On the 8th of May, Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia died in Santa Clara, the victim of a beating received on the 5th day (of the month). He had left with me the blow of the news, and my Christian principles inculcated since a I was boy were put to the test. The time was coming for me to choose between acting like the bishop and the Levite in the biblical parable, with idleness and evasion before violence; or as the repudiated Samaritan who had without a doubt the sensation of acting as God ordains.
Scandalized by the official treatment given to the case on the 8th of June, I presented myself together with Pastor Ricardo Santiago Medina before the Prosecutor General of the Republic demanding an investigation. In the following month, on the 8th of July, a list of signatures was delivered to the same office backing up our solicitation. I understand that these lists keep growing to perform new submissions.
Although the response from this entity was dated the 19th of July on top of an erasure made with white-out and the issue date of 1 August with number 4246, a postmark on the envelope dated the 8th of August as the occasion of its delivery into my hands. It communicated that in the foregoing, the Provincial Prosecutor of Villa Clara would pursue this matter.
As the bureaucratic sliding doors hold no attraction for me, much less if I smell sterile adulation, and as neither date was indicated to attend the provincial entity nor was I advised any limit to my demand, I decided to wait for the arrival of September now that I know excessively the immobility of August by its almost generalized summer vacations. But I must remember that the Provincial Prosecutor advanced my case, and this time with the news of a new eight.
A prosecutor took the duty of traveling directly to my home and with a very pleasant manner left in the hands of my wife — since he didn’t find me — a citation for 9 AM of the 8th of September. The 8th of May, the 8th of June, the 8th of July, the 8th of August, and now the 8th of September. We will see what this new eight brings and we will hope that it might not be another demonstration of what human justice is made of an eight.
A conviction stimulates me in my principles, independently of the result that my meeting produces this 8th of September with the representative of the Provincial Prosecutor of Villa Clara, which evidently will fulfill the orientations of the central structures of the State. My confidence is placed in God, and for that God, such and as is affirmed in Psalm 97:2, justice and judgment are the cement of His throne.
Despite how much the government may try to terrorize me with those outlandish editorials, I will continue to raise my voice for Juan Wilfredo. I will not be known as the pastor or the Levite who quietly walked by a man who was beaten and thrown on the floor. My goal is to be the Samaritan who took care of him. And although I can no longer heal his wounds, his words still resonate within me. On that morning of Thursday, May 5th God made it so that our paths cross in time and space for the last time so that, in the words of Soto himself, I would find out about the severe beating which they had carried out on him with their batons.
It is inadmissible that, in their attempt to dust off this death from their shoulders, the Cuban government has referenced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prisons of Abu Ghraib, and the Guantanamo Naval Base, in addition to thousands of other problems. The fact that crimes are being committed throughout the world does not mean that they are justified in Cuba. The difference is that the death which I came in close contact with was that of my friend Juan Wilfredo. He considered me to be his pastor and he had no reason why to lie to me. And, aside from that, more than his words, his expressions of pain were what really spoke to me, as they also did to thirty other referential witnesses who, just like me, are willing to give declarations, without mentioning those who are not willing to do so because they feel a fear which I will not judge them on.
What is most alarming about the situation is that the case of THE STUDENT is not an isolated case. Every week their are reports about beatings and mob attacks. I recall one case in specific where I was denouncing the violent acts being carried out against Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo in the Rio Verde neighborhood of Havana which were occurring at the same time that the 6th Communist Party Congress was taking place. In fact, the report established by the Congress even provides an initiative for carrying out such mob attacks in their second to last paragraph. The only difference in this situation is that Sara Martha did not die from the beatings, at least not from the instant wounds, but no one can tell what the other traumas they inflicted upon her will cause through slower repercussions. If she would have died, the government would have also tried to dust off their responsibility and would have evoked another death by natural causes. And, of course, this is because there is nothing more natural than to die after a beating.
I am not in favor of anyone coming an bombing Havana, but I am also not in favor of anyone beating a man with impunity, as occurred with Juan Wilfredo after they burst his pancreas. In respect to the dispute between Cuba and the United States, I have always been a believer that the problems we Cubans face must be solved by Cubans. And this is one of those problems where, by product of the work and grace of Providence, and not of an international campaign which seeks to fabricate some sort of excuse, I find myself involved. I would only like to point out that the words which I am saying were not spoken after the death of Juan Wilfredo, but instead on that very morning when the beating took place, as can be proven on the internet by anyone who wishes to check my Twitter account: @maritovoz.
I was not the only religious minister to have had a close relationship with Wilfredo. And I’m not talking only about Cuban pastors. THE STUDENT already made up a part of the normal urban landscape of the Vidal Park in Santa Clara. Various distinguished international evangelical ministers who had visited the city also met with him and established a cordial relationship with him. I will not mention their names, for I do not have the permission to do so, but from afar, I am well aware of their state of emotion towards the subject. From abroad, and also from very near, I am receiving various displays of worry and credibility because of my words. I do not feel like I am alone.
