A Cuban-American jailed in Cuba since 2006 is freed and sent home because of ill health
The Cuban government freed a former Hialeah truck driver jailed since 2006 for a people-smuggling attempt in which a smuggler died and allowed him to fly home because he was ill.
Julio Rafael Mesa Fariñas, 51, said he was taken to the Havana airport Wednesday directly from a cell next to the one where U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross is being held and flew to Miami with the help of U.S. diplomats in Havana.
During his six years in prison, Mesa said, he was hospitalized several times because of hunger strikes, was bitten twice by guard dogs while handcuffed and suffered hypothermia when he refused to wear prison uniforms.
Cuban officials told him that he was being freed because of his ill health. He is now in a wheelchair and suffered a seizure Thursday that landed him in a hospital, Mesa told El Nuevo Herald during a lengthy phone interview Friday.
Mesa said he and two other Cubans set out from Mexico’s Caribbean state of Quintana Roo aboard a 40-foot boat in April of 2006. They had been hired to pick up 44 people trying to escape from the southern coast of Pinar Del Rio Province.
The Cuban government alleged the boat was intercepted by one of its Coast Guard vessels, failed to heed a warning to stop and took “aggressive actions” that required guardsmen to open fire. Geovel González Morera, one of the smugglers, was shot and killed and Rosendo Salgado was shot in the foot. Salgado and Mesa, both U.S. citizens, were sentenced to 26 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
“There was no warning of any kind. A flare went up and they automatically opened fire. They assassinated Morera,” said Mesa, who added that he plans to file a lawsuit against Cuba “for Morera’s murder.”
Mesa noted that during the clash a guardsman threw a rock that hit him on the head, causing partial paralysis and landing him in a hospital for a month. While odd, he said, the rock-throwing is noted in the documents of his court case.
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