Stories of Life on the Border / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar
Posted on November 28, 2015
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar (Special envoy), Liberia (Costa Rica), 28
November 2015 — A uniformed policeman guards the entrance to the shelter
in the church of Nazareth, in the Costa Rican region of Liberia. It is
there to protect 70 Cubans who are waiting for the Nicaraguan
authorities to allow them to continue their journey to the United
States. Journalists are not allowed access, not least because most
migrants prefer not to give interviews.
However, the Cuban accent opens all doors. Once inside, a young man from
Pinar del Rio explains that his family does not know he is in that
situation and he does not want to worry his mother. "She believed I was
going around the stores in Quito to buy clothes and then sell them back
home in San Juan y Martinez." Something similar occurs with Maria, an
enthusiastic and charismatic woman from Camagüey, who spurred by the
emergency has become the voice of the group.
Maria is the representative of Cubans who are there. Nobody gave her
that position, no one voted for her, but her way of expressing herself
and showing natural leadership have led her to speak for those who
prefer to remain silent. However she confessed to this newspaper that
she finds it a little frightening to make statements: "I don't want,
tomorrow, for the Cuban government not to allow me to visit my family."
The hostel recalls the Cuban schools in the countryside through which
passed the Maria's and the young Pinareño's generation. The difference
here is that they are not forced to work in agriculture, nor to listen
to the tiresome ideological propaganda of the morning assemblies. They
are free, but have one obsession: continuing the path to the "land of
freedom," they say.
Sioveris Carpio left on 3 September for Ecuador. He never imagined that
his journey would be complicated in this way. He arrived in Costa Rica
on 12 November when the border with Nicaragua was already closed. Now,
when asked if he wasn't tempted to turn around, he uses a slogan heard
thousands of times from Cuban officialdom: "Pa' tras ni para coger
impulso*." And he adds with a smile, "My objective is to get there."
He is an amateur musician, finished the 12th grade, and had worked as an
animator and audio operator in Trinidad, but he lives in Condado, a
corner of Escambray where the alzados – the anti-communists – were
active in the sixties. "I live near where there is a monument to Manuel
Ascunce, the literacy teacher killed by the alzados," he says, and
immediately clarifies, "the fact that I am going to the United States
doesn't mean that I'm against the Revolution." In the conversation there
is only this reporter and the impassioned young man, but at times he
speaks as if a thousand ears are listening."
"I was born and raised under a Revolutionary roof, what is happening is
that I am looking for an economic improvement," he says. He repeats the
litany of many about his decision, that he "isnot political", but admits
that he has chosen the United States" because it is a country where you
can find an opportunity to prosper."
If "things get bad" and he can not continue toward reaching his dream,
he will stay in Costa Rica. "Right here," he says and states that
"people are good and we have the same language, but life is expensive
and it is not easy to find work."
In Cuba he left his entire family and says that his parents "are
suffering a lot because they know I'm here." His dream, however includes
the goal of one day returning to Cuba. "Not now, because unfortunately
there are no opportunities, wages are minimal to the point that if you
buy a pair of pants you can not eat that month."
Carpio is a skeptic of the economic changes that have occurred on the
island in recent years. "The results will be seen only long term. We
will have to wait a long time and I am almost 40." The clock of his life
has marked a critical time and he prefers to spend the rest of it in
But Carpio is only part of this drama. The people of Nazareht have seen
dozens of these migrants arriving on their territory and have come out
to help them. Mauricio Martinez has lived, from birth, across from the
Bethel church in the Nazareht neighborhood, although he is not a member
of the church. Now he dedicates many hours of his time talking to the
"I've never seen anything like what's happening here today. At first we
had some concern, but the people are very quiet and very well educated.
They are very friendly," he confirms.
The help that the community has given to migrants has been spontaneous.
People bring clothes or food, "according to what everyone can because we
are humble people," says Martinez. "But we've realized what is thay are
going through and so we are collaborating," he reflects.
The arrival of the Cubans is also leaving a deep impression in the way
many Costa Ricans see the world. "Knowing them has allowed us to learn a
very different reality to ours and also different from what we could
imagine," says a solicitous neighbor. "Here on the roof of my house I
have an antenna for television and they tell me that in their country
satellite dishes are prohibited, and thus I realize what they are
looking for in freedom" he says.
A vehicle from the firm Movistar is parked front of the shelter. Mr.
Benavides, a sales agent, is satisfied with his success in selling
phones, SIM cards and recharges to the Cubans. "Since we learned that
the shelters were filled with these migrants we assumed that they
probably wanted to communicate with their families."
The employee says that "there is a commercial interest, but the first
thing that got us here was the desire to help." He adds, "It's amazing
how they know the brand names, they are modern people and are eager to
It is not easy to win the confidence of those who have had to sneal
across several borders and fear that what little money they have left
will be taken away or that they will be deceived by traffickers, but
some speak to this newspaper with the familiarity of old friends.
Julio Cesar Vega Ramirez of San José de las Lajas, is not afraid of
anything. He left Ecuador heading to Colombia without knowing the way,
then by boat to Panama and then to Costa Rica, where he was given a pass
for seven days that has been extended for fifteen more. "With this visa
we can move around the country freely," he says.
The man says that "everyone here has helped us, the church's neighbors,
the organizations. They bring sacks of cassava or bananas without
charging a cent. The Cubans living in San Jose have also brought
donations. " Although he has also had the support of his family in
Miami. "They have sent me the money bit by bit because it is not
advisable to walk around with a lot of money," he explains.
Julio César operated a tire retreading machine. "I came here with my
wife but I left my four children, two grandchildren and my mother." He
said his family was aware of what was going to do. "Although I said
nothing at work for fear that someone would spill the beans and spoil
His wife, Maritza Guerra, has a degree in nursing and a master's degree
in comprehensive care for children. For years she has been a nurse in
the pediatric ward of the Leopoldito Martinez Hospital in San José de
las Lajas. It is also pediatric intensive care nurse. "Here we
communicate with our families and friends thanks to wifi zone they
immediately established for us completely free. I would like to ask
those Cubans in exile and on the island to help us, please, do something
for us," she clamors insistently.
In the afternoon, when the sun goes down, the trees are filled with
birds. The noise they make is very different from the sparrows in the
parks of Cuba, because there is a lot of variety and they all sing
differently. Birds coexist with each other and fly freely from one side
of the border to the other.
*Translator's note: Para atrás, ni para coger impulso. Roughly: No going
back, not even to gain momentum (for another charge).
Source: Stories of Life on the Border / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar |
Translating Cuba -