A Hug in Miami / Pablo Pacheco

abrazo

Pablo Pacheco, prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring now in exile, meets Yoani Sanchez for the first time. Yoani and friends in Cuba and abroad managed to publish a blog for Pablo and other Black Spring prisoners, “From Behind the Bars,” while they were still in prison in Cuba.

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.

riendoYoani 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.

microfono

3 April 2013

Unfair Penalty / Felix Navarro

The citizen Francisco Navarro Acuna, retired, self-employed under the current labor legislation, provides cargo services through his son Florencio and grandson Aliester in the 1951 Ford truck, license plate MDN 511 and operating license No. No-0147-04 established by ONAT, the national tax office, for these cases.

Florencio was hired in January 2011 by supposed citrus-growing farmers in Jagüey Grande and for them carried a bag full of oranges to Havana destined for the “supply and demand” market. The police inspected the truck at a roadblock and accused the owners of collecting the fruits in the citrus plantations of the Cuban state.

The hearing of the trial court held in the Jagüey Grande on August 29 sanctioned Florencio to the seizure of the truck owned by his father, plus two thousand dollars in fines. A punishment ratified by the Jovellanos court on October 5 when the trial took place on the appeal.

This sanction is motivated not by the offense committed by the farmers which Florencio has nothing to do with (the real fault is that Florencio is a cousin of former prisoner of conscience Felix Navarro) because he only drove the truck and does not have to act as the police himself when he is hired to make a trip. The contractor never investigates what he carries.

The prosecutor’s request gave the option of two years’ imprisonment (to be served on parole) and more than two thousand dollars fine, but the judgment made on 29 August upholds the first sanction of two thousand dollars in fines and forfeiture of the truck.

In short: Florencio approved the trip without knowing the illicit origin of the product. His father Francisco and his son Aliester knew nothing about it and now all three suffer the arbitrary punishment.

2 December 2011

Car and Bag / Pedro Argüelles Morán

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.

8 June 2012

Spiritual Guide / Pedro Argüelles Morán

from internet

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.

23 June 2012

“Deportation or Release from Prison is not Freedom”/ Normando Hernandez Gonzalez

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.

Spain Limits Human Rights of Ex-Cuban Prisoner of Conscience Normando Hernandez / Voices From Exile

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.

This very important post comes from “Pieces of the Island.”

March 24, 2011

Prisoner in Canaletas on Hunger Strike / Voices Behind The Bars – Pedro Argüelles Morán

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

Translated by Raul G.

2 March 2011

Zapata Forever / Pedro Arguelles Moran, Voices Behind the Bars

Link to recording of Pedro reading this text.

For the members of the 2003 Black Spring Group of 75 who still remain as hostages of the Cuban totalitarian regime, this February 18 will mark 7 years and 11 months since their having been kidnapped by Castro’s political police. Five days later I will turn 63, and the same day will be the first anniversary of the infamous murder or the martyr of democracy, our beloved brother of ideas and civil struggle Orlando Zapata Tamayo, left to die on his heroic hunger strike to reclaim the rights and freedoms inherent in the dignity of the human person. But Zapata lives and will live forever in every man and woman who peacefully fights for respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to achieve the long-awaited democratic transition toward a new Cuba where the ideals of Marti and Christianity reign: Truth, Freedom, Justice and Love. Amen!

Pedro Arguelles Moran
Prisoner of Conscience
Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Ávila

Hector Maseda and Angel Moya Released From Prison / Pedazos de la Isla

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.

“Though separated by distance, we are still able to struggle for the return of democracy and freedom for our country” / Jose Luis Garcia Paneque

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.

Photo taken from the internet

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.

Decisions / Pedro Arguelles Moran / Voices Behind The Bars

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

Half a Year / Voices Behind The Bars / Pedro Arguelles Moran

The Ladies in White below the Capitol steps in Havana

Six months have passed since I turned down the opportunity to go into exile. During all that time, the communist Cuban regime has been breaking its own promises of releasing us—the members of the group of the 75 who have decided not to abandon our homeland. On numerous occasions during this half year they have moved away from shattering the infamous gates that separate us from our family and social environment. Clearly, the totalitarian Castro regime does not have the least will to free us and they intend to banish us at whatever cost. There is simply no possible justification to hold us hostage as prisoners.

There is no pressure that can possibly force me to abandon my country, and much less to abandon the exalted and dignified civil struggle for the respect of human rights and freedoms inherent to the dignity of all human beings. In a very stubborn way, these rights and freedoms are being systematically and institutionally violated, from the very moment the government seized power by force of arms, intimidation, and terror in 1959. We will continue working peacefully to achieve the so yearned-for and suffered democratic transition to a state where rule of law, civil society, and social justice all thrive.

Pedro Arguelles Moran
Prisoner of conscience, Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.

January 10, 2011