“The Sacrifice to Obtain Freedom Comes with a Very High Price” / Miguel Galban Gutierrez

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”?

FIND OUT MIGUEL’S ANSWER TO THIS AND OTHER QUESTIONS HERE.

Arguelles: “The Habit of Lying” / Voices Behind The Bars

Recording of Pedro’s phone call dictating this blog post.

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

Translated by Raul G.

November 11, 2010

Sakharov for Fariñas: Acknowledgment of Cuban Democrats / Voices Behind The Bars

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.

- Pablo Pacheco

Translated by Raul G.

October 27, 2010

Galban: Testimony before the CSI (International Confederation Union) / Voices Behind The Bars

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,
Miguel Galban

Translated by Raul G.

October 24, 2010

Miguel Galban Gutiérrez: Gratitude for Freedom of Expression Award 2011 / Voices Behind The Bars

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″.
___________________________________________________________

Covadonga Porrúa,

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

Translated by Raul. G.

November 2, 2010

Free Cuba / JUAN ADOLFO FERNÁNDEZ SAINZ

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.

Fulfilled What? / Voices Behind The Bars / Pedro Arguelles Moran

My sister in the civil struggle, Marta Beatriz Roque, commented to me that the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, had recently declared in New York that Cuba “had fulfilled” its promise. And now, I ask myself: did the totalitarian Castro-ite regime honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Did Cuba fulfill the observance of international economic, social, and cultural pacts and the civil and political pacts which it signed nearly two years ago but has not yet ratified in the State Council nor put into practice into the Socialist Cuban Constitution? Did the regime in Havana adhere to documents which it signed during the Ibo-American Summit? Did Cuba respect the principles highlighted in the UN charter?

In sum, did it fulfill the implementation of democracy, respect for rights, and social justice in Cuba? And if Mr.Moratinos said this in reference to the exile of the majority of my brothers from the group of the 75 to Spain, then I should remind the chief of Spanish diplomacy that each one of us are all prisoners of conscience, so declared by the prestigious NGO Amnesty International, which means that we should have never been kidnapped as hostages of the communist Cuban regime in the first place. And, much more important than our immediate release, I’d like to remind him that what is necessary is the unblocking of our rights and freedoms which are inherent to all members of Cuban civil society.

Mister Moratinos: We are peaceful fighters and social communicators who, peacefully, try to upheld rights and freedoms to be respected equally for all Cubans. We are not secret agents of foreign countries, and we are not mercenaries at the service of any nation. Our noble and dignified struggle only aims to bring truth, freedom, justice, and love to the largest of the Antilles.

Translated by: Raul G.

October 11, 2010

Scars in the Memory / Voices Behind The Bars / Pablo Pacheco

Remembering the happy days is not a problem; forgetting the days of captivity is nearly impossible, for the wounds deeply scarred my soul. Now that I have more time to meditate, I ask myself: how did I survive so much human misery? A misery which is not only linked to the penal population, for I must say that I did meet many decent men in prison who were tossed down to that lower level world of captivity by the exclusive system which has been ruling in Cuba for more than half a century. Without realizing it, they have also becomes victims of the dictatorship.

After the brief and manipulated trials against the accused of the group of the 75, the machiavellic mind of Cuban intelligence systems and the head of the PCC decided to scatter us throughout various Cuban prisons located all over the island, all of which were hundreds of kilometers from our original homes. It was an additional punishment to our families and also an experiment to try to get us to surrender. They were mistaken. My wife (who I must say is the main source of pride in my life) and son, both who carried the heaviest burden, did not miss a single visit. My son got his start visiting the prisons at the young age of 4.

Looking back on the day that I was transferred, together with three other brothers in cause, from the headquarters of State Security Operations in Ciego de Avila to the Western region of the island, I can clearly remember the pompous process carried out by the police, as well as the bravery displayed by my companions. This, along with the assurance that we were jailed unjustly, evoked an additional strength in me which allowed me to survive more than 87 months of imprisonment.

Pedro Arguelles was transferred with us. Him and I both were sentenced to 20 years of prison by the provincial tribunal of Ciego de Avila. Unfortunately, he is still in captivity, because hate and intolerance do not allow the regime to understand that he wishes to remain in Cuba, even if it means that he will forever have the sword of Damocles lingering over his head. Other prisoners have taken this same stance as well.

I arrived at the penitentiary of “Aguica” on April 19th, 2003. There, they ordered Manuel Uvals Gonzalez, Alexis Rodrigues Fernandez, and myself to get off. The officers of the interior order carried out a minimal search of our belongings and then moved us to different areas of the prison, very far from one another. They figured that cutting communication among us would be another form of severe punishment. They were wrong about that, as well.

