(Lori Piotrowski) – Sometimes we take our liberties for granted. After all, we are American born and bred. We grew up with baseball, apple pie, and Fourth of July fireworks.
Imagine swimming nearly 7 miles in the ocean—only the dream of being American keeps your strength from ebbing—to reach asylum at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Imagine dreaming of bringing over your sick mother for medical treatment, getting involved with drugs, and spending time in prison.
Imagine finding salvation, a loving wife, and a group of people who believed in your dream of a weekend camp for fellow believers.
Then imagine the government taking it away.
Victor Fuentes, a Cuban exile who founded Ministerio Roca Sólida (Solid Rock Ministry) Church with his wife, Annette, discovered a beautiful, stream-fed, unused plot of land in Amargosa Valley they thought would be perfect. Of the property near Pahrump Fuentes said, “There was a beauty to that land. It was a peaceful place for us as believers to go and rejoice.”
With donations from their church members, their own funds, and lots of hard work, Patch of Heaven opened its doors. And by 2010, the camp was booked nearly every weekend.
The two streams that flowed through the property created a pond that campers and the Fuentes’ used for baptisms, and according to Victor, the camp was “an oasis for anyone seeking God.”
In 2010, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the streams, which had flowed through Patch of Heaven’s boundaries since the 1800s, would be diverted.
No notice was given to the Fuentes of any impending action. Several plans for the diversion had been suggested, but none had been decided on.
“The resulting work didn’t resemble any of the plans that had been suggested,” said Joseph Becker, legal counsel for the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation at a press conference this morning.
After the streams had been diverted, the stream and pond went dry, but the biggest destruction came on December 23, only three weeks after the new earthen dams had been completed. A heavy rainfall broke the earthen dams, flooding the entire camp, destroying the grazing areas of the camp’s livestock and causing thousands of dollars of damage to buildings.
Fuentes said, “The flood filled camp with mud and water, thoroughly damaging the camp.”
“We walked on a plank to get around,” said Annette Fuentes. “The refuge manager for Ash Meadows treated it as a joke. She didn’t take it seriously.” It was a month before anyone came out to view the damage created by the diversionary measures.
Becker said that CJCL will be filing a lawsuit against the federal agency for $86,000, which covers only the costs of physical damages. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Srivce should immediately issue a check to the Ministerio Roca Sólida Church to compensate the church for the damage it caused by its negligent actions,” he continued.
Victor concluded, “I came to the U. S. of A. because I had that beautiful image of the U. S. in my mind—a place to go and fulfill your dreams”
“But seeing this action of the U. S. is vanishing that image from my mind. This is not a government I expected to find in the U. S. I expected to find a government that helps you to fulfill your dreams, not take from you. That is the government of Cuba.”
The is the second case for Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation at the Nevada Policy research Institute.