Peter Josué Borges Basulto was a model Cuban revolutionary — a member of the Cuban Communist Party and the Union of Communist Youths as well as a deputy in the legislative National Assembly of People's Power.
His leadership skills were tapped starting in elementary school, where he was “unit commander” in the so-called Pioneros, a Communist organization for school-aged children.
But even though Borges, despite years of living in Ecuador, still uses the jargon ingrained during his years inside Cuba's political system, he now is so opposed to it that he is trying to help more than 5,000 Cubans in Ecuador who want to immigrate to the United States.
“The situation Cubans are living here is terrible,” said Borges, 31. “I realized how bad it is for them and that’s why I am now fighting to help get them out.”
Backed by more than 5,000 signatures, Borges and his group of “community spokesmen” have asked for U.S. and Mexican government help in trying to bypass Central America to get to the U.S. but to no avail. Several open letters to authorities requesting humanitarian visas and passage to the U.S. also has not helped.
Borges and his initiatives have been attacked because of his revolutionary background.
Some of his critics have taken to social media platforms stating that Borges was sent to Ecuador by Cuban intelligence to collect money for helping the Cubans emigrate to the United States, and then hand over the funds to the government. For others, Borges is a messiah trying to lead Cubans to the promised land.
Borges says he hopes he will be judged “for my work more than my words.”
Born to an Evangelical family with no ties to the Cuban government, Borges said that when he was told as a child to be like Jesus, he would reply that he wanted to “be like Che,” the Argentine revolutionary who fought alongside Fidel Castro and to whom Cuban school children must swear loyalty.
Borges' generation grew up in the best years of the Cuban economic model, when the former Soviet Union was subsidizing it with billions of dollars per year. From leader of his elementary class he went on to lead in high school and then became president of the a high school federation in the Camagüey municipality.
His participation in the “integral teachers” program — which deployed students in their late teens and early 20s to replace teachers who were leaving in droves because of their low salaries — put him in contact with top leaders of the Communist Youth Union (UJC) and Federation of University Students (FEU). Thousands of Cuban youths joined the program because of the shortage of jobs and other educational opportunities at the time.
Borges earned a university degree in education, with a specialty as an “integral teacher,” and later earned a master's in education.
“During that time we had a lot of meetings with (Communist) party and government officials. I became convinced that was the way I should serve my country,” Borges said in a Skype interview. “They brainwash you in Cuba, and as you grow up you know nothing different. By the time I was 19, I belonged to both the UJC and the Communist Party.”
That's how he was picked to become a deputy in the National Assembly of People's Power. “I was head of the FEU in Camagüey, and since 50 percent of the parliament comes from mass organizations, I was nominated and then selected,” he said.
Borges said the Cuban government tries to create “test tube leaders” as if the island is a laboratory. “One thing is the theory, but the practice is very different. When you reach the high levels of power, that's when you realize that system is rotten,” he added.
As a lawmaker, Borges said he learned that the job is simply to transmit the decisions of the central government down to the lower levels.
“I represented a district that was half urban and half rural. People asked me for help with houses that were falling apart, for schools that were in terrible condition, and I could never do anything. Sometimes we waited months for authorities to reply, and no one did anything.”
Borges said that's how he learned that Cubans live in fear.
“When you believe in a system like that, you are blind. That's what happened to me,” he said. “In Cuba the people live in fear, fear of being singled out, fear of sticking out of the herd.”
Borges said that among the experiences that shattered his ideals were meetings with families who had no electricity at home and lived in the worst of conditions. “You only see how the system really works when you're at those national levels of leadership: Everything is based on lies.”
He finally broke with the system, he said, when it tried to force him into “false modesty.”
“They wanted me to use a bicycle instead of the car, because the car I used belonged to my grandfather, to his church. That's when the clashes with my supervisors started, until I finally decided to leave the Assembly, the UJC and the party,” he added.
Two women who served with Borges in the Assembly and are still in the parliament — Migdalia Águila Arostegui and Teresa Cruz Proenza — said his version of the troubles he faced in Cuba is not true.
Águila, in a telephone interview, said she owns two modes of transportation (a motorcyle and a car) and plans to travel abroad soon, adding that she has never had any problems with her superiors. Borges, she said, withdrew from the National Assembly because he had neglected his duties to his constituents.
Cruz, in a separate telephone interview, added that Borges displayed “opportunistic attitudes” as a deputy. “He liked expensive perfumes, expensive things. He was very self-sufficient and ambitious, and that's why he could not continue as a deputy,” she said.
Leaving the Assembly, the UJC and the party brought him immediate retaliation, Borges said.
“I tried to start my own business and I managed to own two cafeterias, but the inspectors were killing me with fines, obviously on orders from someone,” he said. A State Security agent constantly followed him until he decided to leave for Ecuador two years ago.
“I was afraid they would turn me back at the airport, but I finally left, and after I landed in Quito I joined initiatives like the Cuban National Alliance in Ecuador and the Movement X Cuba.”
Borges initially kept a low profile as he tried to help the Cubans in Ecuador who wanted to emigrate to the United States. But then he joined several other activists, including Nancy Sosa, Fernanda de la Fe and Roxana Acanda, organizing protests in front of the U.S. and Mexican embassies to ask for humanitarian visas for the Cuban migrants.
The activists also are trying to help poor Cubans in Ecuador, receiving and distributing private donations.
“There are people who have nothing to eat. Many are undocumented migrants,” said Borges. “We have tried to resolve these problems independently.”