Former Cuban political prisoner living in US for decades denied citizenship

Francisco Verona, 82, never returned to Cuba after leaving 43 years ago

By Hatzel Vela - Reporter

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. - A former Cuban political prisoner who's been living in Florida for decades has been denied citizenship by the Trump administration.

The rejection letter noted that Francisco Verona didn't submit enough paperwork.

Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela met up with Verona in rural Collier County, east of Naples, where homes sit on large plots of land. 

With dog in tow, Verona wanted Vela to see his hobby, an extensive fruit and vegetable garden. 

Verona pointed out his guava tree, as well as malanga and bananas that grow on his property.

The Cuba he left 43 years ago is now in his backyard. 

But the self-described Cuban country boy from the Pinar del Rio province is torn because the country that gave him freedom won’t give him citizenship. 

Verona showed us the paperwork and the denial letter he received from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which states that the 82-year-old did not submit "sufficient documentation to establish that you meet the Good Moral Character requirement."

The U.S. government wanted Verona to produce original arrest records from Cuba. 

The problem is Verona has never been back to the communist island.

He was a political prisoner sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly trying to sabotage the Cuban state. 

In fact, it was the U.S. government during the Jimmy Carter administration that, through mediation with the late Fidel Castro, got him out of prison.

An "impeccable life" is how Verona describes four decades living in the U.S.

In Cuba, he said he was simply defending his country against communism. 

Verona took Vela inside his home to show him one last thing -- the stepson he raised, who is a former Marine, now a retired veteran.

Verona said he's proud of him as he showed Vela a room packed with memorabilia and awards. 

That and his large family -- eight children, 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren -- are his joys in life, he said. 

At his age, Verona said he never imagined citizenship to the country that took him in would be the only thing missing. 

Verona and his family are working with the offices of U.S. Rep. Mario-Diaz Balart, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to help resolve the issue.

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