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 prison 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 Customs 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.