Quantcast
Latest Stories

Cuba migration change eases return for defectors

By

Maria Victoria Gil, mother of swordsman Elvis Gregory, shows a framed photo of her son next to a trove of trophies awarded to her son, at her home, in Havana, Cuba, Friday, November 16, 2012. Gregory, an Olympic silver medalist, who defected from the Cuban team at a tournament in Lisbon in 2002, hopes to return to Cuba next year so he can finally meet his only child, a 10-year-old girl who was only 15 days old when he abandoned his country. New migratory laws have now made it possible for high-profile defectors once considered deserters or traitors to return to the homeland they abandoned. The new rules could potentially affect many leading cultural and athletic figures, from musicians and doctors to ballet dancers. AP/Franklin Reyes

HAVANA — Sydney Gregory has never met her father, an Olympic – Hide quoted text – silver medalist in fencing who defected from the Cuban team at a tournament in Lisbon in 2002 when she was 15 days old. But he recently rang from Italy with good news: Papa’s coming home to visit.

“I’m very happy,” the 10-year-old girl said, smiling in her school uniform with a headband holding back her jet-black hair. “My father called me on the phone and told me he’s going to come. I’m going to meet him!”

Under Cuban law, those who abandoned their homeland have had to apply for permission to return, even for the kind of brief family visit Elvis Gregory hopes to make. Many high-profile people considered deserters have had their requests to return rejected by a communist-run government that complained about the large financial investment it made in their careers. Some didn’t even bother to ask, knowing their petitions would be turned down.

But a change taking effect in January will make it simpler for Cubans to visit the homeland they abandoned. It essentially establishes a single set of rules governing the right of return that will apply to everyone who left illegally, no matter what the circumstances of their departure.

The new rules could potentially affect many leading cultural and athletic figures, from musicians and doctors to ballet dancers and former Yankee pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. Tens of thousands of people once considered traitors could now be welcomed home.

Cuba is “normalizing the temporary entrance into the country of those who emigrated illegally following the migratory accords of 1994 if more than eight years has gone by since their departure,” Homero Acosta, secretary of the governing Council of State, said in a recent TV program examining the changes announced last month. The migration accords with the US called for 20,000 immigration visas to be issued to Cubans each year, and for the repatriation of islanders caught at sea before reaching American shores.

For Cubans who abandoned the country while on missions overseas, the rule applies to those who defected after 1990.

Exiles who want to return for visits must use Cuban passports and will be able to come as often as they like. They initially will be allowed to stay up to 90 days, with possible extensions.

Elvis Gregory has kept in touch with Sydney by phone and video letters over the years, and sent money to support her upbringing. He hasn’t yet booked a plane ticket home to see the girl who is his only child, preferring to wait and see how the new rules are applied.

“I’m taking this calmly. I’m going to wait for (summer school) vacation to go,” Gregory, 41, said by phone from Rome, where he teaches fencing to children. “Still, I’m going to see my daughter. I’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Gregory’s wait-and-see attitude hasn’t stopped his mother, Maria Victoria Gil, from preparing for his return. She recently removed the furniture from her living room and bought paint to spruce up the room for his visit.

“Finally the ice will be broken!” Gil exclaimed, tears in her eyes. “Elvis is going to come. His family, his friends and above all my granddaughter Sydney will receive him with open arms.”

Defection is a highly sensitive topic on the island, and has splintered families for years and even decades. The names of baseball players who defect suddenly disappear from newspapers. Except for gossip on the streets about their Major League exploits, it’s almost as if they never existed.

Cuban authorities denied the late Grammy-winning salsa singer Celia Cruz permission to return to the island for her mother’s funeral two years after she defected during a 1960 visit to Mexico and moved to the United States. Before her own death in 2003, Cruz often lamented that she never was able to return to Cuba, where her songs are never played on the radio or TV.

