I remember one of my last telephone calls from the National Hospital for prisoners in the Cuban capital when I was about to head to Spain. I spoke on the phone with Yoani Sanchez two hours before my exile to Spain. She was at Jose Marti airport to meet me in person and say goodbye, but she wasn’t allowed to do it: in the capital of hatred and intolerance this hug was postponed.
Yesterday the Radio Marti reporter Jose Luis Ramos asked me to call him early in the morning: he knew of the missed meeting. “If you come right now to the station you will see Yoani,” he told me. I left immediately. While the blogger gave an interview, I greeted several friends at the station.
Half an hour after my arrival at Radio Marti, Yoani appeared, accompanied by reporters and Jose Luis himself, who introduced me. The hug was like a tattoo in the mind, repeated over and over. We recalled our work together; she and her husband were always ready to record every one of my articles, which I read over the phone from prison. They made it a priority and other colleagues also helped me.
Yoani at first glance isn’t impressive, but two minutes of conversation are enough to see the intelligence and bravery of this girl. She offers arguments, not attacks on others, and does not vary her discourse in an attempt to please. We planned a later meeting, more private and working.
I think Yoani Sanchez still doesn’t understand the weight that destiny has put in her path and it’s better this way, it helps her not to waver. I was happy and excited, we shared that embrace that was delayed for so many years by bars and distance; a distance that hurts more if you are an exile.
After I read and reread the editorial in the latest edition of the journal Lay Space, the publication of the Archdiocese Lay Council of Havana, entitled: “Commitment to Truth,” it left a nasty taste in my mouth, because the editorial echoed the same accusations — against the peaceful internal Cuban opposition — as Castro’s totalitarian regime has been making all along.
Also, it tries to exalt, as a paradigm of democratic struggle in our suffering country, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, and also to pretend that the editorial speaks in the name of the Cuban Catholic Church and not of the Editorial Board of the above mention Journal of the Laity.
It is well known that there is everything in the vineyard of the Lord; in addition, like good children — good neighbors — we all have strengths and weaknesses, and make mistakes as the human creatures we are. But still, to my knowledge, Cardinal Ortega has not died, and therefore has not been raised to the altars. So, gentlemen, why are you getting ahead of his death and canonization.
Moreover, as in the wise saying: “He who imitates fails”; and you have imitated the masters of the Palace of the Revolution in their unhealthy attacks against civic fighters. And that’s ugly, they should have their own opinions and not “little borrowed phrases.”
Personally, I am Catholic by training and education at the prestigious College of Marist Brothers, here in Ciego de Avila, and I respect and admire the Catholic community, both nationally and internationally, and all Christian and non-Christian denominations that love peace, truth, freedom, justice and love. I wish that God and the Blessed Virgin of Charity bless you and protect you. Amen.
The thinking of José Martí, our Apostle of Independence who, in my opinion, is a paradigmatic spiritual guide for our noble, dignified and peaceful civic struggle for respect for the rights and freedoms inherent to the dignity of the human person which, in a very stubborn way, are violated by Castro’s totalitarian regime.
This Martí thinking faithfully maintains its essential force in the midst of a tremendous crisis of fundamental values in contemporary Cuban society. I quote:
“Whomever sees his people in disarray and agony, no door visible to wellbeing and honor, either looks for the door or is not a man, or at least an honest man. He who is content with a situation of villainy is its accomplice. He is its accomplice whomever considers the remedy he preaches insufficient or impossible, and with a lie in his soul, continues to proclaim the insufficient or impossible remedy. Tyranny is not demolished with those who serve out of fear, indecision or selfishness.”
And there is no other alternative, if you want to live in freedom and democracy, to continue forever, going forward and without hatred or rancor and without the infamous vendetta in the honorable civic struggle to achieve the urgent and necessary transition towards a new democratic and genuine Cuba, where we can achieve the true rule of law and the masterful ideology Martí “with all and for the good of all.” Amen.
Note: Pedro Arguelles Moran, is a former Prisoner of Conscience member of the group of 75 prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003.
Here is another article by Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, Cuban ex-prisoner of conscience currently exiled in Spain. In this essay, Normando makes it clear that exiling, deporting, or simply releasing from prison is not the same thing as being freed, which is a common misconception. The civic Cuban fighter states that dissidents, and ordinary Cubans, will not achieve real freedom until the cynical and totalitarian laws which took people like him to jail for demonstrating peacefully are repealed.
In his own words:
Deportation or Release from Prison is not Freedom
by Normando Hernandez, ex prisoner of conscience
For those who think that with the release of the last 2 prisoners of conscience from the group of the 75, the Cuban government has given freedom to all the peaceful dissidents from the Black Spring who were in prison, I hate to say that you are wrong.
Don’t fall for their lies. Deportation or release from prison is not freedom. Pushing people out of the prisons under Extra Penal Licenses is also not synonymous with granting freedom. Freedom, among its many meanings, signifies having the “right to do and say anything as long as it does not violate any laws”.
And the Cuban laws are there, very active, constantly jailing, assassinating all sorts of freedoms, inalienable rights, and political dissent.
Those who were released under Extra Penal Licenses are still restricted by article 53 of the Constitution of the Cuban Republic (CRC) which prohibits them from expressing any words which go against the purposes of socialist society. In addition, they are also prisoners of Article 39 of that same Constitution which does not permit creative freedom if it is contrary to the Revolution.
Released dissidents cannot legally and peacefully organize themselves because the Cuban government does not acknowledge the existence of other political, social, cultural, or economic organizations to which they (dissidents) belong. This is all because such organizations do not agree with the “tasks of building, consolidating, and defending the ideals of a socialist society” as set forth by article 7 of the CRC.
In addition, these same dissidents are not granted the majority of the inalienable freedoms and rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for the sole reason that the rights defended by the Universal Declaration go against the establishments of the Cuban laws, which state in article 62 that “none of the freedoms granted to citizens can be exercised against the establishments of the constitution and the laws, the existence and goals of the socialist State, or against the decisions of constructing socialism and communism”. And to top it off, this article concludes with a threat: “the violation of this principle is punishable”.
And for those who still doubt, there are the tribunals which, according to the CRC in article 121, “constitute a system of state organs which are hierarchical subordinates of the National Assembly of Popular Power and to the State Council”. We cannot forget that the State in Cuba is a totalitarian one.
