The last sunrays of the year illuminates Palma’s old town in a very special way, giving it a touch of sensuality. Sitting on the terrace of a café, I am dreamily stirring my café con leche when Yanet arrives. Even though this is the first time we meet, I am at once swept along by her charm. Together, we go on a journey to the past.
Cuba, 1974: In a small cabin by the sea in the South of Cuba, Yanet was born and grew-up far from civilization. “My father was a fisherman. He has never left his village, never seen an airplane. He simply is afraid to confront the modern world.”
It is Yanet’s mother who introduced a bit of modernity to their daily life. “She worked in the city, she knew what life was like outside our fishing village, she wanted me to go to school and study.” Under Fidel Castro’s strict communist regiment, Yanet met her husband Zaizo. “It was love at first sight.” They married one year later, but there was no honeymoon. “We Cubans cannot freely travel around our own country, much less stay in a hotel. That’s forbidden.” The anger about the government, laws and bans continued to grow.
By accident, Yanet found out that her great-grandfather was Mallorcan. “He had lived in Santa Catalina before he moved to Cuba, but he never spoke about his past.”
In 1999, Yanet joined the Association Mallorca to find out more about her great-grandfather’s roots. Shortly afterwards, she participated in a photo competition. The first prize: a one-month trip to Mallorca. “I had been there for less than a week when I called Zaizo and said: I want to live here with you. It’s wonderful. What do you think?” Zaizo was enthusiastic and agreed at once. “We thought, once I will be living in Mallorca, we will find a way for Zaizo.”
But her plan did not work out. “I went to all the authorities, put my request forward everywhere. They did not want to risk problems with the Cuban government, so I was asked to return to Cuba and file my application from there.”
The young couple were devastated, but their objective was clear. Day after day, they came up with new plans for their escape. They met a Canadian couple whom they asked for help. “They sent us an official holiday invitation to Canada, but when we presented the application to the Cuban authorities, it was rejected right away.”
A neighbour with contacts in China promised to organise an invitation there. Again, Yanet and Zaizo got an invitation, again, it was rejected.
“It was really infuriating. It became clear to us that our plans had to take a new direction. Thus, we talked to neighbours who also wanted to leave communist Cuba behind.”
The escape plan began to take shape. “Together, we bought a boat. With that, the four of us wanted to make our escape. Of course, we knew that it was going to be difficult, but we were prepared to take the risk.”
They sold everything they owned. Four months later, the day of the escape was set. “Originally, we wanted to board seven days later. But then we received an invitation to Russia by Sveta, the Russian wife of my brother-in-law. Without great hopes we went to the authorities. This time, however, everything was different. Our application was accepted. At once, we informed our friends and promised them help. We wanted them to abandon the dangerous boat trip. But they embarked.”
The boat got into a storm, sprang a leak and ran ashore on the Cuban coast the next morning. “We were glad our friends were still alive. But they were scared to death and never again did they try to leave the country.”
With one suitcase and $6,000 Yanet and Zaizo landed in Moscow on August 17th, 2000. The nightmare began.
“We had planned to buy a return flight to Havana with a stop-over in Europe. Then we wanted to ‘miss’ the connecting flight. We went to each and every travel agency in Moscow. But none would sell us such a ticket.”
Finally, however, they were lucky. An employee in a travel agency sensed their desperation and sold them a ticket with a stop-over in Paris. They landed late at night and hid in the toilet. Three times, they were called. Zaizo was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “He told me: please, let’s go on board, I can’t stand it anymore. I was frightened, too, but I wanted to be strong. We stayed quite a long time sitting there waiting. Then, we turned ourselves into the police. Nobody would believe that we had ‘missed’ our connecting flight. They detained us in the airport, where we had to sleep on the floor, shivering and cold.”
Two hours later, Yanet noticed a man at the desk of a travel agency. “Somehow I knew that I could trust him and told him of our plan. He sold us two tickets to Havana via Zurich and Madrid.” $3,000 for the flight to freedom. In Madrid, they “missed” their connecting flight to Havana, and once again turned themselves in to the authorities.
They are detained for one week in Madrid airport and were questioned daily. “Afterwards, we got a lawyer and were put into a home for asylum seekers. All we had left was $500 and our suitcase.”
After two weeks, they finally got the go-ahead. With their final few dollars, they bought two airplane tickets and on September 7th, 2000 landed in Mallorca.
“When we got here, we were tired and sad. In Cuba, we had no freedom, but we were not badly off. Now we had nothing except our one luggage and fear of the future.”
They went to the Refugio Can Pere Antoni to get a bed for the night. “That was really bad. In my misery, I called Miguel Mestre, a friend whom I knew from the association. I asked him to look after our suitcase.”
Miguel did not only rescue the suitcase but also invited Yanet and Zaizo to be guests in his hotel in Arenal.
“We were overjoyed. It took us six months until we were legally accepted in Mallorca. Miguel gave both of us jobs in his hotel. We owe him so much.”
In the meantime, some years have passed and the fear of the future has receded. Their daughter Paula is now five years old and enjoying the freedom of growing up in Mallorca.
“We live modestly. We have managed to buy a small house and a boat. But I miss my parents so much. The loneliness gets especially hard around Christmas time. I wish so much that they would visit us here. It is all I want…. to be together again, as a family”.