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Posted on Sunday, 11.18.12

Cubans lament dirty pasts of hundreds living safe in exile

Hundreds of Cubans with dubious pasts, including State Security officers

and snitches, have moved to Miami, much to the disgust of those they

tormented.

By JUAN O. TAMAYO

jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

Havana activist Elizardo Sánchez says he bears no ill will for the

Caamaños, neighbors who collaborated with State Security agents to

harass him for years. After all, he heads the Cuban Commission for Human

Rights and National Reconciliation.

But his sister Marcela, who lives with him, has no problem denouncing

the two Caamaños and a son-in-law, who now live in Miami.

"The first thing I would do is bring them back," she said. "It is not a

grudge. But it IS a lot of pity for the many people suffering here,

while they live without any kind of problem over there."

Former Cuban provincial prisons chief Crescencio Marino Rivero made

headlines over the past month amid allegations that he abused some

prisoners and ordered guards to abuse others before he moved to Miami

two years ago.

But uncounted hundreds of other Cubans with nasty pasts are also living

here, including State Security officers, snitches and collaborators,

judges, policemen and members of the Committees for the Defense of the

Revolution, the neighborhood watch groups.

Most were small cogs in the communist system's machinery for political

repression. They did not beat or torture. But they were not harmless.

Their work could land dissidents in or block their children from

getting into the right universities.

Yet like hundreds of thousands of other Cubans, they eventually moved to

Miami, legally or illegally, for valid or suspect reasons. And their

victims fumed when they spotted their former tormentors living in the

capital of Cuban exile.

"The fact is that he screwed up my life," Jose Varona, 73, said about

the State Security officer whose court testimony in 1973 helped send him

to prison for 6 ½ years. Varona was freed and moved to Miami in 1979.

The officer arrived two years ago.

Frank Parodi, a retired official of the human rights violators' unit of

Immigration and Enforcement, said that after the arrest of one

Cuban abuser was announced in 1992, his office received 250 tips and

leads about other abusers in Miami. He was transferred to Washington

afterward and does not know what happened to those tips.

Elizardo Sánchez said "hundreds upon hundreds" of full-time officers of

State Security, the Interior Ministry branch in charge of political

repression, moved to the United States in recent years. Ironically, he

claimed, some went searching for a safe haven.

"The smartest ones perceive that the regimen is in its final stage" and

fear revenge attacks, he said by telephone from Havana. "They are

looking to put themselves in a safe place."

U.S. government officials acknowledge it is difficult if not impossible

to weed out the bad apples when Cubans apply for U.S. visas, residency

or citizenship.

State Security officers use pseudonyms to hide their identities when

cracking down on dissidents, and Washington does not appear to have

extensive databases that could alert to Cubans with dirty pasts.

Marcela Sánchez said she warned U.S. diplomats in Havana that three of

her Caamaño neighbors had obtained U.S. visas and were preparing to

leave. They settled in Miami in 2000 or 2001.

In the absence of full U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations, Havana does not

cooperate in confirming the personal details of Cubans seeking visas or

citizenship, and almost never accepts U.S. deportations.

Rivero and his wife apparently did not reveal in their visa or residency

documents that they had held the rank of colonel and captain in the

Interior Ministry and belonged to the Communist Party — facts that might

have triggered deeper U.S. looks at their cases.

"The checks and balances we have for migrants of other nationalities

were not that effective with the Cubans," Parodi said. "These are people

who should not be here, but whatever they put on paper is all we have.

And once they're in Miami, they're in."

The former agents and collaborators also could pose a security risk for

the U.S. government because they could cooperate with Cuban intelligence

agents, willingly or under pressure, said Elizardo Sánchez.

Miami human rights activist Oscar Peña said it's time for Cubans to stop

nursing old wounds, "not to forget, but to draw a mental line and say

'this stops now.'?" The same goes for islanders still holding grudges

against exiles, he added.

But that's a tough idea for victims, their relatives and friends to accept.

After El Nuevo Herald published the first story about Rivero, it

received a dozen complaints against other alleged abusers in South Florida.

One Miami man emailed the newspaper to denounce the Havana he said

had refused to give a break to a mutual friend convicted of a

non-political crime in the 1980s.

Another alleged that a former prison guard in Camagüey province named

Eugenio Salgado had worked at the Palacio De los Jugos on

Flagler Street. Owner Apolonia Bermudez said Salgado quit 10-12 years

ago and El Nuevo Herald efforts to find him were unsuccessful.

Miami author Rodrigo de la Luz said he was stunned some years back when

he ran into the policeman who watched but did nothing as another cop

beat him 20 years ago in Havana, for being disrespectful during his arrest.

"I was handcuffed, and you laughed," de la Luz, now 43, recalled saying

to the man, who admitted that he had been a policeman but denied ever

abusing anyone and insisted that was old history.

"After all, we're all here" in Miami, the man added.

De la Luz said he denounced the policeman to the FBI but does not know

whether the bureau pursued the case. His name was Jose Luis, but de la

Luz does not recall if he ever learned his surname.

Marcela Sánchez, 62, said the Caamaños supported the Castro government

strongly for decades and allowed State Security to use their home,

across the street from hers, as a base and permanent site of a video

camera that filmed all her brother's visitors.

A son-in law, Ernesto Estevez, punctured the tires of some of her

brother's foreign visitors and in 1992 joined a violent raid that

carted away virtually all of his human rights archives and busted up his

office furniture, she added.

Estevez told El Nuevo Herald that the Caamaño and Sanchez families had

"differences of political criteria" but denied that he helped the 1992

raid or punctured tires, or that State Security agents had a base and a

camera at the Caamaño home.

He only lived with the Caamaños because he was married to a daughter,

Estevez said, and did not share their strongly pro-Castro views. "I was

apathetic. I am allergic to politics. Why do you think I left the

country?" he said.

Oscar Alvarez, another Sánchez neighbor now living in Miami said there

was indeed a video camera in the Caamaño home and that he believed

Estevez was a full-time State Security official. Estevez denied he ever

served in Cuba's security services.

Varona, now a security consultant, said he still bears a grudge for Eloy

Mederos, the State Security officer, childhood friend in Camaguey and

witness in the trial that convicted him of plotting to

topple the government. The charge was true, he said.

Mederos, now about 80, arrived in Miami about two years ago, Varona

said. El Nuevo efforts to contact Mederos at the address and phone

number provided by Varona, and to locate him independently, were not

successful.

He has denounced Mederos to the FBI, immigration officials and Sen.

Marco Rubio's office and considered organizing a group protest at the

address. "The least I would do is to slap him," Varona told El Nuevo

Herald in an interview.

Instead, he mailed Mederos a one-page note, written in inch-high black

letters:

6 years of prison

6 years of hunger

6 years of cold

6 years of suffering

You lack divine justice

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/18/v-fullstory/3104154/cubans-lament-dirty-pasts-of-hundreds.html

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