As one can clearly see, those who have been released from jail continue being prisoners as long as Cuban constitutional laws do not guarantee individual, collective, social, and political rights, as well as any other fundamental rights. They will continue being prisoners as long as Law 88, best known as the Gag Law, is in practice. They will continue being prisoners as long as there exist any judicial restrictive norms which impede people from practicing their freedoms, and from being able to work in favor of coexistence among all those who seek freedom and democracy.
We can’t forget that the sanctions of those who were condemned were never repealed, and the laws which led to our imprisonment have not been abolished. However, we have all committed to continuing the peaceful struggle in search for Cuba’s freedom, “with all and for the good of all”, as our apostle, Jose Marti, would say.
Let us help him fulfill his promise.
28 March 2011
This post taken from Pedazos de la Isla (Pieces of the Island), where some of the political prisoners — now in exile — who formerly blogged in “Voices Behind The Bars” post their writings.
Exiled in Spain, the Cuban ex-prisoner of conscience Normando Hernandez, just like the rest of his brothers-in-cause, lived a harsh reality behind the bars of the Cuban jail cells. Now, his new life in Spain is supposed to be full of freedoms and opportunities, but his case has proven otherwise. The Spanish government has denied this freedom fighter his right to freely travel in and out of the country on various occasions, the most recent being in regards to an intellectual conference being held in Norway. Spanish officials have declared that the reason for which he was denied from being able to participate was because of his “International Protection in Spain” and “Political Asylum” status. If this really were the reason, Normando points out that this excuse does not make much sense, for travel permits exist which would allow such trips.
Normando Hernandez is not only a Cuban who was been deported, but he is also a Cuban who has continues suffering the lack of freedom in a foreign country, seeing as that, as his own words state, the Spanish government has served as an “accomplice to the totalitarian government of the Castro brothers”.
Here is an essay written by Hernandez, detailing his “trip which never happened”:
Chronicles of a Trip that Never Happened by Normando Hernandez, Cuban ex-prisoner of conscience
I have just returned from where I was not allowed to go. This time, I did not reach the country where the aurora borealis is a tourist attraction. I did not get to visit the nation of the descendants of Leif Erickson (the first European to step on North American soil, nearly 500 years prior to Christopher Columbus). I couldn’t walk the land of the Vikings. I was not able to visit the country which awards the Nobel Peace Prize. The Spanish government did not want me to visit Norway.
On the trip that I could not go on, I had the honor of taking part in “The Bernt Breakfasts”. Bernt Hagtvet is a professor of political science who is popularly known for having written much against totalitarianism and ideological extremes. There, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Norwegian intellectual elite for two hours. Later, we went out to lunch for some Norwegian Cod, this fish which is widely popular in my Cuba.
Along with Professor Steinar Andreas Saether, I headed a conference for University of Oslo students who are studying Spanish and are interested in the subject of the Cuban revolution. We did not need an interpreter to talk about the immortalized Cuban writer, Reynaldo Arenas (1940-1990), author of the novel “The Parade is Over” and more popularly known for his auto-biography, “Before Night Falls”. The Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen was also present in the conversation between the students, who were particularly interested in his poem titled “I Have”, with which he welcomed the revolution in 1959.
In my visit, which never took place, to one of the countries with the highest literacy rates (99%), and which offers free mandatory and public education, I also had the honor of having a debate with Hὰkon Haugli and Jan Torre Sanner, both of whom belong to the Storting (Parliament) support group. I had the satisfaction of meeting Jan Torre Sanner for the second time. He had met with me the first time when I had recently arrived in exile. I spoke to him about the human rights violations committed by the Cuban government and I asked that he intercede for the two brothers-in-cause who still languish away in prison: Felix Navarro and Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia. They are two Cuban prisoners of conscience who are still kept in jail because of their choice to not accept exile in exchange for freedom.
I also exhorted both intellectuals to support Cuba’s most emblematic prisoner of conscience: Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet. I let them know that Dr. Biscet is currently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and that many people, both in and out of the maritime frontiers of the largest island of the Antilles, believe that he is the only person capable of unifying the organized, yet fragmented, Cuban opposition, with the sole purpose of toppling the totalitarian government of the Castro brothers in a completely peaceful manner. “Dr. Biscet needs more help now than when he was in prison,” I expressed to them.
I was in the land of the poet and playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), who is considered to be one of the biggest and most influential playwrights of his era, and who is also the author of “When we Wake the Dead” (the last of his dramatic plays) and “Sofia’s World” (published in 44 languages and having sold more than 15 million copies worldwide). I also met with the philosopher and writer, Jostein Gaarder, who could not have been left out of a reunion with the colleagues of the Norwegian Writers Union.
There, I met with my friend Henrik Hovland, an author who organized the entire trip on which I was not allowed to go. The purpose of the travel was so that my wife, my daughter, and I could converse with politicians, professors, intellectuals, and writers from that Northern European country. I already knew Henrik, for he was the first person to travel all the way to Spain to welcome us to exile. My wife and daughter had already met him in Cuba when the president of the Norwegian Writers Union, Anne Oterholm, traveled to the island with him in 2009 in an attempt to visit my house and give me the Freedom of Expression Award.
This Sunday, 20th of March, the Spanish government did not allow me to participate in the annual assembly of Norwegian writers, nor was I able to express my gratitude to my Scandinavian colleagues for having awarded me such a prestigious prize. The government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also did not want my 8 year old daughter to live one of her dreams: to make a snowman. Nor did they want her to visit an animal museum (both these activities were part of the itinerary).
The justification for not allowing me to leave the Iberian Peninsula is that I am a solicitor of International Protection in Spain (Political Asylum), a law which states that the only place where I can be protected is within the State. While it is certain that this law does exist, it is also true that there are special permits which exist as well. Such permits allow people who fall under the category of Political Asylum to visit the territory of any State, as long as it is not the same country from which the refugee is fleeing from. If this permit did not exist, then last year I would have not been able to visit Brussels, and later, Poland.
It is not the first time that the socialist Spanish government violates my right to travel through Europe. In December, they did not allow me to travel to Germany. But it does not matter, the shame belongs to them, the same ones who are accomplices of Castro’s totalitarian government. It does not matter, because truth always champions over lies, and besides, the true German democrats await me, as do the Norwegian ones, so that they can get to know the true suffering of the Cuban people.
