Cuba’s Amelia Calzadilla and Her Freedom to Choose

Amelia Calzadilla

By Laura Roque Valero (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – When Amelia Calzadilla landed in Madrid with her three children one November day, she had not only overcome the fear of flying but also bid farewell to a place she didn’t want to leave. The day she left Cuba, State Security made sure she left.

In January 2021, the 32-year-old Cuban began live streaming on Facebook as a means of denouncing and challenging the Cuban government for its mismanagement. In one of the broadcasts, she states, “My political stance is being a mother,” a phrase that, like many of her live sessions, went viral. She started by denouncing the high cost of electricity and the obstacles to obtaining liquefied gas services. While she “exploded” on social media, her discourse resonated with the reality of other Cuban mothers.

Amelia’s mother had tried to become pregnant nine times, and the only successful pregnancy was that of the girl who studied at the Faculty of Foreign Languages ​​at the University of Havana, and became a voice for the Cuban population amid political apathy.

Her Last Day in Cuba

Days before leaving, Amelia remembers that her house was in constant disorder. She took the time to spend long hours with her grandmother, others with a friend and her cousin, always accompanied by her mom and dad. The farewell strategy aimed to prevent anyone from visiting them on their last day. She failed.

On the day of leaving Cuba, the house filled up. The suitcases were packed at the last moment, and amid chaos, there was some joy and peace. However, her mother was silent. Silence is a sign of concern in her family. Amelia, with the rigidity of a general, repeated to herself, “I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry.” She wanted her loved ones to feel that she was leaving happily.

Her father was the first to break the tension hidden behind the apparent calm. He said, “I know you’re going to a better life.” Gradually, the emotional barriers began to crumble. In the final hug, her daughters —María Amelia, nine years old, and Amanda, seven— were infected with the adults’ tears. The promise of a plane ride and a new house didn’t matter. With them, Amelia also broke down.

To alleviate the sadness of the moment, her father-in-law asked the children to shout, “Amelia, scoundrel, remember my size.”

“It was a completely absurd phrase typical of Cubans, but that —though it may seem unbelievable—worked,” she says, still crying, sitting in the living room of her new home on the outskirts of Madrid. That moment allowed her to gather strength to instruct her children to get in the car, close the door, and not look back. The mere reference to a family member’s clothing size was the encouragement Amelia needed to believe that one day she could help improve the lives of her loved ones, and for that, she needed to leave.

Her concern for what she was leaving behind was so great that days before, she had bought a bit of meat, lamb, some eggs, and ground beef so that her parents wouldn’t have to go out to “fight” for food as she did every day.

“You shouldn’t leave thinking you’re seeking security, stability, freedom. That shouldn’t happen to anyone,” she protests vehemently. The unchecked migration of Cubans signals the seriousness of the country’s conditions.

When Amelia arrived at the “Jose Marti” International Airport, State Security was waiting for her. They weren’t dressed in military attire, but they were the same agents who had detained her on June 24, 2023, after expressing solidarity in a live session with the right of political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer’s wife to see him. She thought they wanted to intimidate her or make her sign a document preventing her from returning. Quite the opposite, they were there to expedite her departure, perhaps to ensure she left, and that people didn’t recognize her.

On a crowded flight with families, including children and even babies, who also left Cuba that day, State Security removed Amelia with her three children and four suitcases from the line, ensuring they passed quickly through all the controls.

She thought, “At home, I forbade myself to cry, now I have to forbid myself to feel fear.” She feared they might stage a hate rally or a scandal, detain her in front of her children, traumatizing them.

She recalled activist Marisol Peña Cobas, whose seven-year-old daughter received a summons for questioning in April 2023. Why wouldn’t they do the same to her children? But none of that happened, and when the flight took off, the children fell asleep, and once again, she entrusted herself to God.

Spain, First Impressions

When the Immigration officer at Madrid’s “Adolfo Suarez” Airport treated her kindly, asked few questions, and wished her a pleasant stay in Spain, Amelia

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