Domingo, 1 de Diciembre de 2019
Última actualización: 16:13 CET

Elegguá goes to Turbo

Reinier Gonzalez. (M. GONZÁLEZ VIVERO)

Reinier González has just arrived in Cuba. "When I left Ecuador" he says, "everything was bleaker than ever. A week before coming, the friends that I had left went to Turbo, the town near the border where thousands of Cubans are struggling to continue their journey to the United States."

He indicates on a map of Colombia the routes leading to the camp. He traced the highways and byways of Colombia, without deciding to leave: "I didn't want to go to Turbo because I have my residency papers in Ecuador, and the outcome of the situation in Colombia is very uncertain."

Reinier, an unemployed P.E. teacher, participated in the protests that precipitated the border crisis. In Quito he pushed for an airlift. Cubans unsuccessfully appealed to several governments. They dared to employ civil disobedience and were driven from the parks. 

The incidents in Ecuador incidents confirm that it is possible to stand up to power, at least by planting the flag of peaceful civil disobedience. And, if they attack the camp, if they throw you out, you go and stay elsewhere, but without sacrificing that gesture of resistance.  

How did the Cubans organize themselves in Quito?  

First the ANCE was created, an association of Cubans in Ecuador founded to defend the rights of Cubans, who soon began to dream of a humanitarian airlift. The truth is that this association did not express the reality of what was happening with the Cubans. They were afraid to tell it like it was.

Groups were created on the social networks. There was Peter Borges, a Cuban who speaks well and demanded a safe way to get Cubans out of Ecuador. He was against creating any disturbances.

Did Borges start the negotiations? 

There was an attempt to negotiate with Mexico. He made a request. And the consul replied that the solution to the Cubans' situation in Costa Rica and Panama was exceptional and would not be repeated. The same thing was done in Canada, without any success.

When we arrived to protest at the US Embassy, ​​we saw a group of riot police, and were not allowed to approach. We were there twice, because there was another demonstration.

I participated in the protest before the Embassy of Mexico. People said: "We're leaving, we're leaving soon." There was a lot of excitement.

When did the Turbo crisis really take shape?

People began to grow desperate, and Peter Borges urged them to remain calm. But people no longer had anything, to eat or money to pay the rent. That increased the number of those stranded in Turbo. They grew weary, and decided that they had to take more drastic measures. The only solution would be to make a real humanitarian crisis evident. On a street, in a park, on a border.

Then they were talking about civil disobedience ...

Yes. This is how it went down: some Cubans entered via Peru, without papers, and went to sleep in front of Mexican Embassy. The first day, out in the open; the next, they began to pitch tents. Peter and his coordinators were against it, but Efraín Sánchez, another leader, said that it had to be done. Many people sided with Efraín. No one imagined what was going to happen.

Hundreds of Cubans went to the Embassy of Mexico. They occupied part of the street. The number of tents increased. Mauricio Rodas, the Mayor of Quito and an opponent of Rafael Correa's Government, installed a bathroom. One bathroom for more than 100 people!

Was there any police harassment?

Threats began to emerge. The situation got out of hand. The riot police attacked the Cubans, beat them, and stripped them of the food donated by Ecuadorians and humanitarian organizations.

Many of those without papers went to Colombia, also to Turbo. Other Cubans set up in La Carolina, one of the largest parks in Quito. They rebuilt the camp there. Efraín, at the front, called on all those who wanted to go to the US to join them. The mayor authorized them remaining in the Parque del Arbolito. The permit lasted a week.

There the most violent incident occurred ...

The riot police could be seen at times, like they were auguring an eviction. And there was. They say that there were drones, two snipers on the buildings, and numerous police. Some Cubans were arrested, prosecuted and deported; others escaped. The deportees left Ecuador in military aircraft. The last flight did not leave from Quito. It took off in Latacunga. They wanted to avert protests at the main airport.

As in Quito nothing else could be done, many decided to also head for Turbo. They did not trust the Colombian government, but rather in the situation that already existed in Turbo, so dramatic that it was forcing a solution.

The Government of Colombia urged them to leave its territory, and threatened deportation. With that Sword of Damocles dangling over them, why did they insist on staying in Turbo?

They feel like they have a chance, though increasingly slight, of reaching the US. From Cuba they don't. So, they don't want to return to Havana. We must analyze look at something else too: these are people who bought an expensive passage to get out of Cuba. They sold everything. Here they have nothing. They are banking on that dream. Now all they can do is forge on.

What about returning to Ecuador? Wouldn't that be preferable to deportation to Havana?

Most have no way to get legalized. There is also widespread discrimination against us in Quito, a lot of xenophobia. In Ecuador there are many Venezuelans and Colombians, but there is great hatred towards us. I don't know why, but that's the way it is. You get to a place and they say: "We don't want any Cubans." A Venezuelan goes, and they hire him. A Colombian goes, and they hire him. They tell you: "We don't want any Cubans here."

When I left Ecuador they told me at Customs: "What are you doing with that stone? Dangerous objects, weapons, are not permitted in the cabin. "That is Elegguá (a Santería god)," I responded. "I'm religious. But if you want to, keep it. Anyway, he’ll seek a way to get out of Quito and reach Turbo."