Patriot risked death taking stand against Castro; now he fights the fight from Chattanooga
From a second-floor balcony in the Park Ridge Apartment complex, a man in a jacket and a beanie leaned against the rail and stared across the parking lot to the other side of the complex, to a first-floor front door. His door.
The man, 41-year-old Andrés Carrión Alvarez, says he keeps watch to make sure his one-bedroom apartment off North Germantown Road is safe. Every day, he does “security work.” He declined to elaborate on what that entails, just in case the wrong people find out.
He says his enemies are many. He says those loyal to the Cuban government have never forgiven him for what he did two years ago, when he protested in front of international reporters as Pope Benedict XVI prepared to conduct Mass in Santiago, Cuba, Carrión’s hometown.
Since that day — March 26, 2012 — Carrión has been imprisoned, beaten, freed, targeted and jailed again. Last year, the United States granted him asylum. And two months ago, he came to Chattanooga. It was the government’s decision, though he has no complaints.
He likes the freedom here. He likes the peace, too, though he still fears that undercover Cuban agents will try to find him.
Carrión and his wife, Ariuska Galán, still talk to family back home on the phone. And Carrión also gets emails from members of his rebel organization, the Patriotic Union of Cuba.
Internet access is sparse back home, but members of the group sometimes manage to sneak online. When they do, they email Carrión videos of their work — their marches, their peaceful protests, their parties.
When he gets the videos, Carrión loads them onto the group’s YouTube channel, hoping their message will spread. Which is to say that, from a Chattanooga apartment with little more than a computer, a TV and a bed, Carrión believes he can help topple his country’s government.
“Fighting against the government in Cuba, you have to almost kill your nerves,” he said Thursday through a translator. “When you confront a dictatorship, you confront death.”
Carrión had never rebelled before the pope’s visit. In college, he says, he was the best student in his class. He became a physical therapist, and he married a doctor. They kept their heads down, stayed quiet.
“Nobody thought that somebody like me would confront the system,” he said.
But Carrión grew tired. He knew innocent people who spoke against Fidel and Raúl Castro and received 30-year prison sentences. He witnessed human rights violations. Even though he and his wife both worked in the medical field, together they made the equivalent of $41 a month.
When he learned the pope would visit Santiago, located on the country’s east coast, Carrión decided to speak out. He knew international reporters would follow the pope, and he hoped they would share his message. For a month, he planned. But he didn’t tell anybody.
On the morning of the event, he said goodbye to his mother, his grandmother, his cousins, his wife. He said he loved them. He didn’t explain what he was about to do. He didn’t tell them he expected to die that day.
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