For Cuba’s political prisoners, the hardship does not end once they escape

Unfortunately, even when Cuban political prisoners and their families manage to escape the tyranny of the Castro dictatorship, their hardships continue. Nevertheless, they are happy and grateful to live in freedom:

Family enjoys freedom but seeks help for son

Refugees with disabled son arrived in August and struggle to get established in their new home. writing on the black shirts worn by Gerardo Sanchez Ortega’s family and friends as they marched in Havana on Dec. 4, 2007, made their position clear: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship,” they read. “We want freedom.”

Sanchez had been put in prison for pushing for the re-opening of Cuban universities, and his family and friends were marching to demand his freedom.

The authorities did not react well to the activists. Police entered a church sheltering them, beat the marchers and sprayed them with pepper spray.

Among the activists was Sanchez’s son, Idalberto Sanchez Hechavarria, who was born with cerebral palsy and has difficulty walking and undertaking other tasks.

Seeing how her son was treated enraged Jackelin Hechavarria Salvador, Sanchez’s wife.

“Never in my life, I never thought something like this could occur,” she said in Spanish. “When I saw how they were treating my son I just went crazy. Because they wanted to beat him, and I said they would have to kill me first.”


Four years later, he, his wife and his disabled child left their home country and on Aug. 16, arrived in Jacksonville as refugees.

Despite what the family left behind in Cuba — including their 23-year-old daughter, as well as familiar language and culture — Sanchez remains optimistic. Since arriving in Jacksonville, he has managed to get a construction job at JEA, and the family has received temporary support from World Relief and the Department of Children and Families.

The family receives $315 monthly in food stamps, but Sanchez worries about having enough to make ends meet. Hechavarria briefly worked as a housekeeper at a La Quinta hotel, but was forced to quit to care for her son.

World Relief, a refugee organization, assisted Sanchez with rent payments for three months, and the family also received a few hundred dollars a month in aid through November. The family gets health insurance through Medicaid, but only until May.

Meanwhile, Sanchez has to pay the family’s rent and utilities as well as pay off and repair a car.

On top of its financial struggles, the family also needs help locating a school that will accommodate Idalberto’s physical disability and let him learn English.


“I’m not here for anyone to maintain me,” Sanchez said. “We are grateful for whatever help we are offered.”

As the family gathered on the couch, Hechavarria put one of her hands in Sanchez’s hand and one over Idalberto’s.

“Smile,” she said. “Because we are in America and at least we are free here.”

Read the entire story HERE.