I feel that the Cuban government, which is always unwilling to to open its doors to international investigations, could turn to some sort of specialized and neutral commission which would corroborate in this very lamentable situation. But neither the threatening editorials or the condemnations of half the world will strike fear in me, and neither will their attempts to try and prove the innocence of a desperate government. As the popular saying goes, “Tell me what you brag about and I’ll show you what you lack”. With that said, this village priest will continue repeating with all the power vested on me by justice and truth, that the blood of Wilfredo, like that of any other person whose life was snatched from this world by force, cries out for God from down here in this land.
The burial of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia began on foot from the funeral home to Camacho Street where the Santa Clara cemetery is located, and there his remains were laid to rest. The sun was strong and the heat was intense but those men and women- relatives, friends, or partners in struggle- decided to be witnesses for the rest of the city of the pain they felt for the loss. While they walked slowly and silently, I was watching from behind the funerary march, asking myself “Who will go forth and bring words of support, of hope, words which heal and can only come from Jesus in his most ample condition which can save these suffering people who are in their majority mistreated, imprisoned, beaten, discriminated, vilified, and even betrayed on innumerable occasions?” A faint chill ran through my body. I usually feel this when I see that God has placed me in a situation from which I try to escape. God wishes that instead of burying them as this society does, that we wake them the bread of life and that we love and accompany them amid all their demands that all their shattered rights be respected. I also discovered something that unites me with them, and that is that I also feel like I am part of the Kingdom of Heaven, and yet at the same time I am also a citizen of this land, of this Cuba which is just as much mine as it is theirs, and the rights they are fighting for are my rights as well.
I was greatly moved by the final trajectory when the men carried the coffin on their shoulders, led by the Cuban flag- that symbol which represents all the inhabitants of this land. The rest of the attendees lifted floral offerings to the sky. Throughout the entire march through the city many people were standing at their doors to watch. Others stopped on the sidewalk, and this happened all the way to the cemetery. There was no fervor and no remorse on the faces of those who saw the funerary march pass by them. All the faces were of respect, for their silence implied it. I want to believe that those faces are the real Cuban people who are respectful before the pain of others, incapable of judging their brothers just because they have different ideas, incapable of beating others just because they think politically different, and incapable of hurting, injuring, or mistreating their compatriots.
The final words at the cemetery were spoken by the Sajarov Award recipient, Guillermo Farinas. The pain was evident in his face and in his words: “We cannot do anything at this point to legally accuse those who are the culprits of this death”. I understood at that moment that these people are also denied this right to justice. Those who are responsible refused to carry out a fair and transparent trial, yet the dissidents displayed a great amount of determination upon not remaining silent before the death and all the injustice. This made them examples of dignity and human value in my eyes. One of Farinas’ final words resonated in my heart and I became one with them: “God bless Cuba”. I said, “Amen!” because that is my desire as well, that the God of justice bless our nation.
The Student, as Soto was nicknamed, is no longer among us. However, his body has not been buried, it is a seed that has been planted in arable land that will grow. He is an example for all courageous Cubans. I hope that the events which caused his death are brought to light completely. There are other men and women who continue risking their lives to all sorts of dangers in their attempt to achieve freedom for Cuba. Jesus also died for them, and God also wants to achieve salvation for them. Who will go reach them? Who will heal their innumerable wounds? Who will wet their thirsty lips with the water of eternal life? I know that it is a difficult and dangerous calling, and I know it is a goal which many would like to avoid, but God wants to hear a positive response to this calling: I will go.
The crime committed against Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia has taken an even more treacherous turn as the assassin, upon trying to dust off another death, has used methods so low like releasing a testimony from his sister Rosa who has suffered from psychiatric disorders since her adolescence. She (Rosa) is a person that is greatly susceptible to being manipulated as has occurred in this burdensome case. Her scarce faculties even prevented her from assisting her own brother’s burial, and she only visited the funeral for a few moments because of her severe nervous imbalance. The government also exercised obvious pressures on Madelin Soto, Juan Wilfredo’s niece, and on her husband Yasmil, using the fact that they economically depend on the State. Madelin is a civil worker for FAR and her husband is a law student and both of these positions are easy targets for pressures, which in this case were successful. But in the case of these two, they did attend both the funeral and the burial. They heard my clear words when I had the opportunity to direct my speech to all those who were present as minister for the service. I publicly stated my testimony about my last interaction with Wilfredo when, after 11 am on Thursday May 5th he informed me about the severe beating he had been subjected to on that same morning. That moment became etched in history after I sent out a Tweet narrating just how dismayed I felt.
To me, what proved his statements to me was his terrible death during the morning hours of that Sunday. Although I spoke clearly at the funeral, neither Madelin or Yasmil even tried to correct me on my “errors”. On the contrary, I greeted all the present relatives with the utmost respect, and they all thanked me for the words, including Madelin. These same relatives had even agreed on having Guillermo Farinas speaking the final words at the cemetery. He also passionately denounced the situation and no one argued against him, the same way that no one forced us to leave the cemetery as they made Rosa say in regards to Wilfredo’s son. But what happened after to Madelin and Yasmil? I can’t assure it, but I strongly believe that we find ourselves before an overly vile and quarrelsome government, and I can’t blame the relatives, although I am strongly disappointed by their highly contradictory behavior.
