While many Canadians’ image of Cuba includes sandy beaches and tropical drinks, one St. John’s resident paints a very different picture.
Yadier Perez Leon arrived two years ago after escaping his native Cuba by boat. It was a harrowing journey, during which the craft ran out of gas, leaving them stranded on an island for two weeks.
They eventually landed in Florida, after being discovered by the US Coast Guard. After months of bureaucratic processing, Canadian officials approved him as a refugee in February.
Now Leon wants his 5 year-old son to join him.
As a refugee, he has one year to bring relatives to Canada. But Cuban officials are making it tough. Despite repeated dealings with the consul in Montreal, the government there won’t allow the boy to leave.
Leon says their resistance stems from a long-standing grudge.
During the communist revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, people had their property taken away. Leon’s grandfather owned a large farm and a lot of livestock, all of which was seized. His family continued to express disagreement about this over the years.
According to Leon, the Cuban government can make life difficult for those who show dissent.
Several years ago, the island nation was struck by a hurricane. While other residents received government assistance to rebuild, his mother did not. Leon was incapacitated at the time, following a bad motorcycle accident, and was unable to help.
Discouraged and bedridden, it was then that he made the decision to leave.
“I say, ‘Okay, Yadier, you need to get out (of) the bed, make yourself strong,'” said Leon, who is now learning to speak English in St. John’s. “You need (to) go outside this country because you don’t have too much time in the life. In this country, you don’t have any opportunity.”
Now Leon wants the same opportunity for his son.
“This boy, my little son need me, the only father he have,” said Leon, whose wife died only two days after giving birth to their child. “And I need him.”
He hopes getting the word out will help resolve the situation.
“Please, call everyone in the world, everyone in this country,” said Leon. “Everyone hear this situation, help me for my son stay with me as soon as possible.”