Exclusive: Expatriated Pro-U.S. Cuban Dissident Heads to Southern Border After Officials Ignore His Case

Daniel Llorente and son Eliecer on a bus north in Colombia, June 2021
Courtesy Daniel Llorente

Daniel Llorente – an anti-communist Cuban dissident who achieved world renown in 2017 by interrupting the nation’s Marxist May Day parade waving an American flag and receiving a beating on live television – has joined the thousands risking the harrowing trek across Central America to reach the United States.

Llorente confirmed to Breitbart News on Wednesday that he, his son Eliécer, and his nephew left Guyana in late May en route to the southern border of the United States. He is seeking legal entry. At the time of his last communication with Breitbart News, he had just reached Costa Rica. He was arrested in Venezuela shortly after departing Guyana but released and bussed to the Colombian border, allowing him largely uninterrupted transit.

Llorente is now using his journey to teach other Cubans making their way north about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A fervent Christian – though not belonging to any church or creed – Llorente has taken to preaching to Cubans as they wait for buses, traverse dangerous jungle territory, or line up for humanitarian aid. He asserts that the “curse” that befell Cuba in 1959 began when dictator Fidel Castro ordered the removal of a popular Christian sign from people’s homes, reading “Jesus Christ, this is your house,” and replaced them with a sign reading “This is your house, Fidel.” According to Cuban-American scholar Carlos Eire, “hundreds of thousands” of homes bore the latter sign in the aftermath of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

While Cuba is statistically a majority-Catholic country, the Cuban Communist Party is formally atheist and persecutes Christians who do not use their faith to promote communism. Most Cubans alive on the island today have never experienced religious freedom – including Llorente, who expressed awe to Breitbart News on the prevalence of Christian imagery and churches in Colombia and Central America.

The dissident told Breitbart News he left Guyana after two years of attempting to find a legal way to leave to the United States. Both the United States and the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he said, promised to help him achieve some form of normalized migrant status upon his first visit, but neither followed through.

“The U.S. embassy two years ago committed to me that they would attend my case. Two years passed, they did nothing, I went several times and they never saw me,” Llorente said in an interview with Breitbart News. “The U.S. has shown the world through me that it has dropped the ball.”

Daniel Llorente

Unlike the vast majority of the thousands attempting the journey to America, Llorente never chose to leave Cuba and has no legal documents to help him receive political refugee or asylum status in the United States. Llorente was first arrested in Cuba in 2002 for placing a sign in front of his home denouncing communism. He spent nine years in prison for that infraction.

In May 2016, police arrested him again for greeting the first cruise ship from the United States to visit Havana in the Castro era, the Adonia. Llorente waved an American flag and shouted “yes, we can!” – the campaign slogan of then-President Barack Obama. Prior to his arrest, the regime sent a mob to threaten and antagonize him with racial slurs, a practice known as an “act of repudiation,” prompting Llorente to call the majority of Cubans “hypocrites” for participating in government functions without question.

A year later, he interrupted the largest regime parade of the year, the parade organized on May 1, or International Workers’ Day. Llorente ran before a crowd of thousands of communists in Havana, waving an American flag in protest of the event. Video of his intervention shows plain-clothes officers immediately apprehend and publicly assault him.

Following the incident, Llorente remained in Castro regime custody for about a year. He was never charged with a crime, moved instead to a mental institution for “believing in God.” The institution, known commonly as Mazorra, has a decades-old reputation as a facility used by the communist regime to torture dissidents. Llorente asserted through leaked remarks during his stay there that he was indeed subject to electroshock torture. Doctors never diagnosed him with any mental illness or adverse condition.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines refugees as individuals located outside of America “of special humanitarian concern to the United States” who can clearly show “that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.” Llorente’s case appears to plainly fit that definition, given that his state-orchestrated beatings and mob attacks were caught on camera and broadcast around the world.

Llorente also appears to fit the protocol to request asylum, a separate category in which applicants must demonstrate that they “have suffered persecution or fear that they will suffer persecution due to” religion or “political opinion.”

To apply for asylum, a person must already be in the United States. Refugees must go through interviews in the countries where they are located and be recommended by American officials to receive that status.

Llorente never planned to apply for either. He disappeared in May 2019 after the Castro regime forced him on a nationwide tour to visit important communist Revolutionary sites – a way of ensuring that he could not plan any political stunts for that year’s May Day parade. He resurfaced days later in Georgetown, Guyana, carrying a small bag with an American flag and a Bible. Llorente affirmed at the time that Castro regime agents abducted him from his home in Havana and forced him on a one-way flight to the only South American nation where English is the official language, leaving him unable to communicate with anyone there to explain his situation. When he arrived in Georgetown, Llorente told Breitbart News at the time, no customs officials asked him any pertinent questions, simply letting him through.