For an audio recording of Pedro’s phone call dictating this post,CLICK HERE
The 43-year-old prisoner Rene Valle Ibarra, also known as “El Bimbo”, who is from Zero Street number 2355 between 4th and Lindero, Luyano Moderno, in the municipality of San Miguel del Padron, declared himself on hunger strike this past February 22nd, demanding his right — according to the regulations set by the Director of Penitentiary Establishments of the Ministry of the Interior within the jail system — to progress to being considered a minimum severity prisoner and to be able to enter work camps and to enjoy furloughs. However, the penal leadership from this Ciego de Avila prison alleges that he cannot be considered minimum severity because he has yet to serve 5 years to achieve conditional freedom. Valle Ibarra has responded to this by displaying a list of various prisoners who are in the same exact conditions as his and are already taking part in the work camp. So then, why yes for some but not for him? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Rene Valle Ibarra, “El Bimbo”, is black and poor.
Pedro Arguelles Moran Group of the 75 Provincial Prison of Canaletas, Ciego de Avila
The Cuban regime “freed” two more political prisoners from the Black Spring Group: Héctor Maseda, husband of the Lady in White Laura Pollan, and Ángel Moya, husband of Berta Soler, also a Lady in White.
All this has been made possible by the efforts of the Ladies in White, the sacrifice of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the long hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas, all the efforts of the internal Cuban opposition, and also international solidarity (from exiled Cubans and also non-Cuban friends).
But it’s important to note that despite this good news there are still 7 prisoners of conscience from the Group of 75 behind bars:
Pedro Arguelles Moran
José Ferrer García
Oscar Elías Biscet
Librado Linares García
Diosdado González Marrero
Iván Hernández Carrillo
Félix Navarro Rodríguez
Also we should note that in addition to these 7 courageous prisoners, there are other political prisoners who are not part of the Group of 75, and Cuban prisons. Freedom for all the political prisoners in Cuba, without conditions!!
Please see Pedazos de la Isla / Pieces from the Island, for more news about the political prisoners in Cuba and the bloggers who appear in translation in Translating Cuba. Voices Behind the Bars is the blog of the prisoners still in prison, and Cuban Voices From Exile, is a blog from some of the released prisoners now in exile.
Note: This interview with a former prisoner of Cuba’s Black Spring of 2003, recently sent into exile in Spain, is from the blog Pedazos de la Isla, Pieces of the Island.
Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, better known simply as “Paneque”, is an example of the brutality practiced by the Cuban government. In his face and in his spirit he carries the scars inflicted on him by a dictatorship which does not tolerate any form of dissent or free thinking. But Paneque is also a prime example of the Cuban man who struggles, of a fearless dissident, and of a free man.
Upon being exiled to Spain, this member of the “Black Spring” group of 75 men has decided to continue fighting for the freedom of Cuba, although he resides in foreign lands. He began writing his own blog, “Diary of an Exiled Cuban”, and he now shares another blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile”, with his brother-in-cause Pablo Pacheco.
The following is the story of Paneque, in his own words:
Paneque, please tell us a bit about your origins. What part of Cuba are you from and how did you grow up?
I come from a traditional Cuban family (my dad was a car mechanic and my mother a housewife), who lived on farmlands in a sugar-producing small town of Southern Cuba. In such a traditional family, the father figure is a symbol to be followed. From my father I obtained an education based on values which had been deeply rooted within the Cuban people and which 50 years of dictatorship had tried to erase. Everything that I learned at home was the opposite of what was being taught to me under the official education system. I didn’t really notice any of this during my childhood or during the first years of my adolescence, but I eventually made the distinction as I continued growing older.
According to what I have understood, you studied medicine. What kind of medicine did you specialize in and how long did you actually get to practice this profession?
Yes, I studied medicine and graduated in the year 1989. I specialized in Plastic Surgery for victims of burn injuries. I worked for 14 years in a Burn Injury Unit in Las Tunas.
What was it that took you from doctor to dissident?
The university was a turning point for me. There, I developed my principles and my ideological positions which have accompanied me up to this very day. That contact with other points of views, opinions, cultures, and realities was a very important moment in my life and inspired me to continue with this struggle for freedom of expression, association, and movement, without having to respond to official convocations as is mandatory in the Cuban system.
I was only waiting for the right moment to express all that I was feeling. That moment came in 1996 with the formation of numerous small dissident groups in the interior of the island. At first, such groups did not have a very well-defined platform but they all had a very strong desire to make some changes in society.
Please tell us a bit about your activities as a civil dissident and independent journalist.
With the passing of the years and with all the daily struggles, everything became much clearer. Tangible projects were set in motion, allowing us to evolve from a state of dissidence to a well-developed opposition platform, which consisted of political movements, alternative cultural projects, professional associations, and the formation of the Freedom Press Agency which launched on March of 1998. All of this was done with very little resources and with notebooks, pens, and using telephone equipment that would allow us to communicate with media outlets in South Florida (United States). All the while, we were well aware that we were taking risks, but with the conviction that we would spread the truth despite the consequences, we were determined to take on the task.
You were jailed during the Black Spring of 2003. Where were you at the moment of your arrest, and what do you remember the most about this day?
I was one of the many detained on the afternoon of March 18, 2003 under the oppressive wave known as the Black Spring, where 75 people throughout different towns and cities of the Cuban provinces were jailed and condemned to sentences of up to 28 years in prison.
From the early hours of that day, the secret police was already watching over my house in Las Tunas. Every time I would walk out and head somewhere I noticed that I was being followed, and in fact, I even received a phone call saying that I was going to be detained within the next few hours, but such methods of intimidation are common practice and I was used to it. For that reason, I continued going about my daily life as usual. What I did not know was that I was in the middle of a massive state security operation known as “Offensive II”.
At around 3:30 pm, while I was with my four young children, state security carried out a search of my home, without taking into consideration that this may inflict psychological damage onto my children. This search lasted for more than 6 hours and they confiscated “material proof” such as a typewriter, a telephone, a fax machine, a short-wave radio receiver, a photo camera, a small voice recorder, various books (not really even taking into account their content), and some medications, some of which were actually for my children.
After a 23 hour period, I was taken to the Provincial Police Investigation Unit of Las Tunas. There, I was thrown in a dark and humid cell which lacked sufficient ventilation and which would be a foreshadowing of what I was going to suffer later. I did not have any means of communication, and without even having a proper trial they handed me a fiscal petition for a sentence of 20 years imprisonment for committing “acts against the territorial independence and integrity of the nation” and “acts against the territorial independence and integrity of the state” based on the pretexts of Law 88, popularly known as the “Gag Law”.
On the 3rd of April a trial was held for me and four other detained dissidents of the same cause in a theater. The entire scene was absurd and all of us were sentenced in the end. At no point in time did any of us five deny that we had acted on principles based on necessary democratic changes. On the next day, the constable notified all of the “accused” of their official sentences. In my case, I was to serve 24 years behind the bars.
