Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wife of political prisoner remained in Cuba for him

Posted on Friday, 10.10.08

Wife of political prisoner remained in Cuba for him

Emilia ''Emy'' Luzárraga de Fernandez stayed in Cuba alone through her
husband's long political imprisonment in the 1960s and '70s, after
sending her three children with her parents and siblings to Miami.

She was 23, and wouldn't see them again for 18 years. The book, Fighting
Castro: A Love Story (WingSpan, 2007), by Kay Abella, told her story
last year.

Fernandez, of Coral Gables, died Saturday at Mercy Hospital in Miami.
She was 70 and had received a pancreatic-cancer diagnosis in June,
according to granddaughter Carolina Navarro.

Fernandez's husband of 50 years, Coral Gables psychiatrist Dr. Lino
Fernandez, was a high-ranking figure in the Movement to Recuperate the
Revolution, which opposed Fidel Castro. Captured in 1961 -- three years
after their marriage -- he was sentenced to 30 years, but served 17.

The couple came to Miami in 1979 as part of a Cuban amnesty deal. Lino
Fernandez eventually resumed his psychiatry practice; Emy Fernandez,
fluent in several languages, became a University of Miami secretary.

Of Fernandez's pivotal decision for her children, Abella wrote: ``She
had to let go. They were with people who loved them -- safe and free.
They were in her heart; they could not be in her life. Her life would
center on Lino, on his survival.''

Abella, a Connecticut writer, met the couple in 2000.

''I was fascinated that she had chosen to stay,'' she said of
Fernandez's decision to stay in Cuba, while her husband was in prison.
'A lot of women would say, `I'd never do that,' but I began to realize
it made a lot of sense. Emy always wanted to do what was best for the
most people.''

She had ''a steel core, yet this sweetness and caring about other
people,'' Abella said.


Emilia Luzárraga grew up in the town of Constancia, where her family
owned a sugar factory. Her husband said she was ''educated by the
nuns.'' She was 15 when they met. He was in medical school.

''She impressed me very much,'' he said. ''She was beautiful and had a
light in her green eyes. She was very sociable,'' and went off to study
in Canada.

They married when she was 19, and ''kids came very quickly,'' Lino
Fernandez said. ``I was happy with that. We were thinking to have as
many as God would give us.''

But the counterrevolutionary movement got in the way. Lino Fernandez
said they both were involved, but authorities ``didn't know about her.''

After he was captured on Feb. 17, 1961, she decided on her own to send
the children to Miami, because in the months to come ``she saw the
failure of the Bay of Pigs and its big blow to the internal resistance
movement. . . . She thought the kids were in danger. . . . I was very
happy with her decision.''

Emy Fernandez told Abella that she figured, ' `My children will be OK in
freedom. Lino may not be OK.' She couldn't leave him with nothing.''

She went to work at the Egyptian embassy and lived with friends. The
couple didn't see each other again until October of that year.

Lino Fernandez said that ``her first question was, how much did I think
that prison could last? She was scared. I told her this will be long.''

Abella, who became a close friend through the book, said that Lino
Fernandez always believed his wife ``was the one who took the big hurt
-- she gave up everything.''

Daughter Emilia Maria Fernandez of Miami was 2 when she left Cuba, 16
when she first heard her mother's voice on the telephone, and 19 when
they reunited.

In the interim, Emy Fernandez wrote to her children ''almost every
week,'' her daughter said. ``My grandmother always read them to us.''


After his release, Lino Fernandez, with his wife, arrived at the Fort
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to joyous crowds and a media

Daughter Emilia said her grandparents immediately stepped aside as the
kids' authority figures -- which initially caused problems.

''It was difficult,'' the daughter said. ``They were frozen in time.''

She and her siblings ''did go through a period where we did get mad'' at
their parents about the separation, especially after they found out that
their parents had been in the United States after Castro came to power,
and went home ``knowing [Lino] was going to be arrested.

``But to her, it was part of her life and what she needed to do and she
never regretted it. She never second-guessed herself, at least not to us.''

In later years, Emy Fernandez devoted herself to her nine grandchildren
and one great-grandchild.

''What she didn't do with us,'' her daughter said, ``she did with the

Abella said she once asked her friend whether there had been a ''bright
side'' to her family's ordeal, and was surprised when Fernandez said yes.

'She said, `I never would have understood the meaning of true friendship
and love.' She and Lino had this incredibly intense relationship. Even
to the last day, they were always holding hands. He called her, 'My
princess.' ''

In addition to her husband, Emilia Fernandez is survived by daughters
Emilia Maria Fernandez and Lucia Fernandez-Silveira, son Lino B.
Fernandez, sister Juanita Plana, brothers Jacinto, Jorge and Luciano
Luzárraga, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all of Miami.

A funeral was held Monday.

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