Since his abduction and expatriation, the non-governmental organization Cuban Prisoners Defenders has confirmed hundreds of similar cases of the Cuban regime kidnapping and expelling anti-communists against their will. Many have made similar decisions to travel to the U.S. southern border.

Llorente spent two years in Guyana working odd jobs – car washes, construction, any form of manual labor – and managed to get his son and nephew out, both of whom were involved in dissident activity. Guyana, which enjoys friendly relations with the Castro regime despite not being an overtly communist country, does not require Cuban citizens to have a visa to enter.

“It was never my intention to leave the country [Cuba],” Llorente insisted in March 2020. “An official at the U.N. told me on February 20 that they have no solution to my case.”

At the time, he said American officials in Georgetown told him the embassy there could not process asylum applications, but never offered an interview for refugee status, either.

“On May 16, 2019, I was expelled from Cuba to Guyana. The next day, I went to the U.S. embassy in Guyana, where I got a cold reception on the part of the officials at the embassy,” Llorente narrated this week. “Six days later, God called me to go to the embassy a second time …  When I went a second time, they gave me their word that in the next few days, they would address my case.”

“Trusting their promise, I waited two years without receiving any attention at all, despite my continued pro-human rights efforts and efforts in favor of the policies of former President Trump,” he continued. “It was clear that the U.S. embassy was aware of my actions but they did not show even the most minimal interest or respect for what I did.”

“Not by coincidence, God put me to work at a car wash next to the office that gives Cubans their visas. Being observant, I saw daily how many Cubans without the least bit love for the American nation received the benefit of traveling freely,” Llorente lamented. “The Guyanese who worked with me mocked me for being rejected by the Americans.”

Now on the road with other Cubans, Llorente said compatriots recognize him, which “embarrasses” him.

“Something that embarrasses me is, a lot of Cubans are seeing me on this journey, and they say, ‘if that happened to you, what is awaiting us?'” Llorente noted. “The U.S. has failed in that situation and a lot of people tell me, ‘How is it possible for you to be doing this here and the musicians, who have even supported the regime, are in the United States with nice houses, good money, and everything?'”

In his last statement, Llorente referred to one of the hottest controversies brewing among Cuban-Americans in Miami: the seemingly limitless access that wealthy, pro-Castro Cuban musicians have to American audiences and money. The controversy has resulted in several boycotts and campaigns to rescind the immigration permissions of wealthy Cuban artists, and at least one moral victory: Gente de Zona, a group who allowed a Castro family member to dance on stage with them, releasing a pro-democracy song after facing the threat of losing access to Miami cash this year.

Llorente told Breitbart News he holds “no grudges” towards America and is not going there “for prosperity,” but because he believes he is on a mission from God. Having traveled through a significant portion of Latin America, Llorente said he felt that he “needed to live that experience” to strengthen his personal faith.

Daniel Llorente

“Having traveled these countries let me see clearly things that were doubtful to me. The prosperity of peoples who have Christ in their hearts,” Llorente said. “Yesterday, when I was in Nicaragua, passing half the country prosperity changed from the border of Nicaragua to Costa Rica … I started to see on the buses, phrases worshipping God, Bible texts on all the buses, on the houses, on the shops, everywhere you see phrases about Christ. And from there all the way to the border, it’s a different Nicaragua.”

“All the other countries, like Costa Rica, here in Honduras, Brazil, the countries I’ve been through – in all of them, everywhere you look, there are phrases praising Jesus Christ, and you see prosperity in those countries,” Llorente said. “Even in the countryside … I have seen the prosperity there. … And that’s what’s going on with Cuba. The Cuban people deny God, almost 99 percent of them.”

This iconography is common throughout Latin America and Hispanic-majority parts of the United States – a legacy of Spanish Catholicism, which prioritizes the use of icons and imagery. In Cuba, such displays are illegal if not coupled with praise for Fidel Castro or communism. Born after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Llorente had never previously seen such displays.

In 2017, when he was arrested, authorities chose not to charge him with anything, but instead send him to a mental institution notorious for torturing dissidents.

“They say that since he believes in God and is always talking about that … they say that is a disorder,” his son said at the time. Llorente was never diagnosed with any mental illness.

Llorente has chosen to use his journey to add to the Christian displays in the countries he visits. He shared with Breitbart News footage of himself preaching to fellow Cubans and offering them handwritten signs reading “Jesus Christ, Cuba is your house. Thank you, amen.” He offered modified versions of the sign to local business owners and noted he had much more success, proudly showing a “Jesus Christ, Colombia is your home” sign he offered the owner of an internet cafe on his journey. During his arrest in Venezuela, he said that police officers accepted a similar sign to hang on their office billboard.

Daniel Llorente

“In Cuba, they continue standing up to the dictatorship, but it is evident that they do it out of personal interest,” Llorente said. Upon his arrival in America, he concluded, “I want to show the American people that every nation has what they deserve. Cuba has what it deserves because it denied God and there is no other way out of that if we do not reconcile with Him.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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