Friday, March 29, 2013

Turks and Caicos frees Cubans who sewed their lips shut to protest detention

Posted on Thursday, 03.28.13

Turks and Caicos frees Cubans who sewed their lips shut to protest detention
By Juan O. Tamayo

Authorities in the Turks and Caicos Islands have freed four illegal
Cuban migrants who sewed their lips together to protest their six-month
detentions in the British territory off Cuba's eastern tip.

"We wanted political asylum here or to be free here. Or send us to a
third country that will give us asylum. But what we want is that we will
not be returned to Cuba," Henry Olivera, 41, said Thursday after
removing his stitches.

Clara Gardiner, in charge of the Ministry of Border Control and Labor in
the British-run territory, confirmed the Cubans had been freed, with
some granted asylum and others denied asylum but released on bond while
they appeal.

Last Friday, four sewed their lips shut — a not uncommon practice by
prison inmates in Cuba to highlight their protests — but they removed
the stitches after learning of the decision to free them, Olivera said.

He told El Nuevo Herald that Miami relatives of the four men and one
woman paid $12,000 a head to smugglers to pick them up in eastern Cuba
and deliver them to Florida. Instead, the twin-engine speed boat dropped
them off in the Turks and Caicos on July 22.

Olivera said the five went into hiding but were discovered by
authorities on Oct. 5. Olivera, Lazaro Hidalgo, 27, and Norlan Alonso
and Pedro Chacón, both 39, were sent to a detention center while
Hidalgo's wife, Meybis Vasquez, 23, went to live with a family after she

Their protest came three weeks after 16 other illegal Cuban migrants
disappeared from the Turks and Caicos, apparently aboard a speed boat,
after a judge freed them from the detention center to await word on
their asylum request. Twelve of the 16 later turned up in Miami,
including the mother of Oakland A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

The Turks and Caicos Islands, about 250 miles northeast of Cuba and
north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have become a stopover on the
path of illegal migrants and drugs heading west to Florida, local
authorities say.

Olivera and the three other men received word of the government's
decision to free them around the time Wednesday evening that America
TeVe Channel 41 in Miami was broadcasting a report on their protest that
showed them sewing their lips.

"It had to be done, brother, to force them to make a decision," Olivera
said. "This has been the biggest nightmare of my life."

Gardiner's statement, emailed to El Nuevo Herald, said the five Cubans
were "not released as a result of their protest, but rather their
application for asylum and the assessment thereof has been completed."

"Three of them were determined to be in need of protection while two of
them do not," the statement said. Olivera said he and Alonso were denied
asylum, but were not told why. None of the five held important jobs in
Cuba, he added.

Gardiner said the three will be granted work permits if they find jobs
in the Turks and Caicos, an offshore banking and tourism center of
40,000 people. The two others were given 15 days to appeal and were
freed on bond.

"Should they not be successful, efforts will be made for their return to
their home country," she added.

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