French student deported from Cuba for befriending political dissidents
"All I actually did was talk to political opponents"
Marie-Bérengère Ruet is a political science student in Paris.
Foreigners are welcome in Cuba, as long as they stick to the beaches and
don't meddle with local politics. A young French student learnt this the
hard way, when she was forcibly deported from the island after she
befriended local political dissidents.
Marie-Bérengère Ruet, a graduate student in the Parisian Institute of
Political Science (Sciences-Po), spent two months in Cuba last spring to
gather material for her thesis on Cuban opposition and resistance
groups. During her stay, she met with, interviewed and befriended
several opposition activists, considered as dangerous delinquents by the
Cuban authorities. Their crime? Filtering information about the
situation in Cuba outside the country, and generally expressing their
dissent more vocally than most.
At 9:00am on April 15, a squad of eight men in green uniforms from the
Interior Ministry security force (Minit) arrested me as I returned to my
host family's home on calle Manrique, Havana. They had been waiting at
my street corner for over two hours. They took me to the immigration
department headquarters and interrogated me for several hours (they
played a good cop, bad cop routine) before finally deporting me the next
The Minit officers who interrogated me spoke of Cuban dissidents as
"capitalist terrorists" who are paid by the CIA to destabilise the
regime. But from what I saw, they were penniless activists who lived in
run-down studios and shared one computer and one camera between eight
bloggers to get their information out. To go online, they have to sneak
to Internet terminals in foreign embassies. I was also accused of
speaking to convicted prisoners in labour camps. But I never set foot in
one of those, although I did befriend the brother of a political prisoner.
I was granted several hours to pack my things. I managed to safeguard my
most important thesis notes by giving them to a foreign friend who
mailed them back to me from his home country. But my portable computer
was confiscated and the data in it lost, including all the photos of my
trip. I was not able to say good-bye to any of her Cuban contacts before
being escorted by Minit officials to the airport, where I was once again
interrogated and searched. My host family's tourism licence was revoked
and they were fined 1,000 US dollars.
I half-expected something like this to happen to me, maybe I wasn't
careful enough. I was still shocked, though: all I had actually done was
talk to members of the opposition. It shows how inexistent freedom of
expression is in the country.
I'm more worried about the people I left behind than I was scared about
my own fate. Minit interrogators even confiscated love letters from a
Cuban boy I had grown close to. I try to keep in touch with my contacts
there, but phone lines often don't work, so it's mostly through
occasional emails. I'm not sure what would happen if I tried to go back
to Cuba now, but I don't think I'll try yet."
French student deported from Cuba for befriending political dissidents |
The Observers (25 June 2009)