Notes from Captivity XII / Pablo Pacheco

Rebellion in the “Polish”

Various weeks had passed with normality in the “Polish”. My life was similar to the routine-driven life of any other prisoner, until I realized that if I wanted to get out of that hell I was forced to live in with the least amount of damage as possible, then I had to change my own methods. I began to read the Bible thoroughly, as well as writings by our apostle, Jose Marti (and any other book I could get my hands on).

I would begin each of my days by reading the Bible. Afterwards, I would do some physical exercises, eat lunch, rest after the lunch, and then I would once again go back to reading. From time to time, I would join in on playing chess with some of my cell companions. We would shout out each of our moves from whichever cell we were being kept at and this would profoundly annoy the guards, but we would ignore their scoldings.

During one afternoon, the guard on shift — Infante — suggested that if other guards turned up the volume on their radios, then this would drown out and confuse our voices whenever we screamed out our chess moves. They ended up agreeing on this method, and they turned up their radios as loud as possible, leading us to put an end to our game, for listening to the sound being broadcast through their radios was a real torture for us inmates.

Suddenly, everything began to change around us. The chief of our particular detachment- sub lieutenant Ricardo Martinez- decided to not care for coming around our cells to check us, perhaps intentionally. The press would not reach our hands, as well as letters written to us. Medical assistance fell below the level of “least frequent” and no one would give us a response in regards to this situation.

One night, we listened to “Mesa Redonda” being broadcast through national TV and we were stupefied. The former minister of exterior relations, Felipe Perez Roque, confirmed the existence of a series of penitentiary services- out of which only a few were actually respected (and irregularly). Alexis Rodriguez Fernandez had the idea to summon the minister and he managed to sneak a note to each of us asking for our suggestions. We all supported the initiative of our brother-in-cause, and many common prisoners agreed as well.

Since there were a few weeks left until any of us had the opportunity to a family visit and since the situation was only getting worse, we decided to carry out a hunger strike in order to demand our rights to have these services which the government itself mentioned through the voice of Felipe Perez Roque. We were shocked to see that out of the 16 of us who were in the “Polish”, all but one joined the strike (and this one person was an informant to the guards).

The guard who was on watch noticed our behavior during breakfast. Manuel Ubals Gonzalez was the first of us to refuse his breakfast, and later we all followed. I am certain that Garvey , the Interior Order functionary, quickly informed his superiors about our attitudes because a State Security official rapidly arrived on the scene, but he did not ask anything.

Later, during lunch, we did the same thing. Officials from the Penitentiary Direction did not show up anywhere near our cells to discuss matters. Perhaps they thought that we would give up our stance, but we were determined to take our protest up to the last consequences: our demands would be met or we would simply never eat again.

Half an hour after refusing to eat dinner they began to come get us individually, putting us in rooms where, much to our surprise, we were to meet with the Head Council, our re-educator Ricardo Martinez, the political police official, and another State Security guard from Matanzas.

When it was my turn, I told them the same things the others had said, but I bumped into something I was not expecting. They actually gave me the benefit of the doubt and blamed the detachment chief for the situation, assuring that it would be fixed. Diosdado Munoz More, the director of Aguica, told me that I must eat in order to prove that I had ended my hunger strike. My response was that I would only eat in the same and only place I eat- my cell. An argument then broke out between them and me, which I was not expecting. I refused to eat where they wanted me to and I took on this strict position to avoid any future manipulations. They then suggested I eat in the lunch area where prison workers eat, but I was not a prison worker, I was a prisoner in a jail of maximum security.

My attitude cost me three days in complete isolation in a dungeon where light did not enter and where I would have no drinking water available. I would have never imagined that such dungeons existed in my country.

During the day, I could barely see anything, and when night would fall it was a petrifying darkness. The horrible odor of the bathroom was making me ill and since I did not have water, I could not clean it up a bit. I must add that in order to drink water I had to ask a few common prisoners to fill up three bottles for me and I would take the chance to shower myself with one of those bottles. During the 72 hours in which I resided in that dark hole, I came to know each and every one of the cracks on the cell walls and I imagined the suffering felt by men who had previously been condemned to live there.

