Finally given Cuban exit permit, dissident savors Miami welcome
Capping a seven-year period during which the Cuban government repeatedly
rejected his travel requests, dissident Juan Juan Almeida arrived in
Miami with a temporary permit to get medical care.
BY JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ
El Nuevo Herald
Juan Juan Almeida, the son of the historic Cuban commander Juan Almeida
Bosque, arrived in Miami on Thursday with a temporary permit from the
Cuban authorities to undergo medical treatment.
His departure from Cuba ends a seven-year period during which the Castro
government repeatedly turned down his travel requests.
``I left Havana under much pressure and this reception has been
incredible,'' Almeida said after arriving at Miami International
Airport. ``My goal was to be with my family.''
Almeida arrived from Cancun, Mexico, on an American Airlines flight
shortly after 3 p.m. In the lobby of Gate E, his wife, Consuelo Quesada,
and their daughter, Indira, waited. Indira had not seen her father in
``I adore them. I always said I was giving my all for my family,''
Almeida told a group of journalists.
Visibly moved, he thanked the Catholic Church for interceding on his
behalf and speeding up a process that two months ago forced him to stage
a hunger strike to pressure the Cuban government for a positive response.
``I welcome the intervention of the Church, all who influenced Almeida's
exit visa is attributed to the mediation of Cardinal Jaime Ortega
Alamino, who became ``personally'' interested in the case and asked the
government of Raúl Castro for a humanitarian permit, due to the
Almeida has rheumatoid spondylitis, a gradual deformation of the bones
that cannot be treated in Cuba. In the mid-1980s, he was given
permission to travel every two years to Belgium to be treated by
specialists, but in 2003 that authorization was canceled without
On arrival at Miami, Almeida blamed Raúl Castro and others in the regime
for the consistent refusals issued to his requests to leave Cuba.
``Absolutely, yes. He is not the only one, but he is the worst,''
Almeida said. ``I'm not a politician, but have been much politicized in
The lawyer, 43, did not say when he would return to Cuba once his
medical treatment ends. ``On July 15, I said that I would not stop the
hunger strike until they gave me the exit permit. Of course, what I say
I almost always do,'' Almeida said.
In May 2009, Almeida was arrested by Cuban authorities as he attempted
to leave the island illegally. Staging acts of protest on the streets of
Havana, he openly criticized the government of Raúl Castro. He also
wrote a book that dealt harshly with the Castro system, titled Memories
of an Unknown Cuban Guerrilla, and launched a blog where he broached the
situation of other Cubans and dissidents whose requests for travel
permits were turned down by the regime in Havana.
On Aug. 11, Almeida was rushed to the emergency room at the Manuel
Fajardo Surgical Hospital in Havana, suffering from a general imbalance.
But after two days of observation, he left the hospital saying he had
been transferred to a psychiatric ward and had received threats if he
did not take the medications he was given.
Almeida's exit permit is the latest victory in the dialogue process
started by Cardinal Ortega and the hierarchy of the Cuban Catholic
Church for the release of political prisoners who are being sent to
Spain. The dissidents are part of the 52 prisoners remaining of 75 who
were convicted during the wave of 2003 government repression known as
the Black Spring.
The mediation of the church authorities comes in the wake of the
publication of an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI signed last week by
344 opponents, including Almeida.
The letter complains in the strongest terms about the role of the Cuban
Catholic Church hierarchy in the prisoner release process. Thursday at
the airport, Almeida said he joined the critical voices of the
opposition bloc without exactly knowing the letter's content. ``There is
a contradiction, absolutely. I signed something, but I was not exactly
told what I was signing,'' he said.
Almeida will travel to Los Angeles Sept. 1 to undergo treatment at
Cedars Sinai Medical Center.