That night, my bed was the floor. The cell I was assigned was the 4th one from the ground floor. I was surrounded by dangerous people who had been sanctioned to life sentences for homicides, while others were being kept isolated due to acts of serious indiscipline, but they all displayed their solidarity with me, just like they would also do with Blas Giraldo Reyes from the group of the 75. If I were to say that I slept that night, I’d be lying. Instead, my mind traveled 400 kilometers to my humble home, where I would be with Ole and Jimmy. The latter, my son, would be the one who understood less of what was really happening. At the point where I found myself deepest in thought, the bell went off, announcing the morning chores we were to carry out in “Aguica”. The worst was yet to come, but I’ll leave that story for a latter time.

Pablo Pacheco

Translated by Raul G.

October 1, 2010

Hunger Strike / Voices Behind The Bars / Pedro Aguelles Morán

The political prisoner, Lamberto Hernandez Plana, declared himself on hunger strike on September 23rd.

Hernandez Plana is 41 years old and hails from a home on 24th street number 109, between 15th and 17th in Vedado, in the municipal capital of Plaza of the Revolution. He is one of the ones from the group that was transferred from Camaguey in 2007 to Aguica in Matanzas when they went on strike in the prison of Kilo8 in protest of the deaths of various common prisoners caused by guards.

On the 23rd of September they once again transferred him to Camaguey, where those murderous guards reside. According to him, he is transferred so much because they do it in order to avenge themselves and to keep him exiled from his native City of Havana, for he has already been outside of the capital for 18 years.

Lamberto Hernandez Plana has informed me that he will not eat until he is in the City of Havana, while he suffers from ulcers, severe gastritis, duodenitis, a stomach hernia, and also poli-neuropathy, and he does not have any medicines in his reach right now as he finds himself in transit from Canaleta to Camaguey.

Pedro Aguelles Morán
Provincial Prison of Canaleta
Ciego de Ávila

Translator: Raul G.

October 1, 2010

A New Path / Voices Behind The Bars / Pablo Pacheco

Painting: “Lighthouse” by Seamus Berkley

In no time, life could take a 360 degree turn. Just two months ago my fate was in limbo. I would frequently ask myself, “will I come out dead or alive from this living tomb of men?” I was serving a 20 year prison sentence, of which I had already completed 7 years and 4 months in 3 different maximum security prisons throughout various locations in Cuba. On one unforgettable morning, I heard the voice of Cardinal Jaime Ortega emanating from the phone in the office of the director of Canaleta Prison. The words he told me were very similar to those spoken by the archbishop of Havana to other prisoners of conscience who now live exiled thousands of miles from their homeland. This offer has been turned down by some of the other prisoners who still remain in captivity.

I don’t think anyone has the most minimal idea about how life outside of Cuba is until they get to experience it firsthand. It’s not easy, but my innate optimism is telling me that things will turn out alright. My time in the temporary Red Cross foster center for 2 months has been mixed with questions and stumbles. We now have a new path ahead of us; now my family has official residency in Spain, a work permit, and we are receiving much warmth from the people of Malaga. In a few minutes, I will go out in search of an apartment, enroll Jimmy in school, and try to find myself a job. The latter will probably be the most difficult part, because it is no secret that there are 4 million people unemployed, according to official statistics. Yet, my optimism is multiplying: I should continue onward, carrying the sadness of knowing that Cuba is physically absent from me, but always reassuring myself that she continues living on in my memory.

Pablo Pacheco

Translated by Raul G.

September 18, 2010

The Cuban Model Does Not Work / Voices Behind The Bars / Pablo Pacheco

(“Photo taken from blogforcuba.typepad.com”)

The recent declarations made by former Cuban president Fidel Castro to the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg have started an international media commotion. Within the island, however, the repercussions remained virtually unknown to the population because, save for a few exceptions within the power nomenclature and a minimal number of citizens who have the rare opportunity to inform themselves, barely anyone has heard the maximum leader acknowledge, 51 years after his ascent to power, that “the Cuban model does not work, not even for us”.

It is interesting but I don’t understand it. Why such a commotion over a fact that has already been confirmed? The peaceful Cuban opposition has been stating this for a very long time now, and just for saying that same phrase the authorities sent 75 dissidents to prison in March of 2003, many of whom are still imprisoned, and not to mention the long list of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience that have passed through Castro’s prisons during half a century of totalitarianism.

This whole egotistical show put on by the figure who is still the First Secretary of the Communist Party simply means that only he can speak without censorship. From my point of view, I don’t think that the “revolutionary leader” regrets his sins and that he is starting to ask for forgiveness. His love of power and his need to “represent” are now leading him, senile and all, to make many errors, which luckily for us, display his true personality.

Now, the Cuban government has started to try to adopt measures that distance it from its usual and traditional leftist politics. What will happen now with the “Cuban model”? It’s difficult to predict. Cuban civil society needs free space, and perhaps Fidel’s words can serve as a point of reference so people could start demanding their freedoms. The everyday citizens, who are worn out by ideology and tormented with vital problems, need a viable model that would once again grant them a dignified way of life and would allow them to join global society. They are in need of a country where screaming out what their conscience feels into the four winds is not a penal sin. Those who still live off of the State, hanging onto its every word, have just received a warning. In reality, it wouldn’t cost a thing to toss this “utopian” and archaic Cuban model into the trash can, changing it for a new system where we would all have the access to rights.

