Cuban Refugees in Peru Recall Their Protest With AM-Cubans Rdp, Bjt
LIMA, Peru (AP) _ Several Cubans who were allowed to leave their country after occupying Peru’s embassy in Havana in 1980 say they understand the feelings of Cuban prisoners in the United States who rioted to avoid being sent home.
″I don’t want to go back to Cuba, just like the people in Miami and just like the rioters in Atlanta,″ said 71-year-old Jose Orama, one of hundreds of refugees who went to Peru after fleeing Cuba seven years ago.
Orama spoke in his small grocery in Lima’s ″Cuban barrio,″ a housing project near the ancient ruins of Pachacamac. There, 125 exiles are rebuilding their lives, bringing the tropical touch of their homeland to the lunar-like landscape of the desert Peruvian coast.
″It is difficult for sure,″ said the store owner, speaking of life in this impoverished Andean nation, where fewer than half the potential workers have steady jobs. ″But here we have a community.″
Orama’s story began during Easter week in 1980, when dozens of people sought asylum in the Peruvian Embassy.
Rumors of a chance to leave the island spread, and by Easter Sunday nearly 11,000 Cubans had taken refuge on the embassy grounds in Havana, according to Lima newspapers and magazines.
With world news media focusing attention on the Cubans, Castro allowed the thousands at the embassy to leave the country and shortly thereafter opened the port of Mariel to nearly anyone who wanted to depart.
Most of the estimated 125,000 refugees went to the United States. But Cubans also found refuge in several Latin American nations. About 800 reached Peru, according to the United Nations.
More than half of those have since left Peru for other countries and many still hope to depart. But others, like Orama, have settled and put down roots.
Many said they sympathized with the feelings of Cuban prisoners in American jails.
They said they, too, would not want to return to a life of food rationing, of constant shortages and of political repression.
Prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta revolted Monday and continued to hold hostages Wednesday. The riot followed one at Louisiana’s Oakdale Federal Detention Center on Saturday where prisoners also continued to hold hostages Wednesday.
The riots were prompted by a U.S.-Cuba agreement to deport 2,545 Cubans, mostly criminals and mentally ill people who entered the United States during the Mariel boatlift.
″I can understand why the Cubans in the U.S. jails don’t want to return,″ said Juan Despayne, an electrician and former political prisoner in Cuba. He now does odd jobs to make ends meet.
″Nobody wants to return to the Cuba of Castro,″ he said.
But the exiles in Peru, where the minimum monthly wage is about $50, also speak of difficult times here.
Few have found steady work. And many spent their first four years in Lima in tents in a public park.
The tents rotted in the capital’s damp air and many refugees, accustomed to Cuba’s tropics, became ill from Lima’s overcast, chilly winters.
In September 1984, the Cubans staged a five-day protest outside the office of the United Nations refugee commission in Lima. The agency responded by building 100 homes in Pachacamac.
The ″Cuban barrio″ is not the tropical isle. As with other shantytowns that have sprouted in the desert around Lima, Pachacamac has no tall trees to provide relief from the summer sun and few municipal services.
Nevertheless, refugees have managed to bring a bit of the Caribbean to Lima.
In Marcelino Fernandez’s bar Las Brisas, a local gathering place which takes its name from the trade winds that cool the lush Caribbean island, customers sip ″Cuba libres″ (rume and cola) or strong Cuban coffee as they dream out loud of their homeland.
For Pablo Martinez, owner of a small restaurant, a return is unlikely. He lives with a Peruvian woman and says he has no plans of going back.
″The time for dreaming is gone. It has already passed.″