In your blog you mention that when you entered prison, you weighed 189 pounds. However, when you were recently released, you only weighed 105 pounds. What was the reason for such dramatic weight loss?
Two days after my “trial” I was taken to the provincial maximum security prison known as “El Tipico” (‘The Typical’). There was where I commenced my journey through hell, which is the best way that the Cuban penitentiary system can be described. Upon arriving we were informed that we would be jailed under major severity in isolation cells for 2 years. All of this while never having committed any crime, or even any in-disciplinary actions in the jail for that matter. Yet, they continued applying the most cruel and inhumane form of punishment on us.
In this prison I was only allowed one monthly phone call, which was obviously heard by and censored by the authorities. I only was allowed visits every three months, while bags of food were only allowed every four months and conjugal visits every five months.
What I did not imagine at the time was that this was going to be the odyssey of a political prisoner of conscience who would go through 9 prisons in 5 provinces of Cuba, all of which were very far from my home and relatives. In Villa Clara, I was in three prisons. In Holguin, I was in two. In Havana, I was in Combinado del Este, and then Granma, and once again back to another prison in Las Tunas.
We were subjected to a severe defamatory campaign in the official media in order to warp and discredit our images among the Cuban population. In addition, we would also suffer by having to hear the live broadcasts of state-run TV shows, such as “Mesa Redonda” (‘The Round Table’) right in the middle of the period known as “the Battle of Ideas”. Clearly, all these programs were prepared by the government in order to promote its own point of view.
We had been cast under the unlimited cruelty of not only being men who were deprived of any sort of freedom of expression and defense, but we were also isolated in deplorable conditions which seriously damaged my health and the health of my brothers-in-cause. I was a healthy man who weighed 189 pounds when I entered the gulags. Less than a year later, I weighed a mere 99 pounds — a severe loss which endangered my life — product of the intestinal indigestion syndrome I acquired in prison. And it was in those same conditions that I arrived to Spain.
How would you describe a typical day in the Cuban prisons to someone who is not familiar with the reality of the island?
Everything starts at dawn when the alarm bells start ringing to announce the first of the 3 “prisoner counts”. But there aren’t always just 3 counts; there could be more depending on any mistakes made by the penitentiary authorities while counting. The prison code considers such “inventories” to be sacred. Violating any of the norms, such as not forming a line correctly, dressing incorrectly, or not remaining silent, could get you a harsh beating on behalf of the guards. Another common punishment is to be kept in a punishment cell for 21 days. After the count there is breakfast, which consists of sugared water, any sort of insipid cereal, and a small piece of bread.
The prisoner who is assigned to clean must do so, if not he pays someone else to do it for them. Some work for no remuneration and accept the humiliation, while others collaborate with the authorities as the only way to “catch a bit of air”, or in other words, step out of jail for a little while. The other option is “five pounds of padlocks” (to get locked away). Prisoners denouncing prisoners is a very common practice in the penitentiaries. Meanwhile, some prisoners actually do the dirty work of the guards — controlling pawns, capital punishment, the sale of drugs, prohibited games (Dice), etc. These specific prisoners count on the approval of the authorities for whom they work.
The isolation and punishment cells are small enclosures of 3 x 1 meters with very scarce ventilation and illumination, for the only opening is a small fence. They are humid cells divided in two sections by a brick wall. On one side there is a latrine – known among prisoners as the “Turk” – which stands on a tube where water flows for only 5 minutes daily and which occasionally does not flow at all; and also a washing place known as a “small boat”. On the other side there is a very narrow bed which is very uncomfortable, even for me, a person of short stature.
As you can see, there is very little free space left to move around. And that’s how I spent my life 24 hours a day, with only the exception of 1 hour reserved for getting some sun, although under very isolated conditions as well (only from Monday to Friday, not the weekends).
I had family visits every 3 months and one phone call per month for 2 years. Afterward, we were to be submitted into a strict and inhumane punishment method applicable to any person where we were prohibited any sort of social interaction. The objective was to “brainwash” us.
Being in a Cuban prison feels as if time has stopped. I was forced by the circumstances I was living under to create protection mechanisms which helped to improve myself and to give me strength to deal with my reality. If you are able to achieve a psychological balance while in jail, then you can determine just how deep the scars will affect you in the future. That’s the reason why many of us who have been deported to Spain have been in such deplorable states of health. In my case, I still harbor a serious scar which I acquired during the days, weeks, and months which I remained behind bars.
In order to survive such an extreme state of loneliness I would carry out a daily routine, starting at dawn, and which occupied my entire day. This process would start with the arrival of water. During those very limited moments, I would fill up my drinking bottles and my shower bucket while I waited for my breakfast — sugar mixed with water, cereal, and a small piece of bread. Then, I would commence my morning prayers. I clearly recall with much devotion how I would find such peaceful refuge within the prayers of the Rosary, that prayer strongly recommended to us by his holiness, Pope John Paul II.
After cleaning out my buckets I then did some exercise (improvised, of course) though I wasn’t accustomed to do this, for my whole life I had been somewhat sedentary. With what I could and with much patience, I would shower and then clean my own cell. I would organize my belongings (though they were not much), later laying in bed to read. At first, I would read universal literary classics such as The Count of Monte Cristo, Los Miserables, or the biography of Fuche — these were the typical selections in a prison, for there were not many other options to begin with seeing that family visits were so sporadic and our literature was tightly controlled and censored. When they felt like it, the guards would bring us national magazines such as “Granma”, “Rebel Youth”, or “Workers”.
It was amid all these processes that our lunch would arrive to our cells. It was nothing appetizing and it would vary from prison to prison. My ingestion was only improved by the food brought by family members during their allowed visits. Usually, the bag of food consisted of 25 pounds of crackers, seasoning, cooking oil, powdered milk, and some type of cereal. After lunch, I would rest for a bit, or they would allow me out to get some sun. Other times I would disorganize my cell, later to just organize it again, I would read some more, I would shower, and then wait for dinner (which I would dedicate more time to than lunch or breakfast). It was really all a ritual to try and distract myself from the reality which surrounded me, refusing to succumb to that dark sadness produced by the vicious and painful cycle.
As is common practice, the system of the Cuban regime not only punishes its political prisoners, but also their family members. In addition to the obvious pain caused by the separation of family what other hardships, what other hardships did your relatives suffer during your time in jail?
