A Cuban-American who won a Bronze Star in Iraq but was not allowed to return to his homeland to care for a sick son said Monday that his children are being allowed to visit the United States.
Under an agreement with the State Department and the Cuban government, Sgt. Carlos Lazo’s two sons, 17-year-old Carlos Rafael Lazo and 19-year-old Carlos Manuel Lazo, will visit for three months. Lazo, a sergeant in the Washington state National Guard, plans to fly to Miami on Friday to meet them.
The family’s plight had drawn national media attention and prompted lawmakers from both parties to complain about the strict limits imposed on travel to Cuba by the Bush administration.
Family visits limited
The rules, meant to punish the Communist government of Fidel Castro, limit family visits to once every three years.
“First of all, I’m very grateful for the outcome of this,” Lazo said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“On the other hand, I feel sad because there are thousands of Cuban-Americans — especially in Miami — who, due to these restrictions, cannot see their families,” he said.
Lazo, 40, of Seattle, came to the U.S. from Cuba by raft in 1992. Now a U.S. citizen, he works as a counselor for the state’s social and health services department. He joined the National Guard in 2000 and trained as a medic.
He was sent to Iraq in April 2004 and earned the Bronze Star for braving sniper fire and mortar rounds while providing medical aid to troops during a battle in Fallujah.
Failed attempt in 2004
Lazo last saw his sons in April 2003. Last year, on leave from Iraq, he flew to Miami with the intent of flying on to Havana, only to learn that the State Department had put a hold on passengers going to Cuba.
He tried again last spring after hearing that his younger son was suffering from a high fever. The boy was hospitalized for 10 days, then sent home with doctors still uncertain why he was sick.
Lazo thanked a host of supporters in Congress, including Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.