Families torn apart by Cuban oppression

Posted at 10:49 AM, May 05, 2016

A Cuban husband and wife who fled to Florida two years ago are hopeful renewed talks between Raul Castro and President Barack Obama will help reunite them with their daughters.

It has been two years since Aida Sanchez and her husband Herminio Pena Otero saw their daughters. 

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska interviewed the couple in Tampa before traveling to Cuba to cover the first American cruise ship arriving in the port of Havana in more than 50 years. 

After our interview, the family asked if we could record a short message and take it to their daughters. Amanda Beatriz, 12, is Pena-Otero’s daughter. Sanchez is Aida Daniela’s mother. Amanda and Aida live in Pinar Del Rio, two hours west of Havana.

We took the recorded message to the family.

As the electricity flickered in their kitchen the video of Pena-Otero and his wife crying brought the daughters to tears. 

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

When we asked Aida if she was happy that her parents had a better life in Tampa she said no one was happy.

“It has been a huge sacrifice for all of us with them there,” Aida said.  “And it’s very hard to see they have a more comfortable life, and we can’t be with them to celebrate and enjoy with them.”

Aida is 20 years old and currently enrolled as a college student. She studies, works hard, but when she graduates, there are no jobs waiting for her. Aida says she gets the equivalent of $3 per month from the government. 

Pena-Otero’s mother, Vivien Juana Otero-Hernandez, showed us the ledger the government makes them keep to show the amount of food the family is allowed each month. Otero-Hernandez says they get two pounds of meat per month, along with rations of rice, beans, sugar, raw sugar and salt. She said the food is supposed to last them a month. But after the first week, there typically isn’t enough. So for the remaining three weeks, they live in constant hunger.

Aida and Amanda are able to talk to their parents twice a month. Sometimes they can use video services to see them, but the internet signal is weak and expensive. Otero-Gonzalez wants her son to know, “We are ok, we are ok... But we would be happier there. I prefer there than here.”

Amanda cried after she watched the video with her father’s message. Throughout our entire interview, she couldn't talk. Nearing the end of our time in Pinar Del Rio, she got the courage to finally wipe away her tears and tell her father, “I love you a lot. We will see you soon, we are going to be reunited, and we’ll be with them more.”