The personal decision to confront the Cuban regime also inevitably translates into aggression towards your entire circle of relatives and friends. Like I have previously mentioned, it all begins with a campaign to socially discredit us. Then, we are threatened, excluded from work opportunities, and if none of these methods are effective, then they will resort to physical aggression. And to further attack the family, they imprison and/or isolate us. Such forced separation puts any family man in a very vulnerable position, especially when that man is a father (in my case to four young children who cannot even understand what is happening). Of course, the intent of such actions is to completely annul the opposition. It’s not enough for the government to just destroy our image and isolate us from society.
Those were years of bitter suffering for me and my family, as I resided behind the bars of isolated cells far from my children and wife. But it was even more painful to know of all the hardships my family was subjected to, even though they tried to keep it from me. My wife was threatened on numerous occasions as she demanded my freedom while my kids were victims of mob acts on behalf of groups of people organized by the government’s political police. The government showed no mercy. On the night of August 3rd, 2006, for example, a mob of more than 50 people armed with sticks, stones, and other objects, surrounded and attacked my home. This occurred simply because 7 young Catholics were staying overnight with my family, for they were planning on heading to a meeting at the Cobre Sanctuary in Santiago de Cuba. For more than an hour the government mobs threatened to burn down the house to “get rid of the worms”, while they screamed such slogans like, “Leave!”, “Assassins!”, and “terrorists”, all the while hurling stones.
Presented with such a situation, there was not much I can do. My responsibility was to protect my family, but I was not going to alter my position. Whenever I was able to meet with my family during the allowed prison visits, we actually considered the possibilities of having them go into exile. Various friends of the family suggested the same thing to us. My family, however, refused to leave their sick and imprisoned husband and father behind. The situation was truly unbearable. Eventually, after much dialogue and negotiation I was able to have my family accept my decision. Yet it was very difficult for me, for I did not know if I was going to be able to see them again.
According to what I have understood, you were mixed with common prisoners who were sentenced for violent crimes. Did these prisoners threaten you for being a peaceful political prisoner of conscience?
Well, as you can see I went through 9 prisons in 5 Cuban provinces. I became familiar with the hell known as the Cuban Penitentiary System. I got to firsthand experience their punishment cells, their galleys, their hospitals, and their collective cells where not only political prisoners suffer, but also thousands of other Cubans imprisoned in one of the 200 jails run by the Cuban regime also suffer. In my situation, I was forced to live with all sorts of prisoners. Some actually lent themselves to carry out the dirty work of the authorities, but generally speaking they displayed respect and sympathized with me. It was common for many prisoners to cooperate with us, delivering messages to and from us. In many cases common prisoners would find ways to have our denouncements reach the outside world and this sometimes would actually protect us in a way.
Would you describe your release as a “forced deportation” or your “voluntary acceptance to go into exile”? What was that process like?
I was surprised to find out that I had received a call (to the prison) on behalf of the Cuban cardinal, Jaime Ortega Alamino. He offered me to leave jail if I travel to Spain. It was a moment of much uncertainty and doubts, but in the end I accepted.
I left behind 7 years and 4 months of pain and suffering for me and my family. But I also left behind my homeland- my country, places I will never forget, my friends, brothers in faith, and relatives that perhaps I will not be able to see ever again. However, during all that time spent in prison (and even now) I maintained a strong, positive, and optimistic spirit, for I was very sure of the cause I was defending. I received the cardinal’s proposal with a mixture of happiness and pain. My future promised the possibility of recuperating my freedom, while I left behind so many years of struggles and sacrifices, unfinished projects, and divided families. I was beginning a new stage of my own story- and it was called exile. With this position, I have had to accept the pain of abandoning my country through “the backdoor”.
I quickly went from rotting in a jail to sitting in an Air Europe plane. While I sat inside that immense aircraft which had most of its seats empty, I felt as if it was a never-ending tunnel. At the moment I did not realize that a new sun was rising and that I was about to experience the first winds of freedom.
Cell phones with connections to various press agencies were passed from hand to hand among us- the group of the first 6 released political prisoners. There were also many people present who wanted to congratulate us and take photos with us. All of this gave us much strength to carry on. We know that not all has been lost. Though separated by distance, we are still able to struggle for the return of democracy and freedom to our country.
It was an 8 hour moment full of emotion and signs of respect, love, and solidarity. While one government closed its door on us, another land opened its own doors with generosity. I did not really imagine what was awaiting us in Spain. All our expectations fell short. It was a sea of emotion as we came face to face with a freedom we did not previously know. We did not know how to put these rights, which were given to us for nothing in return, into practice.
In reality, however, we had very little to celebrate. We were only the first prisoners of conscience from a larger group. Eventually over 41 other brothers in cause joined us in exile. Things have changed very little in Cuba. Our release was only a form of “cleaning the face” of a regime which insists on perpetuating pain and suffering for more than 11 million compatriots who are shrouded in deeply-rooted and chronic fear, without being able to find a way out.
Have you been able to reunite with your family?
That is actually still a thorn which deeply pierces my heart. I have been in Spain for 6 months and any sort of family reunion has yet to occur.
Have you been able to re-validate your titles of Plastic Surgeon and Journalist in Spain?
Those questions are actually complicated to answer, due to the confusion attached to the subject. At first, I had the idea that our titles would accompany us on our exile. But 6 months after, nothing is clear. The only certain thing is that we must continue down this path on our own. We are supposed to pay the Cuban government the elevated price it demands for re-acquiring our titles. We are currently in no conditions to pay such prices. Many of us do not have a concrete legal status so it is very difficult for us to enter the work force. And many of those who are officially legal have not been able to find a job that would be able to sustain a family and reclaim our titles. We do not wish to be parasites. We are men who are experienced in working daily and struggling to survive, but we also need opportunities to prove this. This would allow us to continue our struggle with much more freedom.
What message would you give to the Cuban exile which is spread out around the world- from Miami to Europe?
My message is very short. Look within Cuba. Right there, inside the island, are the protagonists of this story. Each of us have played a significant role, but now those of us outside must assist those who remain inside.
And a message for your fellow countrymen back in Cuba?
I’d tell them that they are not alone. Here in the Diaspora there is a very large group of Cubans who also struggle and support them. Many of these exiles are fighting for Cuba in places many of them did not chose to be in, but they also contribute their sacrifice to the cause.
Do you feel optimistic about the future of Cuba?
I do. I feel that all of us (Cubans) will find a dignified and balanced end to the Cuban story. And when I say “all of us”, I mean just that — all of us.
