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Family of Cuban American jailed in Cuba says her health is deteriorating

MIAMI — Four years after a Miami teacher was imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges, her family is pleading with President Joe Biden’s administration to intervene, saying the jailed Cuban American, Alina López Miyares, has kidney problems and is not receiving treatment.

López Miyares’ 93-year-old mother, also named Alina Miyares, said her daughter is innocent, and she fears dying without seeing her daughter again. López Miyares’ father died two years ago while she was in prison.

“The pain that a mother feels does not compare with anything,” said López Miyares’ mother. She is hoping she will have better luck reuniting with her daughter with the new Biden administration and blames the Unites States’ hostile policy toward Cuba for complicating her daughter’s case.

López Miyares, 61, was charged with espionage and sentenced in 2017 to 13 years in prison by a military court in Cuba.

Her husband, Felix Martín Milanés Fajardo — a former Cuban official assigned to the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations — was sentenced to 17 years.

López Miyares is accused of serving as a link between her husband and the FBI and CIA. The court alleged she was channeling information in exchange for political asylum for her husband and his relatives.

An undated picture of Alina López Miyares taken in her mother’s home on Aug. 7, 2018. López Miyares is a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Cuba on alleged espionage charges. She is being denied U.S. consular and attorney visits.Carmen Sesin / NBC News

Cuba has denied López Miyares U.S. consular visits because its government considers anyone born in Cuba to be a Cuban national and does not recognize dual citizenship once they step foot on the island.

López Miyares was born in Cuba and became a U.S. naturalized citizen after she fled the island with her family when she was 9 years old.

Her family and her Washington, D.C., attorney, Jason Poblete, have been demanding she have access to U.S. consular visits. If granted, it would allow American diplomats to get López Miyares much needed medicine. U.S. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic have ravaged Cuba’s economy and led to a shortage of food, medicine and basic goods on the island.

An undated picture of Alina López Miyares taken in her mother’s home on Aug. 7, 2018. López Miyares is a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Cuba on alleged espionage charges. She is being denied U.S. consular and attorney visits.Alina Lopez Miyares

Consular visits would also give diplomats direct access to information they could bring up in discussions with their counterparts at Cuba’s foreign ministry.

López Miyares’ mother had been making monthly trips to Cuba to visit her daughter and supply her with food and medicine in prison, but she fell over a year ago and has been unable to travel since.

Poblete said he has been working “seamlessly” with the Biden administration since the transition. He said both the National Security Council and the State Department are concerned for López Miyares’ well-being and are figuring out ways to help her.

“Cuba should take notice that the release of Americans unlawfully detained, such as Alina, is a priority of the Biden administration,” Poblete said.

 Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call in February with families of loved ones held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. A State Department press release said that during the call Blinken said “their family members are a top priority in our diplomatic engagements with both allies and adversaries.”

A State Department spokesperson would not comment on López Miyares’ case, citing privacy reasons, but said the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. 

Cuba’s embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

Poblete said López Miyares is now in a “work camp” where she teaches English to other prisoners, who have nicknamed her “La Americana.”

According to the family, López Miyares met her husband, Milanés Fajardo, in the early 2000s during a trip to New York. The couple later married in Cuba, where he lived. López Miyares continued living and working as a teacher in Miami public schools, while making trips to Havana to visit her husband. During a trip in 2017, she was detained by authorities.

U.S.-Cuba relations deteriorated under former President Donald Trump after the two counties had previously re-established diplomatic ties. Trump imposed harsh sanctions, limited travel and placed Cuba on the list of state sponsors of terrorism just before leaving office.

A White House spokeswoman recently said that while the administration is reviewing Trump’s last-minute designation, a broader shift in policy is not currently among Biden’s top priorities.

Poblete recorded a message from López Miyares during a telephone call from prison in February where she said: “Please help me. Please help me. I’m innocent. … I’ve been wrongly accused.”

Her message for Biden was: “I am very proud of you and the vice president, and I really, really want to go home. That’s all I want to do. And congratulations once again.”

From her Miami Beach apartment, López Miyares’ mother said, “I think Biden is going to do a better job and bring my daughter home.”

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