When they removed me from that putrefied hell, I was returned again to the “Polish”, and I was received by my companions with applause and I was truly in awe because I was not relying to count on so much solidarity. Afterwards, I was able to tell my partners about my experiences, as well as to listen to their own experiences after being interviewed by the officials. Out of all them, I was the only one who was told to eat at the lunchroom. Food was taken to the cells of all the others. We reached the conclusion that maybe such treatment was reserved for me because they thought I had been the one who called for the strike.

Due to our rebellious stance, the officials of Aguica avoided leaving common criminals by our sides for too long, and they also avoided confronting us. We knew we had won the first battle, but we had to publicly call out the regime. Family visits were the only opportunities we had left, and we then began to elaborate another plan to achieve our objective.

Translated by Raul G.

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

March 21, 2011

Notes from Captivity XI / Pablo Pacheco

Ill-Fated Trip

The day began with the falling rain and an icy air which sneaked into my cell. Nostalgia was invading my intimacy and my only response was to tightly hold on to the memories of my days in freedom and to await the return of Manuel Ubals Gonzalez to my cell from his family visit.

After Manuel left the cell to meet with his wife and sister-in-law, I was submerged by my thoughts, just to later fall asleep until Manuel returned to the cell.

Mayelin Bolivar Gonzalez and her sister traveled nearly 900 km on train just to visit Manuel, according to what he told us upon returning to the “Polish” that day. This family lived in the Eastern-most part of Cuba, and as a form of further punishment the authorities banished Manuel far away from his area of residence so that his family would pay for his rebelliousness against the dictatorship. Such a method of deportation within the island was applied to all prisoners of the group of the 75.

In a note later written by Manuel, he told us, his prison mates, that he was suffering something very similar to all the other members of the group. However, Manuel had to confront an additional pain, for Mayelin was pregnant and the couple already had an 8 year old and a ten year old at the moment of his arrest.

Manuel explained that on the day of his arrest during March of 2003, State Security officer Bartolo Rodriguez suggested to him that the best option for his family would be that Mayelin not have the child she carried in her womb. Manuel’s response was radical: “Worry about your own family, I’ll take care of mine.” A few years later we were informed that this officer was expelled from the repressive apparatus on charges of corruption.

Weeks later, Manuel told us that his spouse started showing signs of a miscarraiage due to vaginal bleeding. In addition to all the miles she had to cross, she also had to carry the heavy bags of goods she took to give her husband during allowed family visits, in addition to dealing with so much suffering caused by separation. Adding to this heavy load was the hate planted by the political police against him for carrying out dissident activities in his neighborhood.

The Ubals Gonzalez family lost one of the twins they were expecting. Luckily, the other child continued growing and today, Emanuel, is one of them. He runs, plays, and enjoys the love given to him by his family, while many see him as “the product of hope,” a hope which never disappear despite all adversities.

Those who consider themselves to be owners of our nation tried to reduce our will through Machiavellian methods. They wanted to erase the smiles off our lips, but they could not achieve it. Instead, so much hate gave us more strength to continue fighting, and allowed us to understand that human misery takes us down a path which seems to have no exit, but the truth is that we have the power to move away from such a path to save ourselves from so much hate.

The night when Manuel told us what happened to him and his wife, I stayed a long time pondering about the life of my brother-in-struggle in a moment of sorrow. For the first time, I understood that anywhere, even closer to us than what we can imagine sometimes, another human being suffers a pain greater than my own. And even then, we once again stood back up and continued onward. This specific experience taught me not to complain so much of my own problems and how to share the pain of others.

After the morning when Manuel confessed to us what had happened to Mayelin, I awoke to the sound of guards handing out breakfast, and my first thought was of Mayelin. While we slept, she suffered an unimaginable pain, as well as the additional punishment of being separated from her husband.