This past 18th of January, it was the 7th year and 10th month anniversary since we 8 members from the group of the 75 were kidnapped by the communist political police. During this entire time, we’ve been hostages of the totalitarian Cuban regime. Two days later, at around 7pm, they took me to the office of the chief director of Canaleta Prison, the penitentiary where I am jailed. The chief was there along with a gorgeous psychologist from the Interior Ministry. They both tried to convince me that, given my age and state of health, the best option for me would be to depart from the island and into exile.
A few days ago, a doctor casually performed a medical check-up on me, informing me that my liver was inflamed and that I could not participate in hunger strikes. I told her that I have no interest in leaving my homeland, for I was born here and I wish to die here. At some point during the exchange of opinions the prison chief informed me that he had contacted me so that I could speak on the phone with Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Ortega, who is also the archbishop of Havana, wanted to speak to me. I made it clear that I didn’t have anything to talk to his Eminence about. During July 10th of last year I already made it clear to him when I spoke to him on the phone that I was not going to leave my country.
The psychologist told me that people change opinions and, in turn, their decisions. I replied to her that yes, she was correct, and that in fact, in the year 1961 (when I was only 13 years old) I joined the Conrado Benitez Brigade in order to work on the literacy campaign. I was also a militiaman, for I had enlisted in the army, as I pretended to be older than I really was. I belonged to the Association of Young Rebels and I considered myself a full-fledged “Country or Death” revolutionary. Today, however, I am anti-Castro and anti-communist, and I am deeply convinced and committed to the honorable civil struggle in order to achieve that democratic transition which we so long for.
The good-looking psychological professional emphasized that the opportunity I was turning down was an opportunity that others were desperately crying out to have. I flat out told her that I was the one who was going to desperately cry out if I were exiled from the largest of the Antilles. In sum, I told the chief of Canaleta that I was going back to my cell and that if Cardinal Ortega called for me, to tell him, on my behalf, that “I do not want to leave my country.” This is a decision I have developed over time and with much conscience ever since 1993, when I actually took part in an attempt to leave the country illegally via Havana. I learned that, amid all the processes against me, my destiny was to remain in my country and to peacefully struggle for the human rights and freedoms which are inherent to human dignity. And this is a decision I will maintain until the very last consequences because my life choice is to continue onward and to uphold the philosophy of Marti, which states, “the duty of a man is to reside where he is most useful.” Amen.
Pedro Arguelles Moran Prisoner of Conscience Provincial Prison of Canaleta, Ciego de Avila
BLOG MANAGER’S NOTE: Don’t miss this post over at the English version of “Pedazos de la Isla.” Miguel Galban Gutierrez is one of the prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, recently exiled to Spain. Here’s a teaser and a link:
Independent journalist, independent union worker, and mechanical engineer, Miguel Galban Gutierrez is a dignified Cuban who was punished by the Castro tyranny or acting like a free man in a totalitarian land. He was condemned to the prisons of the island during the Black Spring, and now resides in Spain- free, but exiled. He has launched his own blog, “Desde el Destierro”, where he chronicles his painful prison experiences and the current events which transpire in Cuba.
Now, Galban and his family seek to start new lives in Spain. Although he resides thousands of miles from his country, Cuba lives in his heart, as expressed through his words and his actions. Here is his story:
“Freedom is the right every man has to be honorable and to think and speak without hypocrisy.”- Jose Marti
“The pain of imprisonment is the harshest of all pains. It slaughters intelligence, dries the soul, and leaves ineradicable scars on one’s spirit.”- Jose Marti
Tell us a bit about your origins- what part of Cuba are you from and how did you grow up?
I was born on January 12th of 1965 in the municipality of Havana known as Guines. I grew up with economic difficulties, for my father was the only one who provided a source of income for my family, which consisted of my other four brothers and I. He suffered a number of consequences for having had a transit accident and they did not allow him to carry out various productive jobs.
But this did not keep me from being raised in a peaceful home. My parents taught us the best morals so that we could be exemplary human beings and Christians, and so that none of their children may succumb to becoming social deviants.
With that upbringing I commenced my studies and achieved a high academic level. In 1992, I graduated from the Jose Antonio Echeverria Superior Polytechnic Institute as a Mechanical Engineer with a Masters in Engineering Maintenance in 1998.
When I began to carry out my professional work I started reflecting my rebellious posture. I began to constantly witness and confront all the irregularities which government officials committed while remaining immune before the laws of society. This special social class has been around since Castro rose to power, and as long as they pay tribute to the revolution, and mainly to the figure of dictator Fidel Castro, then they are exempt from any penalties.
When did you begin your work as an independent journalist? Was it difficult for you to exercise such a profession seeing as you were not working for the state as an “official journalist”?
Once again, the totalitarian Castro regime has not kept its promises- because lies, demagogy, populism, hypocrisy, and cynicism all compose its very essence and nature. Recently, the regime’s Minister of Exterior Lies declared, somewhere in New York at the United Nations, that the members of the group of the 75 who still remain kidnapped as hostages, would be released under extra-penal licenses before the 26th of October. Of course, that was just another lie.
Now, this past November 7 was the four-month deadline for our release, according to a press release issued by the archbishop of Havana which was published in the official communist newspaper, Granma, this past July 8, and which the Latin Press also reported. That was yet another lie. From the group of the 75, there are still 13 of us who remain behind the bars. We are the ones who do not accept abandoning our country, but everything seems to indicate that the Cuban communist regime is bent on banishing as many dissidents as possible from the country, while more than one million of its this worker’s “Eden” current slaves are going to be thrown into the street. Personally, I do not have the least bit of interest of leaving to any other country. I only wish to continue here in my country, as a peaceful fighter for the rights and freedoms inherent to the dignity of the human person.
Pedro Arguelles Moran
Group of the 75
Provincial Prison of Canaletas, Ciego de Avila
Generally, awards give rise to controversies, and that is normal. Only totalitarian regimes are bent on wanting everyone to think and act the same way. But, despite some voices who disagree (most of which come straight from those who defend the regime), the most popular and prestigious awards handed out throughout the world during the last couple of years have favored the struggle for democracy.
First, the Norwegian Academy prized the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, with the Nobel Peace Prize. Days later, the journalist and peaceful Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has been awarded the Sakharov prize. Both of these fighters share a common characteristic: Liu and Fariñas both defend human rights, and have both suffered political imprisonment for promoting civilized changes in their respective countries. Most likely, neither of these two men will be able to accept such awards, which were achieved after much effort, willpower, and courage, in person.
