Free as a Jailbird in Havana

When ex-con Mario Mora was deported to Cuba, he swapped one prison for another

Mora's strategy: "I just sit at the Malecón, and when they walk by I say, 'Are you here on vacation?' They notice my accent and we start talking. I tell them that I [smuggled] people to the U.S. I use that as a pitch."

Doesn't that scare them?

"Not as much as if I told them I was involved in a prison riot."

Mora in Cuba: A free man in his new prison
Mora in Cuba: A free man in his new prison

The police, however, have never stopped watching Mora. "When it comes to tourism here, it's a serious thing," he says. "Just for walking down the streets with a tourist or a foreigner, you can get stopped [by the police] and asked a million questions. And if the party you're with acts like they don't know you or acts as if they've been bothered, you're going to spend a few nights in jail. I've learned a lot in Cuba. I've learned that there are guidelines. And when they say no, it's no."

As a condition of being allowed to leave the U.S., Mora had to agree that he would never return, so he's settled into Cuban living. He has three children -- two-year-old twin boys and an eight-month-old girl -- with a Cuban woman who is no longer his girlfriend. "My life has been harder than ever. But I'm happy to be free and next to my twins," he says. "If I could go back to [the U.S.], I would. I love the people, but I hate the way the [U.S.] government does things. How in the hell can you be an adopted son of America from the time you're two, then they kick you out? That's not right. I'm American."

In the meantime Mora keeps hustling and hoping for another miracle that will take him to another English-speaking country. Maybe Canada. "I just want to go somewhere else and start a new life and just be me: Mario, a new me. I don't want to be a criminal."

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