Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico claim abuse by authorities following protest

Three unidentified Cubans held at the Siglo XXI detention center in Tapachula, México, claim they were beaten and mistreated by authorities.
Three unidentified Cubans held at the Siglo XXI detention center in Tapachula, México, claim they were beaten and mistreated by authorities. Courtesy

A group of Cuban migrants detained in the southern Mexico city of Tapachula have accused authorities of beating and mistreating them after they staged a hunger strike — some by sewing their lips together — to demand their release.

The Quadratín news agency reported that the Cubans filed a formal complaint against officials of the state of Chiapas' Public Security Department and the National Migration Institute following the alleged incidents last week at the Siglo XXI immigrant detention center. According to several reports, the Cubans refused to return to their cells during a hunger strike to demand their release. They also called for an end to their harassment and the extortions of their relatives.

Mexican journalists reported that some of the Cubans sewed their lips together as part of the protest, which was took place on Friday. In a separate incident last month, Mexican press reported that some of the Cubans at the detention center were beaten when they shouted “freedom” and “free Cuba.”

Many Cuban migrants who were heading to the United States were stranded in Mexico when the Obama administration ended the “wet foot, dry foot policy” on Jan. 12. Until then, Mexican officials usually allowed Cuban migrants who entered through the southern border with Guatemala to continue on their way to the border with the United States.

A group of Cubans walk across the bridge to the U.S. border to turn themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol and request asylum. Up until Thursday, January 12, Cubans were allowed to stay legally in the U.S. under the long-standing “wet foot, dry

That is no longer the case: In January, alone, the Mexican government deported at least 91 of the Cubans held at the Tapachula center. It is not known how many are currently held there.

Cuba native Olga Lidia González, 52, who lives in Texas, said relatives held at the Siglo XXI center told her by telephone after the incidents Friday that “a young man had sewn his lips, and there was violence and people wounded.”

González's daughter and son-in-law — Dayana Suárez, 27, and Yamir Ponce, 29, – have been held at the center since Dec. 29. She said the couple and the daughter's father Giraldo Villacampa, 53, obtained refugee status Friday through the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees but all three were told they would remain in detention until they received their residency documents for Mexico.

Officials at the Siglo XXI center declined to comment and referred all questions to the National Migration Institute, which has not yet responded to queries sent by el Nuevo Herald.

González said she has received dozens of phone calls from people in Mexico who identify themselves as lawyers at the Siglo XXI center and demand money for the release of her relatives.

A lawyer for the National Commission on Human Rights in Chiapas confirmed that the Cuban migrants filed a formal complaint on Monday. The lawyer, who declined to give his name, said the commission can take two to three months to investigate complaints and issue its findings.

With her back to the bridge that connects Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to the U.S., Idiana Laurencio gives an emotional appeal, saying she fears returning to Cuba after being denied entry to the U.S. “They will put me someplace, shut me in and beat me,”

But “it's very hard to access the justice system and win reparations” in a country where there is “total impunity” for crimes and human rights violations, said Salva Lacruz, a coordinator at the Fray Matías de Córdova Center for Human Rights in Chiapas.

The center, which assists migrants detained at Siglo XXI, is supported by the United Nations and has Mexican government permission to enter the facility once a week. Lacruz said his center will investigate the Cubans' complaints of mistreatment, which is a common complaint at the detention center.

There are no guarantees of any type. The treatment is terrible and the place is enormous.

Salva Lacruz, human rights activist

Siglo XXI “is an extremely troubled center where the cases of mistreatment are very frequent. There are no guarantees of any type. The treatment is terrible and the place is enormous,” Lacruz added.

In 2015, more than 100,000 migrants of various nationalities were detained there.

El Nuevo Herald tried to reach one of the Cuban detainees currently at Siglo XXI by phone but an official who answered the call said the detained Cubans could not use telephones. Lacruz said the detainees technically do have the right to make and receive calls but officials “probably don't want these people to give out information.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

Reporter Mario J. Pentón contributed to this report.