The Cuban authorities have systematically violated the rights of Cubans to exit and return to their countries freely. And this is the third occasion that one of our very own has won the Sakharov prize – a fact that I am beyond proud of. The first recipient was Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (2002). In 2005, the Ladies in White were distinguished with the award, and now it has been Fariñas’ turn. But the authorities of Havana did not authorize the representatives of this group of women to pack their bags to assist the ceremony being held at the European Parliament to receive the award. And, if Paya was able to take that trip in 2002, it was solely accredited to the pressures of the international community.
The process of the liberation of Cuban political prisoners, which went underway this past summer, and of which I benefited from, was made possible to various factors. The unfortunate death of the political prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was what put the whole process in motion. Later, we must signal out the bravery displayed by the Ladies in White, the firm attitude kept by those who were imprisoned due to reasons of conscience, and the final straw was the hunger strike undertaken by Fariñas, which had the purpose of demanding freedom for the gravest of the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring. All of this was further backed up by a strong wave of international pressure.
This is why I cannot help but congratulate (and appreciate) Fariñas for his Sakharov Prize, which he has dedicated to the Cuban people. His recognition of all democratic Cubans leaves it very clear that he will continue fighting for democracy in Cuba.
Miguel Galban speaks before the International Confederation Union.
First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for allowing me this opportunity to be here with you today. I will briefly tell you about what happened to me in my country. My name is Miguel Galban Gutierrez, and I was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, being sentenced for 26 years of confinement, and afterwards, I was condemned to a life sentence by the Ministry of the Public Prosecutor. My trial did not consist of any lawful procedures, at all. At the moment of my detainment, I was the sub-director of the National Center for Training Labor Union (CNCSL) and a journalist for the independent newspaper Habana Press. My work simply consisted of denouncing the Cuban reality to the rest of the world, and similarly, in the union, my job was to provide the peaceful opposition and the Cuban workers with efficient information that would further allow them to defend their rights as workers.
I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and later completed my Masters Degree in Maintenance. I would like to point out that, ever since the year 1998, the Cuban government has denied me the right to perform as a professional just because of my political views and my rebellious attitude. Let’s not forget that in my country the only employer is the government.
I must tell you all that during my unjust confinement, which lasted longer than 7 and a half years, I was tortured both physically and mentally, and I was humiliated and harassed both my prison guards and by officers from State Security.
When I was first thrown into prison, they placed me in a penitentiary that was located nearly 180 Kilometers from my house. This prison was known as the dark and fearful Aguica, a stronghold of torture and horrible treatment, considered by the regime to be at the “forefront” of all those other terrible places which can be found throughout my entire Cuban island. When I arrived at that place, there was a sign hanging at the entrance which foreshadowed the horrors I was about to endure in that living Castro-ite hell. It read: “You have arrived to Aguica. If you don’t fix yourself, we’ll fix you.” And so they would try, with the only two methods that they know- horrible treatment and beatings. I was able to confirm this on many occasions during my stay there for four years in a half, while they kept me confined to that dungeon of torture known as 15 & K, which happens to be the same spot where the headquarters of the National Direction of Established Penitentiaries resides.
The most repressive of the torturers there was captain Emilio Cruz Rodriguez. I recall one occasion when he applied an asphyxiation technique on me, with the help of various henchmen of course. This painful process consisted of him pressuring both of his hands around my neck, pushing down on my carotid artery until I was at the point of nearly passing out. For a few days after that, the area which he pressed down on was deeply bruised. He got permission to do all of this from the director of the prison unit, captain Diosdado More and a State Security official called Porfirio Penate.
This place I am telling you about does not offer the prisoners adequate food or medical care. We lived in subhuman conditions, while we’re all crammed into overcrowded spaces- spaces which are about 24 meters squared, where 24 prisoners must live side by side. There is a lack of ventilation, illumination, and the hygiene is terrible. There is no psychiatric attention available for the prisoners, and therefore, the levels of suicides and self-inflictions are very high in comparison with other jails throughout the country. Furthermore, the prisoners do not have the right to receive any mail, while the few who are actually allowed to receive some have no privacy whatsoever, for guards give them in their letters only when they have read it first and understood it. Only then can a prisoner receive his open envelope.
As for the medical attention I received during my prison years, I can say that it was nearly nonexistent. I waited for more than 5 years to have an endoscopy performed on me because of my gastrointestinal problems. My vision has been strongly affected, as has been my hearing. Many of my teeth have deteriorated while some of them are missing, due to the strong pains which I felt in some of them, leaving me no other choice than to take them out. The stress I suffered from left some serious consequences, as well as lots of damage to my memory. I have undergone some serious misfortunes that will forever mark my life, like the death of my mother, who passed away on October of 2008. Her death was not a product of a biological disease, but instead solely due to all the suffering she went through because of my unjust and cruel imprisonment. In addition, she was not able to visit me, for the distance was very far and she was not able to travel for such long trips. The Cuban authorities only allowed me to see her twice.
The Cuban regime did not just condemn us, but also our families. They were victims of such repressive mechanisms for 7 years and a half. We must keep in mind all the difficulties they confronted just to visit us and take us essential things we needed to survive in those cemeteries of living men. Our families deserve to be acknowledged for all their bravery.
My niece, who was doing very well in her job as an information specialist, was forced to quit after they punished her with slashing her salary by 50%, for the sole reason that the Cuban Intelligence Unit had found out that she received an e-mail from someone abroad who was asking about my condition.
Cuba has not changed, and it violates all international covenants of the International Worker’s Organization (OIT) which it has signed. Cuban workers are continuously denied the right to strikes, to peacefully protest, and to move freely to the capital to find work. Workers on the island are defenseless in the face of such arbitrary measures formulated by their employers, they suffer discrimination at work for political beliefs, and they are forced to affiliate themselves with the CTC which is the official union that is a subordinate of the state and run by the Communist Party. Furthermore, they are required to assist political activities and must be paid according to union quota.
I find myself here today not because I was released as a result of a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Cuban authorities. Instead, I have been used as a token of trade which had the objective of ending the measures which the European Union has kept towards the Castro regime. My decision to accept such a deportation has been strictly because of family, for they could no longer continue to be victims of the dictatorship. They deserve honorable lives, decent lifestyles, and to live in freedom just like our creator wanted for all people.
