Cuban man and son reunited in St. John's
Yadier Perez, a Cuban man now living and working in St. John's, has finally been reunited with his five-year-old son.
Perez, who arrived in St. John's in Nov. 2010, after Canada had accepted him as a refugee, had been trying to get son, Carlos, to Canada, ever since.
Canadian officials had issued a visa to the boy in Feb. 2012, but Perez said the Cuban government had been dragging its heels on permitting the boy to leave the country.
Perez said he suspected that was because his family had a history of friction with the Cuban government.
Carlos' mother had died during childbirth, and Perez had been struggling to make ends meet in Cuba for himself and his son ever since.
Perez granted refugee status in Canada
Perez tried to flee to Miami from Cuba by boat in July 2010, but the boat ran out of gas and left Perez and a number of other would-be refugees stranded on a small island. Eventually, they were picked up by the US Coast Guard and brought to the American military base in Cuba at Guantanomo Bay.
There, he was interviewed by Canadian officials, granted refugee status, and eventually arrived in St. John's in Nov. 2010.
All the while, Carlos' grandmother was taking care of him until his father could arrange for him to come to Canada.
Perez battling bureaucracy
Since February, officials at St. John's East MP Jack Harris' office had been helping Perez navigate through Canadian and Cuban bureaucracy.
Finally, young Carlos, who will turn six next month, was given permission to leave Cuba. A friend of Perez, Astrid Fudge, flew to Cuba in October, met with immigration officials, and two weeks later, she accompanied Carlos on a flight to Toronto.
"[We] went through immigration there in Toronto," recalled Fudge. "[Officials there ] fitted him with a winter coat, boots, snow pants and a hat and mitts and gave it to him and put it in a plastic, see through garbage bag."
Fudge said the immigration officials could speak Spanish and were talking with Carlos.
[Carlos] threw it on his back and he said something and they all laughed. I said 'what did he say?' They said 'he said he's Santa Claus 'cause he threw it on his back.'"
On Nov.2, father and son, who had not seen each other for more than two years, were reunited at the St. John's International Airport.
Perez said while he waited for Fudge and his son to arrive in St. John's from Toronto, he was nervous.
"Your face, how much he change," said Perez, using his new English skills. "But he, he look at me, he look me, he laughing, he say okay, he recognize me.
"I have no words. I think, I very sure this the best time of my life."
Boy adjusting well
Young Carlos has been adjusting well. Within a few days of his arrival, he started school in St. John's and he has started to learn English.
He has also been enjoying the wide range of cartoons available on the television at his father's apartment.
Fudge said the little boy is a bit overwhelmed by the variety of toys available here.
"Saturday we went to WalMart and of course the toys are all out now," said Fudge. "And he's just looking and he had sense enough, he came back and tapped his father on the leg and said, 'papa, there's too much stuff, my mouth's open.'"
Carlos has also gone through a car wash, up to Signal Hill, and to a restaurant for pizza.
Perez said his co-workers at North Atlantic Marine have been especially kind to his son.
Earlier this month, Perez said he was told to go up to his company's office to deal with a problem.
When he arrived, he saw a table full of toys donated by his co-workers for his son.
As for Carlos, his favourite thing about his new home so far has been all the toys. "The most I like is the toys," he says in his limited english.
Perez said Carlos is also waiting for snow.
"I say soon, soon the snow coming," laughed Perez.
Perez said he still has not found the words in either English or Spanish to explain how happy he has become to have his son with him.
But he did say he is optimistic that changes gradually happening in Cuba will make it easier for Cubans to travel outside their country, and for other families to avoid the same sort of separation he and Carlos have experienced.