I’ve never been able to comprehend why they feel so much hatred towards us.

Weeks passed and I continued thinking of Mayelin and the loss of her child. Perhaps this news never left my conscience, for I never had the courage to ask my wife for another child while I was behind the bars. I did not know if I would be able to live through a similar catastrophe.

Translated by Raul G.
March 14, 2011

Notes From Captivity X: The First Letter / Pablo Pacheco

Photo from Internet

As soon as I started writing I lost the will to continue doing so. But after various hours of trying, I managed to write:

“My love,

I still harbor close memories of all the joyful days together, unified by love and respect for one another. Without any warnings, life twists our destiny. It would be selfish of me if I hide the fact that I think of you in every instant: your scent, your feminine figure, and all your love which fills my existence. All these memories are present, despite the fact that you are not physically here with me. At times, I feel as I if I am delusional, but then I think of you and I once again feel like living.

Life goes by slowly here, but it marches on nonetheless. Out there, life goes on. You must be strong, and don’t become discouraged because of the situation we are going through. If you do, that would hurt you, and it will also hurt our child, and we can’t allow that. Now, while I’m in captivity, I trust even more in your strength, willpower, and dedication. Jimmy needs more of you than of me, and besides, those who try to play the role of God in our country will not allow me to participate much in our child’s life. My love, you must be mother, father, friend, sister, and the guiding light of our little one. And you will achieve it.

One day, what we are currently living through will be part of the past, and we must keep our convictions strong if we wish to succeed. This place is not the end of the world, and we must remember that no sacrifice in the name of Cuba is too much. We must keep in mind that, at any time, hate and intolerance can attempt to challenge our lives, for this is the price of freedom, but now we must confront this with honor and dignity.

You must try all that you can so that our son does not see you crying, for although he is very young, he will notice that your tears are for my absence, and this may very well affect him. He trusts in you as much as I do. Now that I mention this to you, I have remembered the last words I told the prosecutor during that trial held against me on my 33rd birthday, “All the children in the world, including your own if you have any, would wish to have the parents of Jimmy Pacheco Garcia.” Do you remember those words, my love? You were very brave. You did not shed a single tear in front of the henchmen, and you urged family members of other dissidents to take the same stand. I felt so much pride for you at that moment, so much that I momentarily forgot the fact that I had just been condemned to 26 years of imprisonment.

I can barely even see here. Like I told you during the visit, they do not allow light bulbs here in the cell. And I started writing this letter rather late, for I could not muster up the valor to do so sooner. And there you go, we men behave like this in situations such as this one. But do not worry too much. I will be fine, and most importantly, I will be thinking of you and of our Cuba. That’s the most important part. Take care of our son and seek God, for only in Him shall we find peace. Very soon, I will once again write to you. The young men who accompany me in this cell have asked me to give you their regards. Remember that I love you.

PS: From time to time, I entertain myself by playing chess in different cells. But for the most part, all I do is think of you and Jimmy. When you write back to me, please tell me about the latest news regarding our country and the world.”

That night, I stayed up late contemplating about human destinies. I concluded that the future was absolutely unpredictable. Suddenly, I felt that tears escaped from my eyes, and that nostalgia grew around my heart. The next morning I handed the re-educator, Ricardo, the letter. Ten days later, it had reached the hands of Oleivys.

Translated by Raul G.

28 February 2011

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Notes from Captivity: First Family Visit / Pablo Pacheco

Taken from the Internet

I had spent several days without any news of Oleivys and Jimmy. My life was consumed by the uncertainty of not knowing how my loved ones were doing. I could not gather the nerve to write to my wife, and I had little to tell her.

On a Thursday, without prior notice, a guard approached my cell and informed me that I should get ready for a visit. My first thought was that the sky had just fallen.

I was unshaven and my hair was long, for I had not had a haircut since I was imprisoned. My family visit would be the perfect moment to change my appearance, and so I did. When I told the guard of my decision, he informed me that, according to the punishment rules of “Poland,” shaving and cutting one’s hair was only done by a designated prisoner. I could not comprehend such extremism but I did not waste any time in trying to analyze the situation. I just wanted to see my loved ones.

