EXCLUSIVE: Cuban refugees to be reunited with their parents in August

Family separated for 2 years to be reunited
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jun 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 18:35:29-04

It has been a long and difficult two years for Herminio Otero and his wife Aida Sanchez. Since they fled Cuba because of government oppression they’ve been separated from their children for two years. After ABC Action News’ exclusive reporting on the family’s situation, a U.S. Congressman stepped in to help.

U.S. Congressman David Jolly said he would do everything he could to reunite the family. In June, we sat down with Jolly and Otero as they discussed options. On Thursday, we learned that Amanda Beatriz and Aida Daniela will be on a flight to Miami in mid August.

Jolly took a personal interest in their story and set up a meeting to figure out a way to bring their daughters home.

“It's a reminder the issues with Cuba are not as simple as they seem to be,” Jolly said. “There are some very real human stories behind the politics of U.S, Cuba relations. To be separated from your daughters, 20 years old and 12 years old is heartbreaking.”

In May, ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska and photojournalist Tim Jones traveled to Cuba to cover the historic landing of the first American cruise ship to arrive in Havana in more than 50 years. It was an historic trip filled with cheers and high fives as thousands of Cubans greeted Americans taking their first steps onto Cuban soil.  

But, more than 2 hours  from Havana in a town called Pinar Del Rio there were no celebrations. That is where we met Amanda, Otero’s 12-year-old daughter, and Aida, Sanchez’s 20-year-old daughter.

“Life in Cuba is tough,” Aida said. “It is tough to be separated and we are going on two years without seeing them.”

Through tears Amanda watched a video message their parents recorded in Tampa. 

Otero and Sanchez fled Cuba after the government arrested Otero for writing about the  government in a catholic magazine.

The Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services have been helping the family since they applied for asylum through the Florida Center for Survivors of Torture and Refugee Resettlement. Their Director, Sylvia Acevedo, was with Otero as he met Jolly for the first time.  A meeting that has re-opened the door to the possibility that the  asylum in the U.S. could be months away.

“This congressman is our hope for that,” Otero said. “This congressman, David Jolly, fight(s) with us. He (will) do it and I think it is more quickly now. I hope so.”

Jolly has had past success negotiating with foreign countries. He helped connect Barbara Jimenez to JET I.C.U. to fly Jimenez to Tampa General for treatment. Jimenez was badly injured in a car crash in Cuba and did not have insurance to cover the cost to fly home for treatment.

Jolly also helped a family adopt a child in the Congo after they ran into government road blocks.

Jolly contacted the Ambassador to Congo and wrote to the government’s head migration official.

“I I like to surprise agencies and just show up,” Jolly said. “It works. It is pretty effective.”

At this point, Jolly said he will not be “showing” up in Cuba. But will make a personal call to the United States Citizen and Immigration Services.  

“Hopefully, we will get them to resolve it through a series of phone calls,” Jolly said. “This is also in many ways a test of the Cuban government. If we continue to run into resistance from the Cuban government simply because a 12-year-old’s father wrote an opinion piece in a magazine, that would suggest to me, the Cuban government isn't acting in good faith when it comes to normalization.”

His final words to Otero at the end of their meeting as they shook hands.

“You need to be with your daughters. They need to be with you, and we will make sure we get them home to your new home (Tampa),” Jolly said.