Cuban authorities have arrested 17 people in connection with what they described as a network to recruit Cuban nationals to fight for Russia in Ukraine.
The head of criminal investigations for Cuba’s Interior Ministry, César Rodríguez, said late Thursday on state media that at least three of the 17 people arrested are part of recruitment efforts inside the island country.
The official didn’t identify the alleged members of the network, but said they had previous criminal records. Some families started speaking up about the case, and at least one mother said that her son was promised a job in construction in Russia.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the government had detected a network operating from Russia to recruit Cuban citizens living both in Russia and in Cuba to fight in Ukraine, and it said the authorities were working “to neutralize and dismantle” the network, but it gave no details.
“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” the Foreign Ministry said in a news release.
Cuba and Russia are political allies and Cubans do not require a visa to travel to Russia. Many go there to study or to work.
Prosecutor José Luis Reyes told state TV that suspects are being investigated for crimes including being a mercenary or recruiting mercenaries, and could face sentences of up to 30 years or life in prison, or even the death penalty.
Marilin Vinent, 60, said Friday that her son Dannys Castillo, 27, is one of the Cubans recruited in Russia.
In her home in Havana, she said that her son and other Cubans traveled at the end of July to Russia after being promised work in a construction job. “They were all deceived,” she said.
Vinent showed reporters photos of her son in her cellphone, including some of him dressed in military fatigues.
She said that her son told her he had accepted the offer to go to Russia because he wanted to economically help the family, as the island is suffering an economic crisis, with people facing shortages of some products.
“I don’t know if my son is alive. We don’t know anything,” she said. “What I would like is to talk to him.”