A Cuban dissident is languishing in a Mexican border town as his cancer spreads, his lawyers say, demanding answers as to why the United States denied him asylum.
The man, Ramón Arboláez, 45, had not been feeling well since arriving in Mexico a year ago to travel to the U.S. A Mexican doctor diagnosed him with tongue cancer that had spread to his jaw and lymph nodes. Unable to afford medical treatment, he has lost 35 pounds, can no longer chew and consumes only fluids.
Too weak to walk, he showed up in a wheelchair at the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge to seek asylum on July 1
“We’ve been through so much and seeing him so tired, without treatment, is frustrating,” said Santana Hurtado.
As Arboláez’s condition deteriorated, they applied for a B2 tourist visa for medical treatment at the US Consulate in Matamoros at the end of July. It was also denied, Santana Hurtado said.
Arboláez’s case was reviewed by a team of doctors from Jackson Memorial Hospital, the public hospital in Miami, who determined that he needs to be evaluated in the U.S. He has an appointment with a Miami doctor scheduled for Monday..
His lawyers say they accepted his case voluntarily.
“This government has incentivized those who oppose socialism in Latin America to fight for their political views. Now that we have someone like Ramón Arboláez, we turn our backs on him,” said Laura Jiménez, a lawyer with Wilfredo Allan’s office. , which deals with many cases of political asylum.
Jiménez called Arboláez a stateless person. “He was prevented from returning to Cuba. He is not a citizen anywhere and he has no rights anywhere. We must lead by example as a country that has always stood up for human rights,” he said.
In Cuba, Arboláez was active with a group formed by one of the island’s internationally renowned dissidents, Guillermo Fariñas.
Fariñas said in a telephone interview that if Arboláez were not admitted to the United States, it would be a “disaster” for the Cuban opposition.
He said that if Arboláez died, the Cuban government would use him “to discredit and discourage the work of the opposition, saying that the US government prevented him from entering the country and allowed him to die.”
Arboláez and his wife are with three of their children, aged 21, 12 and 6. Their journey, which began four years ago, crosses nine countries.
A long journey, then cancer
Ramón Arboláez started in November 2016 when he left Cuba for Trinidad and Tobago with his wife, four children and daughter-in-law.
In Cuba, Arboláez and his wife regularly participated in anti-government protests in the central province of Villa Clara.
“He was detained multiple times and tortured. On one occasion, he was stripped naked and left in an office in freezing temperatures,” Santana Hurtado said by phone from Reynosa, where the family is located. He said their children were identified by teachers as children of “gusanos”, or worms.
Arboláez only spoke briefly during the interview because cancer muffled his speech.
Santana Hurtado said she felt pressured to leave after Arboláez was told he would spend the rest of his life in prison if he didn’t leave Cuba. They traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, like many other Cubans at the time, because the island government did not require visas from them. Once there, they were unable to work and their children could not attend school due to their immigrant status. With few opportunities and resources, the family decided to continue in the United States.
In March 2019, the family jumped on a speedboat and headed for Venezuela. Once there, they headed to Colombia. They traveled through the dangerous Darien Gap jungle in Panama, where Arboláez’s daughter-in-law gave birth in a tent with the help of a Cuban nurse who was also making the trip to Mexico.
Arboláez’s son and daughter-in-law remained in Panama with the baby, while the others traveled through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, finally arriving in Mexico in August 2019.
When Arboláez started feeling sick, a doctor told him he had a tumor on his tongue. A specialist recommended a biopsy and other tests that the family could not afford.
Download the file NBC News app for the latest news and alerts
Through the UN Refugee Agency, Arboláez obtained an appointment at a Mexican hospital in late May, but was informed that the hospital was inundated with cases of COVID-19 and that no one could examine it.
Finally, in mid-July, he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor and told that the cancer had spread to his jaw and lymph nodes.
In early August, a supporter and friend in the United States filed an application for humanitarian parole with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Nothing happened.
Jason Poblete, a Washington, DC attorney dealing with international human rights law, sent a letter urging USCIS acting director Kenneth Cuccinelli to grant Arboláez parole. Poblete insisted that Arboláez’s admission “is consistent with President Trump’s immigration and Cuban policy”.
USCIS declined to comment “due to privacy concerns”.
Jiménez, the Miami attorney, filed an emergency request last week for expedited processing of Arboláez’s humanitarian probation request.
Santana Hurtado said she was still confident that “that great nation”, referring to the United States, will grant them asylum, but admitted she was disappointed.
Arboláez said: “The United States has given asylum to so many Cubans who have fled repression. Seeing us in these conditions is frustrating.”
Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.