On a dark night in 1991, I jumped into the ocean off the coast of Cuba and swam nine miles to Guantanamo Bay to ask for political asylum. I had no future in Cuba. My mother had multiple sclerosis, and I hoped that if I became an American, I could bring her here and get her better treatment.
The U.S. government sent me to Las Vegas, where they sent many Cubans trying to get a start. I worked as a dishwasher in a casino and met the woman who became my wife.
I had hoped to earn enough to bring my mother to America, but I soon realized I could not. Others in my situation turned to selling drugs. I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I wanted to save my mother, so I sold drugs too. Soon I was arrested.
I went to prison, where I found redemption. I found the Lord. When I was released, I went to the church a fellow prisoner had told me about. I worked with the youth, with gang members so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Because of my experience in prison, they listened to me.
Eventually, I was ordained. In 2004, my family moved to Pahrump, a town outside of Las Vegas, where we began a Bible study. We wanted to offer something to help young people who are addicted in our community. We didn’t have money; we went by faith. My wife and I work for the glory of God. I am retired from the labor union, and my wife is retired from the casino, so that’s how we get by.
One day we saw a camp for sale in the Ash Meadow Wildlife Reserve and decided to go see it. The owner wanted a price we couldn’t afford. That’s when one of our parishioners who we didn’t know had money stepped forward. She bought the site and gave it to the church.
That’s how Patch of Heaven came to be. Our people worked hard to build it up. Churches from all around started holding retreats here. They would baptize people in our pond, just as we did.
We can no longer baptize people in our pond because the government stole our water.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife controls most of the land in Ash Meadow, and in 2010, they unlawfully and illegally diverted our water. They didn’t have permission from the Army Corps of Engineers or Nevada agencies, which they are required by law to obtain. They held public meetings about their supposed plans but did not disclose their true intentions.
Then they took our water. Everything dried up.
Three days before Christmas, our property was flooded as a result of their poor engineering.
In Cuba, there is no process. They take what they want, and that’s it. I never thought that would happen to me in America. It was like a knife in my heart. We aren’t doing anything wrong. We are helping kids, and adults get better.
We went through the legal process because we wanted to do the right thing. We had faith that we would receive justice. But 11 years after the government took our water and destroyed our property, our request for damages was denied. We had physical evidence from a local hydrologist with decades of experience. The government had a computer model from one of their experts in D.C. The judge decided to trust the computer model.
Right now, we cannot find relief from anybody. The government will not pay us for the damage it caused. It will not give us back our water.
This government is not working for the people. It is like what I left behind.
What is a patriotic American supposed to do?
Victor Fuentes is pastor of Ministerio Roca Solida in Nevada.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.