Abajo Fidel - Down with Fidel!
Two words spawned by frustration, spoken in a car to a close friend but overheard by an informer standing on a sidewalk next to them, plunged Luis Ruiz and his young family deeper into the suffocating terrors of the Cuban communist system. His story is a testament to the depravity of Socialism, the strength of the human spirit and the blessings of freedom we in the USA too often take for granted.
There is no freedom of speech in Communist Cuba. Luis Ruiz spoke his fateful words in 2002. His actions and the car license number were reported to the police. The system under Fidel Castro does not tolerate the slightest dissent in word or deed. Informers are rewarded, each block and apartment house has an established organization of staunch communists, the CDR- committee for defending the revolution- to maintain control and to establish fear of the oppressive government, keeping its citizens in a system of slavery.
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Luis Ruiz, center back, is all smiles as he attends a book-signing at Book World in Escanaba on Saturday afternoon. The novel, “Hunter’s Escape — Quest for Freedom,” authored by J.C. Hager, at right, is dedicated to Ruiz as a tribute to Ruiz’s own dramatic escape from Cuba in 2005. Purchasing a copy of the book is Bea McDermott of Escanaba.
Within hours of speaking disloyal words, Luis was ordered to appear at the police station the next day. He was imprisoned, interrogated, threatened with years behind bars, no food, not drinking the water fearing it might be poisoned, he was released after three frightening days by the intercession of a friend, he found he had lost his job, his apartment, and all hope of providing adequately for his family.
At that time, Luis' wife, Silena, and their two young daughters - Viviam and Elizabeth - moved into the home of Silena's parents. Her father, a lieutenant colonel in Castro's Army, was a loving grandfather, but also a strict Communist - forbidding any inappropriate talk, including prayer and even the presence of a Bible under his roof. Luis had weekly checks by the local communist party officials to insure he maintained the proper respect for Castro and the government system and hoping for a basis to imprison him.
In the privacy of the bathroom, Luis and Silena prayed and plotted. They knew he had to try again, like so many Cubans before him, for the freedom of the United States. They knew that success would mean separation; failure would mean imprisonment or death- however, the spirit to live in freedom, their love for each other, and their faith in God gave them strength and resolve.
Ten years earlier, before he had a family, he had tried to swim from Santiago de Cuba to the American base at Guantanamo - paddling at night, dodging patrol boats, avoiding mines, he got close enough to see the lights of the base, but the worst storm in 100 years blew Luis and his two friends back along the dark shore. One of his friends was sick and weak, to save his friend they returned to shore where monster crashing waves pounding a black, rocky coast nearly cost them their lives.
Covered with old motor oil to darken their bodies and provide a meager defense against the notorious sharks that prowl the Windward Passage, the defeated swimmers had a harrowing task to avoid detection, find clothing and return from south east Cuba to their homes in the north central shore, a feat of cunning, filled with adventure and dangers rivaling any James Bond plot.
Six months after the March 2002 arrest, using all the money he and Silena could save or borrow, Luis bought and sailed north on a 16-foot catamaran from his home at Matanzas, east of Havana on the north coast, bound for the Florida Keys 90 miles away. He avoided the Cuban patrol boats but 15 miles from the Keys, he was spotted by a U.S. patrol plane and apprehended by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard vessel, with Luis and his shipmates aboard, continued its patrol, and when it came near another Florida island, Luis jumped overboard and again swam for freedom. He was caught, handcuffed and returned to Cuban authorities - a marked man.
Later his family and friends in the U.S. through his mother pooled over $8,000 to buy and bribe his flight to Mexico where he traveled to Texas. The "Dry Feet" law of 1995 allows that anyone who fled Cuba and got into the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. (In 1966 the Clinton administration came to an agreement with the Cuban Government that it would stop admitting people found at sea "Wet Feet.")
Silena and the daughters escaped Cuba by the luck of the draw as winners in a lottery held by the U.S. Embassy. Although scrutiny and danger accompany anyone applying for it, thousands still do. Luis and Silena acknowledge the hand of God as she and her daughters were picked to be given U.S. visas. The family of four is now united and free, living in a fine home in Escanaba.
The first story about the Ruiz family appeared the Daily Press in July of 2005, written by Dorothy McKnight. Their story is so powerful we need to know more of their struggles for and the importance of freedom.
Luis has a bachelor's degree in physical culture. He even spent two years training and studying in Russia, and is a very skilled and strong athlete. An expert swimmer, he used this skill to spear fish, providing his family with more protein than the Cuban government stores would provide.
He constantly worried about his girls not getting enough of the right food. They could officially buy just three eggs per person every 15 days - two dozen eggs for his family per month. The same time span and quantity applied to small pieces of fish and thin tough pieces of meat. Their staple foods were rice, beans and potatoes. They barely had enough money to buy the salt and garlic that made their meager diet palatable. His breakfast and lunch typically was brown sugar and water and the small piece of poor quality bread they were rationed each day.
He owned a bicycle, by literally peddling milk from farmers for a few extra pesos, he brought his family extra milk. The effort and ingenuity to provide for his family more often than not dealt with the black market - very much a part of present Cuban life. Stealing, barter, influence peddling and great cleverness are all needed to survive in "The workers' paradise" of Cuban communism. Soap was so limited his daughters' diapers got first priority and his shirts were later washed in any remaining suds.
The health care and education systems touted by Castro and socialist film makers such as Michael Moore are propaganda myths and lies. The statistics for births are kept high by the hospitals recording all baby deaths as a one year old. The ratio of doctors to citizens is a farce- with over half of the poorly trained and equipped doctors being sent abroad in trade for oil, such as the agreement with Venezuela.
Luis noted that only a very few high party officials and foreign visitors see well staffed and clean hospitals - the majority of Cubans find medieval conditions - where you bring a bucket to get water which is turned on only a few times per day, bring your own sheets, and share an open filthy toilet with a whole ward. He has pictures of a patient in a hospital bed with a person two days dead next to him: so much for socialized health care. Just getting an aspirin for a feverish child takes great effort and some luck.
The education system is ostensibly free but doesn't provide pencils, enough paper, any food, or enough chairs. Inadequate lighting is common due to boarded windows and low output yellow lighting. It does provide mandatory mental programming in Communism. The texts are many years old, ragged and falling apart. Luis reports he saw children writing on paper cut from brown paper bags and using one inch pencils. Those that don't bring their own water risked using the infrequent functioning plumbing. The school toilets are disgusting. They don't flush regularly, allowing the buildup of wastes for over a week or more.
Other areas Luis noted that are fabricated or not mentioned by the Castro propaganda machine are, university education was available to all before Castro with low costs and even installment payments. Students were not forced to go to labor camps, food was not rationed, the country had basic freedom of expression and their wages and forced work did not make them slaves to the government.