He is awake and his stepfather is asleep; they take turns. No one has done anything to them, but mistrust has taken over their thoughts since October 18, when they left Cuba.
Michelle Leon, a 27 year-old, is an electrical engineer. But the tiny salary of $30 per month that he earned in Cuba wasn’t enough, which is why he preferred to work as a taxi driver and put in as many extra hours as possible. His stepfather, Luis Pedro Pietros, shared his way of thinking and worked every day of the week as a truck driver on the island in exchange for $60 per month.
Both have wives and children, but they are at home, in Cuba. They have been crossing America, starting in Ecuador, for almost a month. They are hoping to live the great “American Dream” that is now on hold because of a border closure in Nicaragua, and are part of the almost 1,070 Cubans who are stranded in La Cruz.
“The truth is that Cuba is much more difficult than that superficiality they sell to the world. How many Cubans are here? That has to say something,” said Leon with a sense of hopelessness.
Their goal is the United States, although their exact destination is unknown. But they are willing to work in anything to be able to send their wives money and be able to bring them along.
The two are desperate and want to tell their story. Pietro’s face is despondent and he has already lost 15 pounds because of the stress. “It hasn’t been due to hunger, as I’ve eaten well and here in Costa Rica we can’t complain about how we’ve been treated,” he said.
Food is also a new experience, as they can now eat meat without feeling like they’ll go to prison. “In Cuba if you’re seen with a kilogram of beef you go right to jail; you can’t have meat because they accuse you of [illegal economic activity]. In Cuba everything is unbelievable.”
Photo of Luis Pedro Pietro taken by Michele while crossing frontier between Columbia and Panama.
To date the two men have spent $5,000 along the stretch from Ecuador to Costa Rica, money that came from the entire family’s savings. They also sold possessions to be able to leave.
Their plan in Cuba did not seem that it would be so difficult. They were visited on the island by an agency that helped them get plane tickets to Ecuador and a contact with a smuggler who would take them to Columbia, the most difficult country to cross.
“The Columbian police are more corrupt than the narco traffickers themselves. They charge for everything; they always want their piece. They rape and hit women,” stated Pietro.
Long walks, eight-hour bus rides and boats are part of the trip they had to undertake to reach Panama, and from there on the process is easier, as in Costa Rica.
For now they have two backpacks with which they’re traveling. Using a cell phone they bought in Ecuador they are able to send news to their family. They constantly hope to receive the good news that they can continue traveling north.
The La Cruz night high school facilities are one of six centers where Cubans are being received in the canton. The building’s gym has been converted into a room for more than 200 people