Pablo Pacheco
(This essay was written by Pablo Pacheco for the newspaper “La Epoca”)

Translated by Raul G.

September 18, 2010

Escape to Eternity / Voices Behind The Bars / Omar Ruiz Hernandez

-Painting by Lori Mcnamara

December 16th 2006 could have been a day just like any other in detachment No. 1 of the Sancti Spiritus provincial prison. But that day we awoke, in addition to a requisition, with the news that Javier had just injected petroleum in his legs with the aim to have them amputated in order to receive a possible release from prison. Just two months before, Pedrito, another recluse of that same detachment, had just done the same just to find himself being confined to a wheelchair.

However, “luck” was not on Javier’s side. Apparently, he managed to pinch a vein. Since he was not attended to with the urgency that was needed, the infection grew to the point that it contaminated his whole body and he died one week after. He was only 37 years old when he died and had spent 19 years in prison. The crime for which he was sent to prison for at the young age of 18 was that of selling jewelry which he had found buried and which the government had decreed that they belonged to the national patrimony- according to one of his unfortunate companions. He was sentenced to 6 months of jail just for that act, yet he was never again released. Just before completing his entire sentence he escaped and robbed again. For this he was condemned to several years more in prison. Later, he repeated these acts on several occasions. His situation just seemed to be getting more and more complicated, and at the time of his death he still had 15 more years of jail time to serve.

But Javier is not the only fatal case of this prison. Just a few months ago a recluse of another detachment swallowed some wires, and because he was also not attended to with urgency, he died just a few days later. Self-infliction in Cuban prisons is a very common practice. Prisoners regularly lacerate their own bodies, they sew their own mouths shut (sometimes with wires), they inject petroleum into themselves (like Javier), or they even inject their own excrement, and I have also heard of some pretty unimaginable self-inflictions, like inserting wires up a urethra, poking ones eyes out, or even injecting oneself with HIV.

Before this grim scenario, which I was a witness of in more than one Cuban prison, the question arises: Why do prisoners in Cuban jails hurt themselves? I really do not know if this also happens in jails in other places of the world, but in the ones found in my country, this phenomenon was something that impacted me greatly. The reasons for such self-inflictions, in most cases, stem from the decisions made by the prison authorities to deny the prisoners the rights to certain benefits which they are supposed to have access to after having spent a certain amount of time in jail, and in accordance with good conduct, as is outlined by that very prison system. Some of these benefits include being moved to a farm or a camp where prisoners would enjoy more freedom, or also being moved to a jail situated closer to their original place of origin.

But lying behind these reasons are other ones that deserve to be analyzed on a deeper level. Perhaps, you might say, it is work that can be done by a psychologist or a sociologist. Meanwhile, according to the way I see it, these self-inflictions are greatly motivated by the feelings of desperation and impotence felt by the prisoners upon facing such a prison and judicial system that imposes long sentences for childish crimes, all the while leaving the prisoner with little or no time to occupy their minds. If prisoners were allowed to work, at least for a while, in prison, this could become a source of revenue for the recluse. Such a case would allow them to send money to family members or even to make enough to buy certain nutritional products or supplements that would provide healthier personal alternatives, which are things that are very limited in Cuban prisons. In the farms, common prisoners are allowed to work and are sometimes rewarded.

Ingenuity and creativity among Cubans is widely acknowledged, and perhaps many of these prisoners would have never engaged in criminal behavior if a free economic system existed in Cuba. In the multiple penitentiaries which I went through, I saw some prisoners put together some real pieces of art, made just by using disposable materials. However, the authorities, instead of promoting and stimulating such activities, they discourage it and prosecute it, as they confiscate, as in most cases, all the pieces of art, or prevent such objects from being handed to family members during visits. In Cuban jails the only form of entertainment allowed by the authorities is the TV. And even then, prisoners watching TV have to do so while crammed tightly in a small room along with many other prisoners- in many cases, one TV is set up for over 100 recluses. Meanwhile on the other hand, while pointing out that the majority of the penal population does not have an avid reading habit, there is very little material available to read anyway. Although libraries hypothetically do exist in these prisons, prisoners do not have access to them. I remember that in a detachment I resided in while my confinement in the provincial prison of Guantanamo, there was a room with a sign that read “LIBRARY” , but it was completely empty of books or people. It was the same room used to dispose of any garbage collected from the dining areas.

In accordance with this partial panoramic view of daily life in a Cuban prison, I think that it is not difficult to understand the level of insanity that could drive a prisoner to use self-inflictive methods as a form of escape, though sometimes, as in the case of Javier, it could be an escape to eternity.

Omar Ruiz Hernandez
Ex-political prisoner of conscience
Black Spring 2003

Translated by: Raul G.

August 26, 2010