After the “designated prisoner” shaved my head and my face with an electric razor, an official from Interior told me that I must take off all my clothes, including my underwear. I did so with a mixture of pain and embarrassment, for my privacy was being violated. After they meticulously searched through all my belongings I was allowed to finally go out and see my family. Later, when I returned from the family visit, other prisoners told me that the authorities always search for belongings in that same manner to prevent any written denouncements from leaving the jail to the outside world.

I asked the guard who was leading me to the office where my family was to please take off my shackles, for I did not want my son, Jimmy, to see me that way. And I also did not want the boy to have to ask me any questions which would require me coming up with lies for answers. His response was, “I follow orders, inmate. I hope you understand this, but I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.” It was the first time my son saw me handcuffed.

All the hugs and kisses were accompanied by unwanted, but inevitable, tears which spilled out from the soul. My child, oblivious to reality, asked me, “Dad, why do they put those things around your hands?”

“My son, I’m playing a game of cops and robbers. It’s only a game,” was the response I could come up with.

He wanted to know when I would be done with “this school.. With a knot in my throat I had to tell him that I was not sure. With a voice full of innocence he told me, “I’m behaving and I’m eating all my food.” I took him into my arms because I did not want him to see me crying.

After ten minutes, Jimmy fell asleep in my arms. Oleivys then told me that he had woken up at 4 am for the long trip and had not shut his eyes for one second to catch some sleep. My family had traveled 400 km to come see me. Having my son asleep in my arms made me feel joy and torment at the same time, so much so that I burst into tears. Oleivys, my brother Alexey, and I hugged each other in silence. I can’t remember how long we were like that, crying.

My wife was the one who snapped out of the dramatic scene and said, “We only have 30 minutes, a guard informed me.”

“What?! Thirty minutes after traveling so many kilometers?” I cried desperately.

“Don’t worry, love, Zamora, the father-in-law of your brother is waiting for us outside,” a lively Oleivys said.

“They’re SOBs,” I said sadly.

Oleivys brought me up-to-date on recent events within and outside the island. The unfavorable campaign of the Cuban government after our arrests and summary trials. The sentences imposed on us ranging from 6 to 28 years. Amnesty International declaring us “Prisoners of Conscience” after the sentences.

Alexey and Oleivys were still worried about my health. In barely two months I’d lost 35 pounds. Seeing my physical and emotional state my wife requested a meeting with State Security officials in Ciego de Ávila but the political police there rejected all responsibility and attributed it to the direction of Aguica.

Before we parted, Captain Peñate, an official from State Security met with us. He said family visits wold only be every three months, and only two hours long; two adult relatives and the children. Conjugal visits would be every five months for three hours, and only 30 pounds of raw food would be allowed. We were forbidden visits from friends or our companions in the struggle. We understood from the first moment that the objective was to destroy our morale, mercilessly. My loved ones and I said goodbye with tears and hugs.

Or cause gave us a moral strength that enabled us to face this difficult situation. We appealed to the greatest optimism and created a mechanism for us to support each other. Our families did the same thing. Every six months we prepared ourselves body and soul to be released. I soon came to the conclusion that the longer they kept us in prison, the more the dictatorship weakened.

The first letter I received from my partner was balm of joy mixed with a certain pain. She told me that when they left the prison our son slept in the arms of my brother Ale, and when he opened his eyes he confused him with me because of the physical similarity between us. His child’s innocence led him to ask, “Papá, we’re already going home? That’s great!”

Ale, his heart filled with sorrow, said no, he was his uncle and that his father had stayed at the school. The adults riding in the car groaned silently, weeping from their souls on hearing the innocent words of a boy of four. We parted with no justifiable reason and no one with an ounce of justice and dignity had felt such evil.

I was never able to finish reading that letter, it was too painful. Perhaps one day I will, by the grace of God and knowing that the cause of all that is now in the past.

