Cuban journalist Karla Pérez, prevented on Thursday from boarding a flight to Havana, had to return to Costa Rica, the country where she had been studying since 2017, to request refuge.
“I am a refugee applicant at the moment, I will have interviews and it will be decided whether or not I deserve the refuge,” said Pérez, 22, after arriving at Juan Santamaría airport, which serves San José, the country’s capital.
Pérez studied journalism in Costa Rica since 2017 and, after finishing her degree and the expiration of her visa, hoped to returned to her native country. She said that she always had the intention of returning to Cuba.
According to her account, she was studying in Costa Rica after being expelled from the University of Las Villas, in the Cuban province of Villa Clara for having participated in a blog critical of the government.
While studying, Pérez was an intern at the Costa Rican newspaper El Mundo. In addition, she maintains collaboration with the news site ADN Cuba, a critic of the ruling and only Communist Party (PCC). The practice of local journalism outside the state media has no legal recognition on the island.
The flight, which departed from San José, made a layover at the Tocumen airport, in Panama. Pérez said that at that moment, the airline contacted her through the loudspeakers of the terminal.
“An official from Copa [the airline she was traveling with] tells me that, not because of an airline issue or legal requirements, Cuban Migration orders that I am prohibited from entering my country,” Pérez said.
Therefore, she had to return to San José. People close to her petitioned the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry to allow her to enter, despite the fact that her student visa had already expired.
Earlier, the Costa Rican deputy of the National Integration Party (PIN), Patricia Villegas, showed her support for the journalist.
“I ask the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry to offer her political protection and grant her asylum until the communist government dismisses the abuse of her,” she said.
A human right
“Returning to your country is a human right,” Human Rights Watch director José Miguel Vivanco wrote on Twitter, who “condemned” this “very serious abuse.”
“Of course I want to go back to Cuba but, being realistic, I don’t think there is such an opportunity,” said Pérez. “My primary dream is to reunite with my family, I don’t care where,” she added. Her parents and her sister live on the island.
Cuba is targeting independent local journalism initiatives or outside state regulation, alleging that many of them — financed by foreign entities critical of the government — seek to destabilize the country.
Yaira Jiménez, communications director for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, argued that ADN Cuba — the news organization for which Pérez collaborates — is supported by the National Foundation for Democracy (NED), “an agency financed by the United States.”