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“We are free”: Two Cuban sisters recount the tortuous 4,200-mile journey to a better life in the US.


The Rolo González sisters, who were studying medicine in Cuba, paid thousands of dollars and put their lives at risk before reaching the border with Mexico and then Florida. They are part of the largest exodus that Cuba has experienced since the Castro brothers took control of the communist island.

By Megan Janetsky -

The Associated Press

The Rolo González sisters walked out of Nicaragua's main airport and saw a sea of ​​young men.

The Central American “coyotes” squinted, trying to find the people they would smuggle to the United States.

These were the first steps that

Merlyn, 19, and Melanie, 24

, took outside of Cuba.

Carrying two small backpacks and Melanie's one-year-old daughter, the women realized how lonely they were.

Their odyssey of more than 4,200 miles (6,000 kilometers) would lead these medical students to question the past, race—unknowingly—against a legal clock that is ticking, and teeter on the brink of death while falling off a cliff.

a mass exodus

The sisters' journey is one of hundreds of thousands that Cubans have undertaken in the last two years in a historic wave of migration, fueled by a crisis in the island's troubled economy, caused in part by the pandemic and one of the highest inflation rates in the world.

This exodus prompted a move by the Biden Administration in January to reduce the number of Cuban immigrants, whom the country had historically welcomed even as it rejected Haitians, Venezuelans, Mexicans and people from other Latin American and Caribbean nations.

The Rolo González sisters, like others on the island, lost hope in the future of their country.

Her optimism rested on the vague idea of ​​life in the United States and a better future for the girl.

"All you know is that you're going to a foreign country you've never been to,

to put your life in the hands of people you've never met, to another place you don't know”, says Merlyn, the younger sister.

"You have your destination, but you don't know what awaits you on the journey."

Pending asylum applications in the US reach a record 1.6 million petitions

Dec 27, 202200:27

In the past two years, US authorities have detained Cubans nearly 300,000 times at the border with Mexico.

That figure is more than half the population of the city of Baltimore, or almost

3% of the inhabitants of Cuba


Some have been returned, but most have stayed under immigration rules dating back to the Cold War era.

Although they had trained as doctors, the Rolo González sisters spent their spare time on the outskirts of Havana collecting enough to buy basic necessities, such as formula milk for Melanie's eldest daughter.

[Biden slows the arrival of Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans to the border by 97% after tightening measures]

The women dreamed of traveling as doctors, but soon became disillusioned with life in Cuba

with frequent power outages, shortages of medical supplies and other shortage issues.

When Melanie's daughter, Madison, was born, she and her husband began discussing the possibility of immigrating to the United States.

They decided that he would go first and then they would look for other routes that were legal and less dangerous for her.

In May 2022, he flew to Nicaragua.

Soon after, according to Melanie, he left her for another woman.

However, she still planned to leave, now with her younger sister.

"We're free"

In the last year, most Cuban migrants have flown to Nicaragua — where they do not need a visa — and have traveled overland to Mexico.

An increasing number are taking the perilous sea route, traveling nearly 100 miles to Florida on overcrowded and poorly built boats.

The sisters sold the house their father left them, along with the refrigerator, television, and anything else of value, for a few dollars.

With the help of friends and family in Florida, they had $20,000.

With that they were able to fly to Nicaragua and travel overland to the border with the United States.

They asked for a leave of absence from the Faculty of Medicine and reported their trip only to their family and five close friends.

[Biden expands Title 42 at the border to expel more migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua]

Days before the flight, they meticulously assembled piles of medicines, winter clothes, and baby formula—as much as they could fit into two blue-and-pink backpacks.

They, like many other Cubans, had the relative (but about to disappear) ease of entering the United States.

"We left Cuba because they leave us no other option": an immigrant begs Biden crying not to deport her boyfriend

Dec 8, 202202:14

Just after midnight on December 13, they walked through a hallway lined with family photos and left their forever home.

At the Havana airport, the last thing they said to their mother before leaving her alone was "I love you."

“Until then, it seemed unreal to me,” says the younger sister.

“When I saw myself sitting there on the plane, all she was thinking about was what we had achieved.

When the plane took off, we looked at each other and said: 'We are free.'

They left the Nicaraguan airport with a “coyote” who had a photo of them on his phone and received instructions via WhatsApp.

It was time for the first payment:

$3,600 in cash.

[Half a thousand Cubans arrived in small boats in the Florida Keys on New Year's weekend]

The “guide” was an uncertain but constant presence, sending messages with instructions as they passed from smuggler to smuggler.

Once they paid, they began a 12-hour journey with the "coyote", arriving at a dilapidated house at midnight.

They woke them up before dawn.

With the frigid air chopping at their lungs, Melanie and Merlyn began walking up a mountain lined with corn and coffee farms: the border between Nicaragua and Honduras.

They went on like this for days, touring Honduras and Guatemala by bus, by car, and on foot through volcano-studded landscapes.

A Cuban migrant shows her passport in a file photo from August 2021.Long Visual Press / UCG/Universal Images Group via G

They marveled at jagged mountains and billowing clouds as endless as the oceans that had once surrounded them.

"Everything was new," says Merlyn: "We left Cuba."

Back on the island, Marialys, her mother, was clinging to text messages and photos as signs that they were okay.

“There is a horrible emptiness in this house.

I see here, I see there and it is as if I had nothing, ”she lamented.

Vehicular accident heading to the border

At 3 a.m., the Rolo González sisters were sleeping and traveling with 18 other immigrants in an old blue van that sped through the dense pine forests of Chiapas, Mexico, in a row of five vehicles.

They were traversing a rough pass, and the drizzle made the dirt road slippery.

Merlyn was holding her niece in her arms when

the vehicle skidded and tumbled ten times into the void.

The jolt from her threw her and the girl through the windshield along with the driver.

The young woman, to whom a piece of glass opened a deep cut on the neck, wrapped her niece with her body.

These requirements must be met by Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans to enter the US.

Jan 6, 202301:44

As she landed on the muddy ground, she looked down and panicked at the baby's short strands of hair and blood-smeared face, staring at her with wide eyes.

Melanie ran over, checked their vital signs with the light of a telephone, and bandaged her sister's head as she had learned at the Cuban Medical School.

In the days that followed, they learned that the mother of an 8-year-old Cuban boy had died that night.

“We felt that it meant we had a lot of life left to live,” Melanie said.

[Job and Housing Shortage: How the Historic Arrival of Cuban Immigrants is Impacting Florida]

On New Year's Eve, the Rolo González sisters crossed the Rio Grande from Juárez to El Paso early in the morning.

They were immediately met by Border Patrol agents, detained in Texas, and placed on 60-day probation.

Shortly after, the new restriction of the Biden Administration was announced.

They had arrived just in time.

"The nightmare is over, my daughter"

Back in Cuba, the mother was looking at the phone with trembling hands.

It had been three weeks since she had seen her daughters and her granddaughter.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, family friends were waiting for them.

Some balloons decorated their beds and there was a pink crib in the corner.

Marialys's phone rang.

She watched the grainy video through narrowed eyes.

“Look there, there's the car, there they are!” he yelled as a silver vehicle appeared on the screen.

“Hi, mommy,” said one of the sisters, smiling.

"The nightmare is over, my daughter," her mother murmured.

The nightmare is over, my daughter.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-01-31

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