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A mother in Miami asks Castro to release her 9-year-old daughter from Cuba

 
Little Havana. Milagros Cruz lies on a cot in a tent right up the street from the home of Elian Gonzalez' Miami relatives. She has been on a hunger strike more than a month. The people of Little Havana have tried to give her money, but she won't accept any. She is weak and worried. When I entered her tent and a translator told her in Spanish that I was writing for the Internet she sat bolt upright on her tiny bed and told me her story with tears forming in eyes that have not seen since she was 10 years old. She makes an impassioned plea for help to get her 9-year-old daughter Nohemi Herbello out of Cuba to join her in the United States. She calls on Cuban President Fidel Castro to give her the same justice he has been demanding for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, to be reunited with a child in the land she chooses as her home.

Last December, Milagros Cruz was forced out of Cuba as a political refugee. They didn't want her there because she's an outspoken critic of Castro's government. They expelled her from Cuba but held back the one thing she loves most dearly, her daughter. As she waited for the plane to take her to the U.S. with her few possessions including two dogs, her daughter grabbed hold the hem of her dress, crying. Milagros held her only child close as Nohemi implored her to take one of the dogs out of the box, and "put a dog costume on me so I can go with you."

I asked Milagros Cruz why her daughter couldn't come to the U.S. She replied through our translator, "Because they want to force her to stay in Cuba. They don't want to let children go out. They use any justification to force the family to be trapped there."

That leaves Milagros Cruz very sad and little Nohemi, living with her grandmother, desperate and depressed. "She doesn't want to go to school," her mother says, "She doesn't want to wear the red handkerchief around her neck and grow up to be a communist like He Guevara." They speak by phone, but their calls are "cut short by the government."

I asked Milagros Cruz how this happened. She told that her family has been anti-Castro since she was a child. As a result they were political outcasts. Her eyes were never good, and she began to go blind when she was 10 years old. Despite living only one block from the best hospital in Cuba, no one took her for treatment that might have saved her vision. She says the government would have turned her away. Her family was vocal in its opposition to Castro and she says she has been anti-communist since she was a child. Teachers told other students in school that "she was a whore."

Her vocal criticism of Castro's government grew as she became an adult. She wrote three letters to Cuban government authorities in which she "spoke out about crimes." She told me, "These are criminals, murderers." She signed the letters and included her official identification number.

As a result, she was imprisoned and hospitalized eight times between 1996 and 1999. She was targeted by the Department of Technical Investigation. She was put in the Detention Center of the Interior Minister. Twice she was put in a psychiatric hospital and the government told everyone she was crazy. At the Hospital, Mazorra Psychiatric of Havana, she says they "tied my hands to a bed. I got out of my ropes using my teeth." She told me, "they injected me with sedatives and told me I had a mental disorder." They didn't let her communicate with her family. He staged a hunger strike until they let her free.

On the "Day of Human Rights" they performed a mental test on her. Milagros Cruz says, "They told me the test came from the U.S. It was 60 questions, with yes or no answers. I wanted to explain my answers." They confined her to a mental hospital once again and held her from December 4, 1998 for 10 days. Conditions were filthy. She says she was taken to a makeshift toilet, little more than a hole in the floor as she described it. She slipped and fell into the mess. She was left, "dirty like that until the next day." They worked on her psychologically. "They played a recording of a cat screaming night and day so I couldn't sleep." Other times, "they used water pressure all night." They didn't use electric shock she says, because she has epilepsy. She tells me things were so bad at Mazorra that she preferred jail to the psychiatric hospital. She says the government sent in people pretending to be sick to aggravate her.

On October 19, 1999, the Director of the hospital told her they would put her back in the hospital in order to force her to come here to the United States as a political refugee.

 
Milagros Cruz has not been with her daughter since she was forced to leave Cuba in December. She came alone, with no family in the U.S. They are all back in Cuba. The Cuban Exile community in Miami took her in. They are all part of the organization called "Alpha 66." They gave her a place to stay. But as the media interest in Elian Gonzalez grew, Milagros Cruz moved into a small nylon tent and began her hunger strike. On Good Friday, when I spoke with her, she had not eaten for 32 days. The next morning, INS agents came in and took Elian in what Attorney General Janet Reno called a necessary "show of force," to reunite him with his father in Washington. Milagros Cruz wonders if she doesn't have the same rights as a parent to expect help being reunited with her daughter. She is not surprised by Castro's apparent double standard when it comes to wanting Elian to be with his father but denying Milagros Cruz any hope of being with her daughter. She has spent a lifetime protesting against Castro's regime. She says she will be "Against the Communists as long as she's alive."

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