For a week Pedro Roberto Gamuza, a 59-year-old Cuban, has been worried about the fate of his two sons: one left to fight in Ukraine and the other was arrested in Cuba on suspicion of mercenarism.
The two thirty-somethings are part of a group of Cubans recruited by an alleged criminal network to fight with the Russian army in Ukraine, which the government in Havana reported last week.
Pedro Roberto Gamuza's ordeal began on Tuesday when his son Liogi Gamuza Perez, 34, called him to tell him that he had just been summoned by State Security.
The authorities then informed him that Liogi, like other Cubans, had been arrested for "mercenarism."
“As a father, I spent a very difficult week, a weekend without sleeping,” he told AFP on Monday in Santa Clara (center), a city located 280 km from Havana where the family lives and where his son was arrested.
Mr. Gamuza tells his story a stone's throw from a monumental statue of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, very close to his neighborhood of brick houses and dusty streets.
“I feel dizzy, my head doesn't work anymore,” he says, dressed in his blue factory maintenance worker uniform.
He says he does not know who suggested his sons join the army in Russia. Liogi, married with no children, has no military training and has never served because of a health problem, he said.
He "was deceived", he assures, "he has no papers", nor a passport, and has not signed a contract. “If you have a document for anything, if you have a signed contract, show it to me,” he desperately asked his son, but his son denied having signed any document.
The father is now urgently looking for a lawyer.
On Thursday, authorities announced that 17 people had been arrested in Cuba for their alleged connection to a network operating from Russia for illegal recruitment.
Among them are the “internal organizer” of the recruitment, two Cubans who were initially looking for candidates and 14 people who admitted to having agreed to leave in exchange for a sum of money and obtaining Russian residency.
The judicial authorities also indicated that they were studying the possibility of proceedings for human trafficking, mercenarism and hostile acts against a foreign state, counts punishable by 30 years in prison, life imprisonment and of the death penalty.
In his misfortune, Pedro Roberto Gamuza rejoices that at least Liogi, who worked as a laborer, is still in Cuba.
“I have this one here (...) the other one I don’t have,” he said, referring to Robeisi Alexander, 33, from whom he had not heard from for a month and a half, when his wife informed him that his son was in Russia.
Father of a three-year-old girl, Robeisi Alexander has not communicated with his wife since.
The Cuban government has not given figures on the number of Cubans possibly recruited and has denied any complicity with Moscow.
In early September, Miami-based media revealed the cases of Andorf Velazquez and Alex Vega, two 19-year-old Cubans who claimed in videos that they had been tricked through Facebook into working as masons on construction sites in Ukraine with the Russian army.
Mario Velazquez, Andorf's father, told AFP by telephone from Mexico where he lives that he has not heard from his son for a week, when the latter told him from a camp in Russia that he was going to be transferred to Ukraine.
Mr. Velazquez said he contacted the Cuban embassy in Mexico but received no response. He demands "an explanation as to why the Cuban government did not intervene."
Moscow and Havana have grown closely together since a meeting in November between Cuban and Russian presidents Miguel Diaz-Canel and Vladimir Putin. Delegations have since followed one another between the two countries.
The Cuban Minister of Defense, Alvaro Lopez Miera, was notably received in June by his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
11/09/2023 23:05:03 - Santa Clara (Cuba) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP