Published Monday, July 22, 1996, in the Miami Herald.

Double jeopardy for 6 Cubans at Guantanamo

Returned to their country once, they fear a second repatriation

By CYNTHIA CORZO
Herald Staff Writer

Six repatriated Cubans have returned to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay to seek asylum, saying they were subjected to harassment by Cuban authorities.

They now live in a kind of refugee limbo, fearful of being returned to Cuban territory for a second time.

``We are under terrible tension,'' Lisbeth Rivera said in a telephone interview. ``We don't know -- is it back to Cuba or not? The impression we get is that they're going to send us back.''

Rivera and her family were among 18 rafters returned to Cuba on April 24. Most of the men -- including Rivera's husband, Osmani Marquez Coba -- had escaped from Cuba after being jailed for previous attempts to leave the island illegally.

``They were waiting for us in Cuba to make us finish our sentences,'' said Marquez, who said he escaped and swam to the base for the first time in September 1995.

Family swam to base

Marquez said he was rearrested July 1. On July 3, he escaped while being transferred to the office of State Security in the city of Guantanamo. After two days of hiding in the home of a soldier, he said, he and his wife decided to swim to the base with their 4-year-old son.

``In Cuba, they told me I had to fulfill the [jail] time I owed,'' Marquez said.

He said he was ignored when he protested that reprisals against repatriated Cubans were forbidden in the migration accord signed between Cuba and the United States.

``They said they're the ones in charge there and they handle things their way,'' Marquez said.

Three other Cubans -- Amaury Vargas Noel, Gilberto Rodriguez Creach and Elizardo Garcia Sanchez -- also arrived at the base recently and await a U.S. decision on their cases.

``It was all a big lie,'' Garcia said by telephone from the base. ``After the [U.S.] Interests Section visited us, the persecution began. I had to leave my house because they were looking for me.''

New policy prevailed

The refugees are in limbo because they arrived at the base after U.S. policy changed May 2, allowing rafters to be repatriated. Unlike more than 30,000 other rafters housed earlier at the base, they were unable to travel to the United States.

The refugees' hopes for being admitted to the United States are based on their assertions of political persecution after being repatriated to Cuba.

``As soon as I arrived,, they started harassing me,'' Marquez said. ``They took away my bicycle. I had to leave home and hide in the house of some relatives. The State Security people were trying to prove that I was working with human rights groups.''

Rivera said she and their son Ronny lived under intense scrutiny from police, who were pursuing Marquez. She said they were interrogated almost daily on his whereabouts.

Rivera said the problems started a week after they were repatriated. On May 3, they went to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, but the visit left them more troubled than before. The word from U.S.

``They told us they weren't responsible for what happened to us,'' she said. ``They told us prior sentences had to be served.''

The six refugees are not in a tent camp like the ones that housed thousands of rafters who fled Cuba earlier. Rivera said they had been housed instead in a section of the base prison.

``This is terrible,'' Rivera said. ``I spent two nights in a cell with my son.''

She said Ronny is fearful and upset, cries frequently and doesn't want to be separated from his mother.

``It's not easy,'' Rivera said. ``The poor little kid is nervous. We're all nervous and scared because we don't know what's going to happen to us.''


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1996 The Miami Herald.