We hope we can count on support from all of you so that during the next International Worker’s Conference, which is scheduled to take place on June 2011 in Geneva, the Republic of Cuba will be included in the list of the 25 countries which violate worker’s rights the most. We hope that a mission goes underway that members of the CSI or of OIT could meet with Cuban union members, whether they are official or independent, so that they can see the reality. Independent workers carry out their labor in very dangerous conditions, just like my own case which I testified here before you: they sent us to prison with very long sentences, forcing us to live side by side with actual dangerous criminals charged with elevated rate of dangerousness, molesters, and murderers. In addition, we hope that our case be present in the OIT and in the annual report made by the CSI, because the Castro-brother’s government continues with its inactivity.
May God bless you all,
Thank you very much,
The blog, “Voices Behind the Bars” would like to welcome Miguel Galban Gutierrez, one of the independent journalists imprisoned during the Black Spring 2003, and who is now exiled in Spain.
Miguel Galban has written the following entry as an appreciation for being granted the “Freedom of Expression Award 2011″.
I would like to communicate through you, who I spoke to upon arriving to Madrid, that I was extremely joyful for being prized with this award from the Association which you preside over- the Freedom of Expression Award 2011.
The award is not mine alone; it also belongs to those people locked away in the jails who kept a confrontational posture towards the Cuban regime and all the violation of human rights they commit in those cemeteries of living men, known as prisons.
On the same note, I should point out that I can now enjoy freedom (but while I reside far from my homeland) as a product of various recent political events which have occurred in my country and which have spawned from the prolonged hunger strike from the political prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who simply demanded better living conditions in the jail cell which he was carrying out his unjust sentence. Afterwards, we also witnessed the 135 day hunger strike of the psychologist and independent journalist Guillermo Farinas Hernandez. Farinas, on more than once occasion, was on the border with death while he demanded the authorities of the island to free the 26 prisoners of conscience who were in grave states of health and that could easily suffer further illness or death at any given moment as long as they remained in the regime’s prison cells.
Furthermore, we must also mention the brave and dignified Ladies in White, the group of women which would be present at mass weekly in the Santa Rita church, every Sunday. They suffered beatings and harassments carried out by thugs and paramilitary groups sent out by the Castro brothers with the intent of frightening them and keeping them from publicly demanding that their loved ones- husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers- be freed. But they strongly resisted.
The success of the negotiations put into effect after May 19th, between the Cuban Catholic Church and the authorities of the island, was greatly attributed to the international campaign for our release, which went underway from the very moment of our arrests. Democratic governments, international organizations, and people of goodwill throughout the world all contributed. We must also mention the perseverance of this religious institution which has wisely and patiently tried to implement understanding.
In social processes, it is very difficult to predict the future and much less to establish frameworks, but it is very clear that the social and economic situation of my country is very serious and could easily further deteriorate within the next couple of months if the government does not implement any democratic changes. Everything points out that we are in the final phase of the Castro-brother dictatorship- we only have to determine when and where this will occur.
I am taking up the project of continuing to write about the Cuban reality, even if at this very moment I don’t have the necessary resources to continue doing so.
Salutations and hugs for all of you, Miguel Galban Gutierrez
Europe shouldn’t normalize relations with the Castro regime until it transitions toward real democracy.
By JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ
The Spanish government believes that by releasing a few political prisoners, Cuba has now made enough advances in human rights and democracy to allow the European Union to normalize relations with the island. Madrid couldn’t be more wrong.
Although I was one of the lucky ones to be released and to arrive here in Spain with 38 other former Cuban political prisoners, my home country remains under the stern grip of an oppressive regime. Let me tell you the stories of some of those brave dissidents still left behind.
Among the many victims of the 2003 crackdown on regime critics is Felix Navarro Rodriguez, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail. I knew him for a long time as a peaceful oppositionist with great popular roots in his village, where he had been a high-school principal. We met again in Canaleta prison, where I was serving a 15-year sentence for my fight for democracy. He never even considered leaving Cuba. His daughter, Sayli Navarro, was expelled from university as a further punishment for his “crimes.”
Another Castro victim is Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, an economist sentenced to 18 years in jail. At 68 he is the oldest of all the 75 dissidents imprisoned in 2003. He has always said that he wants to die in Cuba. His old and fragile mother is still awaiting his release.
Or consider the fate of Pedro Arguelles Moran, who is 62 and was sentenced to 20 years for his work as an independent journalist. We were both in Canaleta prison, but never in the same section. He suffers from cataracts and when we met at the dining hall, always separated by iron bars, he would recognize me first by my voice. He says no one will ever get him out of Cuba.
Felix, Arnaldo and Pedro are three out of 12 political prisoners who have decided to remain in Cuba. The Cuban regime says it will release all the remaining political prisoners from the group of 75, even those who have no intention of leaving Cuba after being freed. But so far they all still remain in jail.
I respect the mediation of the Spanish government. Partly thanks to Madrid’s efforts, I am free today. But the fact that a group of us are now in Spain when a couple of months ago we were in prison, does not mean that the Cuban dictatorship has fundamentally changed.
We were unjustly jailed and arbitrarily condemned in a sham trial with no real access to defense counsel. (I saw my lawyer only once for five minutes just before the hearing.) We were given very harsh sentences—on average almost 20 years—for our peaceful and civic opposition. Searches of our homes produced no weapons, and nothing we wrote contained any incitement to violence.
We were kept under inhuman conditions, in overcrowded cells that we had to share with common criminals. We were locked away far from our families—in my case 777 kilometers from Havana—which, given the difficulties of transportation in Cuba, imposed an additional, cruel punishment on my loved ones.
Spain wants to normalize relations with Cuba because Havana quasi-banished us, with no documentation recognizing that we had been set free, when we should have never been sent to prison in the first place. Even if all political prisoners had been freed in Cuba and given the opportunity to decide their own fate and to continue their struggle in Cuba for democracy and for human rights, it would have been merely a first step. It would have been an indispensable but not sufficient condition to determine that Cuba has started its transition toward democracy.
Until the Castro regime repeals all its laws violating human rights, allows multi-party elections, free trade unions and independent media, and lets Cubans participate fully in our economy and travel freely, any attempt to normalize relations with Cuba would be premature.
By giving the Sakharov Prize last Thursday to Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas, who has spent 11 years in jail as a political prisoner, the European Parliament has made a clear statement that the struggle for freedom in Cuba is far from over. What should be on the negotiating table is not a token group of political prisoners, but a real prospect for a democratic Cuba.
Mr. Sainz is a journalist and translator who, in the spring of 2003 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for exercising freedom of expression. Since last August he resides in Spain.
Note from Translating Cuba: JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ, while in prison in Cuba, blogged on Voices Behind the Bars. This op-ed was published on October 25, 2010, in The Wall Street Journal and we are reprinting it here for his loyal readers who might have missed it there.