“Poland,” My New Home / Pablo Pacheco

Photo from Internet

“Poland” is the most rigorous section of Aguica Prison, made up of a 16-cell complex outside the prison. Only common prisoners have access to it and the guards have total authority over it. Usually, one of the prisoners must clean both hallways, leaving the area ready for the guards.

In this area, the guards are handpicked and functionaries from the interior order rarely visit.

Generally, the most dangerous prisoners are kept in “Poland”: punished prisoners, prisoners with life sentences, and prisoners with death sentences. The prison’s laundry is located in the bottom room of this area, as well as the kitchen’s chimney. According to the inmates and the guards, this specific room was built over a cemetery, and the construction style is very similar to those of Eastern Europe. In fact, it is speculated that the first director of Aguica traveled to the Old Continent to study their penitentiary architecture, to later replicate them on the island. Whatever the case may be, the underlying fact is that this place was constructed specifically to torture prisoners.

They began to make the prison food at around 3 or 4 in the morning, and its preparation lasted up to around 6 am, more or less. At around that time, the guards start their “inventory of prisoners”, and an hour later begin the laundry chores until 11:30 am, to later continue at 2 pm. Up to this point, everything seems to be rather normal but once the harsh noises start coming from the kitchen and laundry room, it is impossible for any human to be able to fall asleep. With those tortures, the guards have achieved unbalancing the minds of the common prisoners, and I am sure that the authorities tried to commit the same crime against us.

The dungeons of the “Poland Area” measure 2.5 meters in width by 3 meters in length and contain a small patio and bathroom (which consists of a hole on the ground). There are cracked tubes on the patio roof and whenever it rains the cell gets full of water.

In the winter the prisoners tie their bedspreads to the iron bars on the roof, pulling themselves up to try to get at least 1 or 2 hours of sun. If the sheets tear then prisoners fall and break their bones (in the best of cases).

Common prisoners told me that before our arrival, the beds which were currently chained to the wall were quickly hung there, and later they were to be put down again at around 10 pm. In addition, the walls are not plastered in order to keep any prisoner from laying back and resting on them.

Out of all the humiliations faced by the prisoners of “Poland”, the worst one has to do with how they must get their drinkable water. In order to fill their bottles with this precious liquid, they must extract it through a tube out of the same hole where they urinate and defecate. The container must be placed inside the hole, and prisoners can only do this two times in one day. Furthermore, it is prohibited to have any light bulbs or cleaning materials inside the dungeons. According to the guards, these measures are taken for “security reasons”.

A few minutes after the Interior Order functionary arrived at “Poland” he examined every centimeter of my belongings. I also had to strip myself of my clothes. “What the hell are they searching for?” I asked myself. Later, I understood that this was just another act of humiliation. After half an hour I was in cell number 4 — my new home -– surrounded by other prisoners in adjacent cells. Fortunately, I was nearby Manuel Ubals Gonzales, Miguel Galban Gutierrez, and Alexis Rodriguez Fernandez. All of these men quickly greeted me and passed me clandestine notes in which they explained the specifics of the place and of the prisoners around us.

One may consider 16 months to be a breeze, but in “Poland” the minutes are hours, the hours are days, the days are weeks, the weeks are months, and the months are years. Think of it this way — if life passes by quickly while in freedom, then in prison it goes by extremely slow, consuming your desire to live, and if you do not find some sort of shield, then you inevitably end up destroyed.

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Prison Notes: The General’s Visit / Pablo Pacheco

On the 18th of May, there were rumors floating around throughout the prison that the Division General and Chief of the National System of Penitentiaries, Rafael Calderin, was going to visit our jail. In Cuban prisons it is normal to pass on such news to informants and then they spread the word among the prisoner population. This is how they take note of the opinion of the jailed masses and keep certain prisoners from telling the visiting functionary about any anomalies.

Lamentably, some prisoners express their desires to denounce to their supposed imprisoned companions, but as it turns out, some of these fellow prisoners inform the authorities of any intentions to protest in order to gain benefits. The guards control the situation with this very method, isolating those who may present any form of threat to their interests, prohibiting them from divulging any information about mistreatment and violations during any inspections.

When I heard such news, I supposed that the General would visit the section where we political prisoners from the group of the 75 were being kept. The sickest one of our group, Roberto de Miranda, lived in the penal infirmary. The rest of the group resided in the “Polish Cell”, while Blas Giraldo and I were kept in the third galley.

My intuition did not fail. After the lunch hour, a military committee (which included the chiefs of “Aguica”, the chief of the Matanza Prison System, and the National Penitentiary General) passed by my cell. I noticed that out of the corner of their eyes they looked towards my area, but they did not stop. They continued onto the cell of Blas Giraldo.

After some trivial questions about the state of his health, General Calderin asked for the book “More than a Carpenter” which my companion in struggle had in his hands at the time. After examining the pages of the book, the General said, “this material is now confiscated.”

“Can I know Why?”, questioned Blas Giraldo.

“Because it is a prohibited book,” the General responded.

“Since when is Johs McDowell prohibited in Cuba?”, my friend insisted.

General Calderin shot back, “Now, Blas Giraldo, don’t try to make me look like a fool.”

“Oh, right. Forgive my ignorance, I forgot that you are enemies of God,” Blas ironically responded.

A few minutes after, I felt the group of soldiers come closer to my cell door. Various common prisoners tried to talk to the General but he paid no attention to them. I suddenly heard the command to open my cell door.

“Good afternoon, Pablo Pacheco”, Calderin said with authority.

“Maybe it’s a good afternoon for you, and for all those who are accompanying you,” I answered back. “No one behind these bars can say that it is a good morning, afternoon, or night.”

I felt as if the majority of those who were in my cell were executing me with their stares, but I shot back with a similar stare.

Held aback for a few seconds, the General once again opened his mouth to say, “Pacheco, do you consider yourself a patriot?”

“At least I give the best of me to better serve my country,” I responded and added, “Do you consider yourself a patriot?”

“Of course,” he responded. “I’ve even gone to Africa to fight for Cuba”.

“For Fidel, you must mean,” came my impulsive answer.

“Let’s get out of here!”, he shouted. And all those with him followed the order. Before getting to the main door which leads out of “The Third” galley, he turned around a bit and told me, “Later, I’m going to send you a book written by Antonio Maceo.”

“I’ll read it with much attention,” I said with pride, “for I am an admirer of his legacy.”

Calderin’s behavior led me to believe that the whole point of his visit was to check our (the political prisoners) emotional states.

The next day after the visit, the chief of the Interior Order, Captain Emilio, came to my cell and told me to gather all my belongings, for I was going to be transferred. I asked him, “Where am I being taken?”

“I do not know,” he replied.

I knew that Emilio was lying, but I decided to accept his response. Various common prisoners that after the meetings with the General, their was a lingering risk that many of us would be taken to “The Polish” cell. We also were aware that since we were soon going to hold a fast for the 20th of May, the news had already reached the ears of the soldiers and they would try, with all their power, to isolate Blas Giraldo and I from one another.

Half an hour later, Emilio was opening the lock to “The Polish” cell, which I entered with my very scarce set of belongings. That is how the harshest period of my captivity began, and at the moment I was very far from imagining it. I had been held in “Aguica” for quite a while and I did not know when I would see my family again. And that was major concern. The rest was minor in comparison and I was determined to withstand it.

The Bible helped me during my most difficult moments. Now I know why whenever the guards would force us to only stick with three books in our cells, I never let go of it. It became my favorite book.

Translated by Raul Garcia, Jr.

9 February 2011

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Prison Notes: A Trip to the Infirmary / Pablo Pacheco

Three days had passed since I was presented before the maximum chiefs of the “Aguica” penitentiary. I found myself in a cruel and degrading world, and what stabbed at my conscience the hardest was the fact that I was separated from my wife and from my only son, who at the time was a mere four years old (and who was sleeping by my side when I was arrested by the political police).

