The Forgotten Prisoner / Lilianne Ruiz

Armando Sosa Fortuny. Photo by Alexis Zabaleta, courtesy of the author

Havana, Cuba, August 2013, Armando Sosa Fortuny has turned 71 in the prison known as Kilo 9, in Camaguey province.

In the photo, which was secretly taken by a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners (CPLPP) who visited him this past January, you can see that he looks like someone’s grandfather.

He has been in prison for 18 years. He was sentenced on April 25, 1996, to 30 years in prison on charges of “infiltration”, “illegal entry into Cuba” and “other acts against the security of the state.”

He is a man from another time, from a time when armed struggle was presumed to be an acceptable alternative for overthrowing dictatorships. So he seems left behind, obsolete in this age when civic struggle and nonviolent resistance garners greater sympathy.

Recently, in a telephone interview from prison, he told this reporter: “It was a different era. If I were in the streets now I would be struggling for recognition of the civil and political rights of the Cuban people.”

His diabetes is being controlled with insulin. Ironically the poor prison food keeps his blood-sugar levels stable. After having gone from bad to worse for years, he says candidly:

“The food is OK.”

A sister who used to visit him died in Miami. Now only the members of the CBLPP come to see him, once a month. They bring him a box with the food that they are allowed to bring in, and talk with him for a few hours.

As he tells it, early last month, July, he was taken to an office where an immigration officer was waiting to tell him that he and his comrades-in-arms were included in the Cuban government’s immediate-release program, on the condition that they left the country at once.

“That’s what I want. It’s been many years,” he said.

Then, State Security came to visit him later that month, two weeks after the first visit, to tell him  signs were appearing, written in crayon, saying “Free Fortuny!”, or “Castro, free Fortuny!” on the walls in some parts of the city of Camaguey. Paradoxically they told him that this was not much of a problem, because it was a simple matter for the CDR to cover over the posters.

Sosa Fortuny interpreted both visits as “a psychological game, maybe because they wanted me to tell the boys not to put up any more posters.”

Other causes from the early Castro years

This is not the first case for which Sosa Fortuny has spent prison time. In 1960 he was tried on similar charges for having come with 25 men to fight in the mountains against the recently-established dictatorship. Many of those convicted on that occasion were immediately executed by firing squad.

That first case ended with his release in 1978, as part of an amnesty that benefited over three thousand political prisoners, accomplished through international pressure in the face of human rights violations in Cuba.

He only spent 15 years in freedom in the United States, returning on October 15, 1994, when he decided, in his words, “to create an Eastern Front to overthrow tyranny.”

But the night of the landing, a member of the infiltration team fired a shot that killed the Party Secretary of Villa Clara Province, and that provoked a firefight in which he and some of his companions were wounded.

“We saw the car coming from the causeway and our intention was to get the occupants out so we could go down the Yaguajay road to Escambray. But as Humberto motioned at them to get out of the car, it was so dark that when I passed between them the noise startled Humberto, who fired the shot accidentally,” says Sosa Fortuny.

Regardless of the responsibility that they blamed him and his companions for, the punishments — imprisonment of up to 30 years, and a sentence of death by firing squad for Humberto Real Suárez — were excessive.

Until 2012, when they commuted Real Suárez’s death sentence to 30 years in prison, he suffered for 17 years the torture of attending the mock firing squads of those who came back shouting anti-government slogans, as related by former political prisoners who shared a cell with him.

In the Cuban prisons there are many testimonies of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to which the prison population is subjected. Everything indicates that the guards are given carte blanche to carry out beatings and abuse that have come to infuriate many.

Sosa Fortuny and his companions have not accepted the government’s political-ideological re-education:

“In Kilo 7 we’ve had to scream a lot against beatings of other prisoners. They abandoned a boy in a wheelchair. There you have to take a stand, and cause a problem. That cost us punishment cells, but I’m not sorry. I always express my ideas, wherever,” he added.

Finally, Sosa Fortuny hopes to convey a message to Cubans inside and outside the island:

“That I send a hug. On my wounds I bore the pain of the Cuban people.”

He also says he is awaiting a decision by the Cuban government to release him.

Others who are still prisoners from Sosa Fortuny’s case are Miguel Díaz Bauzá, age 70, and Humberto Real Suárez, 42. We will be updating them in the next few days.

From Cubanet

Translated by Tomás A.

22 August 2013