From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Two Cuban Youth Triennium Participants Refuse to
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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