In the last 20 years, hundreds of ballplayers have left Cuba along with many more athletes from Olympic sports including volleyball, boxing and track and field. Just last month, several soccer players disappeared before a World Cup qualifier in Toronto, forcing Cuba to field a team of just 11 players with no substitutes available.

Then there are the medical professionals who never returned from international missions to treat the poor in other countries, and the ballet stars who left for careers in more innovative companies abroad. Other defectors include the 43 members of the Havana Night Club dance revue who sought political asylum after leaving in 2004 to perform in Las Vegas.

“We had been waiting for this, but in truth I didn’t think it would happen so quickly,” said Estrella Rivera, mother of Ihosvany Hernandez, a former national volleyball team captain who defected in 2001. Rivera learned about the measure from the TV program with Acosta.

“I got very excited and happy,” she said. “Right away the phone began ringing and didn’t stop for hours. It was family and Ihosvany’s friends calling to say they were already preparing the party.”

The last time Hernandez saw his parents was four years ago when they traveled to Poland, where he played on a local team.

“I plan to go. Not right away, but next summer for vacation, God willing,” said Hernandez, who is now a coach in Alicante, Spain, after retiring from the game. “I’m going to start saving up money.”

For some people, the rule is provoking major soul-searching about their relationship with Cuba.

“El Duque,” who fled the island on a boat in 1997 and went on to win three World Series with the Yankees, applauded the measure but said he’s not sure whether he will take advantage of it.

With some bitterness in his voice, Hernandez alluded to how, shortly after his brother Livan defected, Cuban sports authorities interrogated him about contacts with a U.S. agent and ultimately kicked him out of baseball.

“I left in search of something that they had taken away from me. They had banned me for life, and I would have no life without baseball,” Hernandez said. “For that reason I thank this country (the U.S.), which took me in.”

He paused, silent, before continuing: “I never deserted.”


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Cuba , defections , Migration , News , world




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  2. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  3. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  4. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  5. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  6. Massive infra spending set
  7. South Korea president shouted down by distraught parents
  8. Passengers denied chance to escape sinking South Korea ferry
  9. OFW brings MERS virus to Philippines
  10. Lacson’s wife loses diamond earring to thieves but recovers jewelry quickly with police arrest
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  4. MH370 co-pilot made mid-flight phone call – report
  5. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  6. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  7. ‘Wife of Jesus’ theory papyrus not fake – Harvard study
  8. Gay college instructor arrested for oral sex with student
  9. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  10. Palace: We can’t blame increase in population on Vitangcol
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Pork payoffs to newscasters Erwin Tulfo, Del Prado, others bared
  4. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  5. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  6. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  7. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  8. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  9. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  10. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
Advertisement

News

  • Russia, West reach deal on Ukraine crisis but Obama cautious
  • Easter crucifixions draw huge crowds
  • Gunmen kill 20 at Sudan UN base–US envoy
  • S. Korea ferry rescue stalls as anger spreads
  • Sub dives deeper in hunt for missing MH370
  • Sports

  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Can Spurs get back at Heat? Can they survive West?
  • Hopkins, 49, seeks win for the ageless
  • LeBron still No. 1 with NBA’s most popular jersey
  • Pacquiao back in PH, heads home to wife, kids
  • Lifestyle

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Entertainment

  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Whoopi Goldberg debuts as marijuana columnist
  • ‘X-men’ director accused of sex assault on teen boy
  • Cannes film festival launches race for 2014 Palme d’Or
  • Jones, Godard, Cronenberg in competition at Cannes
  • Business

  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend
  • US stocks end mostly higher after earnings deluge
  • Total says makes ‘very promising’ oil find off Ivory Coast
  • Technology

  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Last call for nominations to ’14 Presidential Awards
  • San Francisco business coalition slams proposed tax on sugary drinks
  • A ‘time-travel’ production of ‘Les Miserable’ at Stanford
  • Filipina Maryknoll sister honored for years of service
  • Malaysia quarantines 64 villagers over MERS virus
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement