From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Two Cuban Youth Triennium Participants Refuse to

Date 04 May 1996 20:53:47


96005   Two Cuban Youth Triennium Participants Refuse to  
               Return to Cuba after U.S. Visas Expire 
                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--More than two months after two Cuban young people refused 
to go back to Cuba following  a U.S. church event, Presbyterians are 
grappling with the pastoral and political consequences of those decisions. 
     Temporary U.S. visas granted to Isoel Miranda Napoles, 24, and Yazmi 
Palenzuela Valls, 23, expired Oct. 12 -- but both remain in the United 
States and are continuing to refuse contact with Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.) personnel and representatives of the Presbyterian Reformed Church 
of Cuba (PRCC). 
     The two young people were part of a six-person delegation to last 
year's Youth Triennium from the PRCC. 
     According to Susan Krehbiel of Church World Service's (CWS) 
Immigration and Refugee Program, Palenzuela Valls intends to apply for 
political asylum here and is getting legal advice. Krehbiel met once with 
Palenzuela Valls and an aunt in Miami. All church attempts to reach Miranda 
Napoles -- who is rumored to have family in New Jersey and Florida -- have 
failed, according to multiple sources. 
     "Sadly, this time we sent six young people and four came back," said 
Isaac Jorge, president of the PRCC -- a problem Cuban Presbyterians have 
never had in the past.  "All had given their promise to come back. ... 
     "Two decided to stay." 
     For the PRCC, this is just one more worry on a long list -- one more 
blow to the morale of a church that has survived the past 30 years in part 
because of the tight-knit kind of community it became in a society that 
looked upon it with suspicion.  Now the church has to comfort two more 
families whose children have left Cuba behind and who must face the 
international embarrassment of being unable to persuade their own to come 
     "We're not at fault, but we are responsible," the Rev. Carlos Ham, the 
PRCC's executive secretary, told the Presbyterian News Service.  He said 
U.S. temporary visas for Cubans under 25 are hard to get, since those are 
the people most likely to abuse the visa and remain illegally in the U.S. 
These visas were only issued because of appeals made by the PC(USA) on the 
Cubans' behalf and because of the unblemished record of returns the PRCC 
     But with an economy that seems only to spiral down farther, the 
temptation to leave Cuba may be too much when the opportunity presents 
itself, sources say. The average salary is $10-15 a month and one pound of 
pork costs $1 in Havana markets.  Housing is tight, utilities 
unpredictable.  Busboys at the tourist hotels live better than doctors 
simply because they are tipped in U.S. dollars, not pesos. 
     With that as background, Worldwide Ministries Division Caribbean 
liaison Julia Ann Moffett says she's been told neither of the young people 
had the intention of staying before they arrived in the U.S.  "Did we put 
too much pressure on these people?" she said, looking at the pastoral 
questions about tempting people beyond what they can bear.  "Should we 
never have invited them?" 
     Moffett says that is a common question when dealing with church 
partners in numerous Latin American countries, not just Cuba. The U.S. 
Consulate in Guatemala, for instance, denied all visa applicants for Youth 
Triennium.  What makes Cuba somewhat unique is the pressure arriving Cubans 
face from family already living in the States -- and mounting economic 
stress at home, regardless of one's political ideology. 
     "It puts them under extreme pressure," said Transylvania presbytery 
executive the Rev. William McAtee, who said he felt disoriented himself by 
the overwhelming number of products on U.S. grocery shelves when he 
returned to Lexington, Ky., from Cuba the first time.  "There was so much 
stuff.  It was more than I could take and I had to walk out. ... 
     "And this is my world."  
     Jorge, too, is empathic about the pressures facing Cuban youth. "We 
are sad they used the church as a way of getting out of the situation. We 
understand the reasons they may want to abandon Cuba, but we don't think 
the church should be used as a way of leaving the country. ... 
     "And we hope this incident does not make a barrier for other young 
people to come to the U.S.  [for church events]," Jorge said, pointing out 
that three other young people already have had U.S. visas denied. 
     That is the biggest fear that U.S. and Cuban church leaders share. 
And it is completely out of their control. 
     Though Ham says he was told by the U.S. Interests Office in Havana 
that no young people will be admitted to the States for one year, a 
diplomat there says no such flat prohibition will be enforced. "The U.S. 
Consulate will look at all future requests on a case-by-case basis ... and 
we welcome future applications," she said, adding that any applicant will 
have to demonstrate -- according to U.S. law -- that he or she is not 
intending to immigrate. 
     "We are aware of the church's efforts to ensure the young people's 
return and we appreciate those efforts," she said, stressing again that the 
criteria will be "the likelihood" of the applicant's return to Cuba. 
     U.S. immigration law is the only section of the legal code where the 
burden of proof  that he or she will not violate the terms of a visa lies 
with the applicant, says Lee McClenny, a public affairs officer for the 
U.S. State Department. In all other parts of the legal code, "everyone is 
innocent until proven guilty. ... 
     "And there are certain categories of individuals who are unlikely to 
observe the terms of a tourist visa," he said, stressing that in Latin 
America one out of every two visa applicants is routinely turned away.  The 
decision as to who is accepted and who is rejected lies solely with the 
individual consular officer.   
     Transylvania Presbytery hosted Miranda Napoles this summer through its 
partnership with Villa Clara-Sancti Spiritus Presbytery in north-central 
Cuba.  McAtee said this incident is "not going to shake our relationship. 
 ... It's based on so much more than bringing kids out for Triennium."  
     He said, too, that the Cuban church is looking for international 
church events in other Latin countries, where their delegates may not face 
so much pressure. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home