ecuador. He was against creating any disturbances.
Did Borges start the negotiations?
There was an attempt to negotiate with Mexico. He made a request. And
the consul replied that the solution to the Cubans' situation in Costa
Rica and Panama was exceptional and would not be repeated. The same
thing was done in Canada, without any success.
When we arrived to protest at the US Embassy, we saw a group of riot
police, and were not allowed to approach. We were there twice, because
there was another demonstration.
I participated in the protest before the Embassy of Mexico. People said:
"We're leaving, we're leaving soon." There was a lot of excitement.
When did the Turbo crisis really take shape?
People began to grow desperate, and Peter Borges urged them to remain
calm. But people no longer had anything, to eat or money to pay the
rent. That increased the number of those stranded in Turbo. They grew
weary, and decided that they had to take more drastic measures. The only
solution would be to make a real humanitarian crisis evident. On a
street, in a park, on a border.
Then they were talking about civil disobedience ...
Yes. This is how it went down: some Cubans entered via Peru, without
papers, and went to sleep in front of Mexican Embassy. The first day,
out in the open; the next, they began to pitch tents. Peter and his
coordinators were against it, but Efraín Sánchez, another leader, said
that it had to be done. Many people sided with Efraín. No one imagined
what was going to happen.
Hundreds of Cubans went to the Embassy of Mexico. They occupied part of
the street. The number of tents increased. Mauricio Rodas, the Mayor of
Quito and an opponent of Rafael Correa's Government, installed a
bathroom. One bathroom for more than 100 people!
Was there any police harassment?
Threats began to emerge. The situation got out of hand. The riot police
attacked the Cubans, beat them, and stripped them of the food donated by
Ecuadorians and humanitarian organizations.
Many of those without papers went to Colombia, also to Turbo. Other
Cubans set up in La Carolina, one of the largest parks in Quito. They
rebuilt the camp there. Efraín, at the front, called on all those who
wanted to go to the US to join them. The mayor authorized them remaining
in the Parque del Arbolito. The permit lasted a week.
There the most violent incident occurred ...
The riot police could be seen at times, like they were auguring an
eviction. And there was. They say that there were drones, two snipers on
the buildings, and numerous police. Some Cubans were arrested,
prosecuted and deported; others escaped. The deportees left Ecuador in
military aircraft. The last flight did not leave from Quito. It took off
in Latacunga. They wanted to avert protests at the main airport.
As in Quito nothing else could be done, many decided to also head for
Turbo. They did not trust the Colombian government, but rather in the
situation that already existed in Turbo, so dramatic that it was forcing
The Government of Colombia urged them to leave its territory, and
threatened deportation. With that Sword of Damocles dangling over them,
why did they insist on staying in Turbo?
They feel like they have a chance, though increasingly slight, of
reaching the US. From Cuba they don't. So, they don't want to return to
Havana. We must analyze look at something else too: these are people who
bought an expensive passage to get out of Cuba. They sold everything.
Here they have nothing. They are banking on that dream. Now all they can
do is forge on.
What about returning to Ecuador? Wouldn't that be preferable to
deportation to Havana?
Most have no way to get legalized. There is also widespread
discrimination against us in Quito, a lot of xenophobia. In Ecuador
there are many Venezuelans and Colombians, but there is great hatred
towards us. I don't know why, but that's the way it is. You get to a
place and they say: "We don't want any Cubans." A Venezuelan goes, and
they hire him. A Colombian goes, and they hire him. They tell you: "We
don't want any Cubans here."
When I left Ecuador they told me at Customs: "What are you doing with
that stone? Dangerous objects, weapons, are not permitted in the cabin.
"That is Elegguá (a Santería god)," I responded. "I'm religious. But if
you want to, keep it. Anyway, he'll seek a way to get out of Quito and
Source: Elegguá goes to Turbo | Diario de Cuba -