TAMPA — In 2014, facing persecution by the Cuban government, Herminio Pena Otero decided to leave his family in Cuba and start a new life in Florida.
He tried to get the Cuban government to approve visas for his daughter and step-daughter to come to Florida for years. But, each attempt was met with rejection. The communist regime is hesitant to reward a father that wrote articles critical of socialism and tyranny.
It would take two years for Otero to finally see his daughter again. When he hugged her outside the arrivals terminal at Tampa International Airport, he said it felt like a dream.
"When I saw my daughter here, it was one of the best days in my life. I hold my daughter again," Otero said.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska first interviewed Otero in April 2016, two weeks before traveling to Cuba to report on the first American cruise ship to arrive in Havana in decades.
During that first interview with Otero, he recorded a video message with his former wife, Aida Sanchez. A heartfelt message to their children trapped on the island. Otero drew us a map on a piece of paper showing where his home was in Pinar Del Rio, and that was all we had to track the girls down. Finally, after many wrong turns and a little luck, we found the family and were able to tell their story.
Following our exclusive report on families torn apart by Cuban oppression, former Congressman David Jolly stepped in to help unite Otero with his daughter Amanda Beatriz.
"It was very exciting cause after like two years. I was finally going to see my dad. I was very nervous. I was just waiting for the moment to hug him, and it was very exciting," Beatriz said.
Aug. 18, 2016, at Tampa International Airport, we watched the raw emotion and tears of a daughter reuniting with her father. Beatriz did not make the journey from Cuba to Florida alone. Her step-sister at the time, Aida Daniela Sanchez, was with her. Aida was full of tears and smiles as she saw her mom at the airport. Father and daughter, and mother and daughter together after two years of waiting and wondering if the day would ever come.
With protests taking place across Cuba, Otero feels grateful he made it out but sad knowing his friends and family are trapped on the island. His mother, Vivien Juana Otero-Hernandez, 75, stays inside her home, scared to leave because of the risk of contracting COVID-19 and attacks by the police.
"The government kill the people and arrest people for only thinking different," Otero said. "Nothing change in Cuba, and the people say it's enough. The government in Cuba is enough. I want freedom, freedom, no food, no medicine. I'm in the process to take my mom to come here to live with us, and my mom is scared. She saw people arrested, and the police hit the people very hard, and she saw the blood."
Because the U.S. Embassy in Havana is closed, Otero said no one could process her visa to bring her to Florida. So until the unrest settles, he doesn't know when he might see her again.
"We have a future here. In Cuba, the people don't have a future you coming here, and you fight cause you want something in your life, and in Cuba, that one is impossible. We coming here, we see a future for us, and our family we want that for the Cuban people have a future have freedom," Otero said.
His message to President Joe Biden is clear, send help to liberate the people. But, the situation as we reported last week is complicated.
"The only way Cuba can change is with military intervention. It's the only way," Otero said. "Because Cuban people don't have the way. They don't have anything to fight with the government. This is the time to say no more. The people are free in mind that is brand new now. They say I can do it. They are not afraid anymore. The freedom is very close, very close right now, but a few people need to push that freedom."