The cowardly pressures were not exerted only on Rosa, Madelin, and Yasmil. They have certainly also tried to abuse the pain of his two children and his mother. Precisely the day prior to publicizing their macabre report, State Security called me pretending to be from a radio station called Evangelical Radio from Madrid, under the direction of a supposed Raul Gomez Echemendia. From the moment I answered I noticed the fraud and took the opportunity to tell them everything I felt and I was able to confirm their extreme worry and their greed towards the family, as they attempted to deceit me to try and get me to help them with the detestable report they were fabricating. Similarly, without any qualms they also repeatedly visited Anisley Soto Soria, Wilfredo’s daughter. Various representatives of the Communist Party, who know her through her work as a nurse, were visiting her numerous times since Wednesday the 11th in an attempt to pressure her to assist a certain event, which was supposedly a tribute for National Nurse Day which was to take place on Thursday the 12th. Of course, she did not attend. On top of ending the life of her father, they wanted to pull out some words out of her or at least get a video of her receiving some sort of diploma to try and show her in harmony with the assassin seeing as that, like everything else in Cuba, something like a simple tribute to nursing can be manipulated and used as a display of “loyalty” towards the regime.
The rest of the testimonies shown on the report were the same ones as always. People who are servile to the government and who lend themselves to play the game of the dictatorship, acting as accomplices while hiding deaths. Ex-officials from the MININT who are now retired and dedicate themselves to sell flowers are in truth personnel of confidence (PC) for the system which are placed in strategic points like Santa Clara’s Parque Vidal. Activities that are now legal, like the sale of flowers, constitute a perfect facade which keeps watch over the plazas and streets for those who think themselves owners.
But the defamatory Granma report released on Thursday the 12th further commits an even more horrendous crime, as if this felony has no limits. After citing the mentioned testimonies, they have the audacity to evoke the “guarantees of the Revolution for more than 5 decades” as a source of further proof. It would have been better for them to simply stick to trying to justify the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto, even if no one believed them, as opposed to opening that immense casserole which is full of many other deaths.
Thinking about it off the top of my head, while still horrified about the death of my friend THE STUDENT, I can quickly draw up some other examples and not of names like the popularly known cases of Pedro Luis Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo, but instead some very local examples: three deaths which still await a serious investigation which would point out the true causes of those already mysterious deaths. If you don’t believe me, you can ask any Taguayabon native:
Ramon (Alo) Casas Carranza, assassinated by a bullet on December 1st 1962, although the case constituted CAUSE No. 12 of 1962 for HOMICIDE by the then Judge of Placetas. Evidently, the real culprit, who took advantage of the anarchic atmosphere, was covered up. At the time, anyone could kill someone else if they were suspected of being “counter-revolutionaries”. According to rumors, it seems to have been a passionate crime hidden behind the euphoria of the moment upon “confusing” Alo with a bandit. If the suspicions of the communities’ memories are after all true, we will find ourselves before a case where it is not only the regime which uses individuals to commit their crimes, but our history is also full of individuals who hide behind the regime to carry out their assassinations. “I’ll cover you, you cover me. I’ll serve you, you serve me”.
Marcos Pareja Gonzalez, a Jehovahs Witness imprisoned under the religious persecution which was unleashed towards this group, was one of the many who let himself die in prison from a disease, without the adequate medical attention which without a doubt caused his death. His was a name out of a multitude of many others that serve as proof of the crimes committed against this religious group, and to this day they have not returned them the list of Registrar Associations as the law states, even when the Cuban state has changed their politics to something more religiously tolerant and not because they are courteous but because they are fully aware of the criminal practices unleashed towards this group, and they know that one day this may reverse itself on them.
Jesus J. Marquez Lemes supposedly committed suicide on August 5th of 2006 while he was detained after trying to unsuccessfully (and illegally) leaving the country after various prior attempts. However, his death was never too clear. There are also some versions which say that he died as consequence of a severe beating which the penitentiary authorities quickly tried to erase. All of us who knew Jesuito know that he never let his will bend and he also did not have suicidal tendencies, and what he really wanted was to live. No one in Taguayabon believed that he died of suicide, and apparently there were also pressures exerted on the family so that they cease any further investigations.
But perhaps the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia will not only serve to unmask his individual decease, but it will also continue the persecution process of a regime that has eliminated thousands. The difference resides that in this case God allowed me to cross paths with the beaten Juan Wilfredo, thus moving me to the point where I sent out the Tweet. And the fact is that God despises lies, including the ones used by those who auto-dominate Cuba but ignore the fact that besides my being a Christian, the nearly 30 other witnesses willing to testify about the final words told to us by THE STUDENT, along with myself, are also Cuba.
Epitaph of Jesuito in the cemetery of Camajuani where he is buried.