It was a Friday morning when a functionary from the Order of the Interior took me to the prison’s infirmary. The medical chief of the jail was a young man with a captain medal, though he barely used his military attire. With time, I learned that his name was Gaspar.

The doctor jotted down each and every one of my illnesses in my new medical file. If at that time (in 2003) I suffered from migraines and gastritis; seven years later my symptoms and ailments had multiplied. In addition to the first two mentioned, I later began suffering from high blood pressure, kidney infections, chronic inflammation of the right ear, and the dislocation of my right knee (which was operated on without any success). The condition of my knee was product of not having been able to receive sufficient sunlight for 16 months. I also emerged from captivity with a diagnosis of diabetes. The doctors of Canaletas Prison had time and time again denied that I suffered from this disease, despite the obvious symptoms and the suspicion of my wife who is a doctor. Upon arriving to Spain, it was confirmed that I suffered from diabetes.

When I left the infirmary, I bumped into an old friend from Sancti Spiritus- Blas Giraldo Reyes. I knew that he was involved with the Christian Liberation Movement, but I had no idea that he was also imprisoned. I must confess that his appearance thoroughly explained his situation, the same way my own must have given off signs of my state.

We were barely able to chat. At fist, he did not recognize me, and if it wasn’t for a familiar mole on his face, I would have not recognized him either. Upon noticing that we knew each other, the guards quickly separated us.

Blas Giraldo was physically deteriorated. He had lost plenty of weight, while his hair had considerably grown out (many of us from the group of the 75 did not have the chance to take haircuts for nearly 2 months). Perhaps they did this in order to deliver a message to our families: they were going to destroy us. With such tactics, they planned to induce our families into conspiring against us so that we would give in to prison life, giving up our cause. But our families all behaved with much dignity, all the while carrying the heaviest cross of this story.

The guard hurried me off while my hands were cuffed behind by back. I was only able to shout out, “Blas! I’m in the third!”

I heard his response echoing in the distance, “Pablo, they sent me down to that section as well. We’ll see each other soon!”

I was actually relieved that Blas Girardo would be near where I was. Amid my extreme case, I did not fully realize the pain he was going through. For me, knowing he was imprisoned with me was a blessing, but when I noticed my own selfishness, I felt ashamed.

After a few hours, Blas Girardo returned to the third galley. There, we once again greeted each other and I presented him to the other prisoners. They quickly began to ask him questions about everything. I could not help but to laugh by myself because I had already lived through that experience. The majority of the prisoners displayed much affinity towards the story of my friend. They seemed to be interested in his age- nearly 50 years old- and the fact the he was now to serve a 20 year sentence.

I committed my first error as a prisoner on that day. I had shouted out to Blas Girarldo if he wanted to undertake a hunger strike with me on the 20th of May. While some prisoners actually wanted to take part in this, a few others quickly informed the authorities of our plans.

My days in “the third” were counted, and I was to soon learn about the rigor of “The Polish one”.

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Learning My Way in Prison / Pable Pacheco

The weekend passed by with relative normality. I was taking my first steps in a world which was foreign to my will, and I was very far from imagining what would occur during the next 7 years and 4 months. It was a world behind the bars, full of insects, criminals, and soldiers who were real henchmen at the service of the dictatorship (save for some rare exceptions who could not find any other path of survival in a country submerged in a total crisis).

The first common prisoner which gained my trust was Raciel Prieto- a young man with my same age and who served a life sentence for murdering another person to rob their gold necklace valued at 1 thousand dollars, according to what he later confessed to me. Raciel explained to me how the prison machinery functioned — a real whirlwind of intrigue which through the years I finally came to understand but never adapted to.

The prisoners had questions about everything. Most had been jailed for many years without seeing the streets and the outside world. Without really realizing it, most of their minds had extremely weakened, so much so that all they did was take narcotics prescribed to them by doctors or smuggled in the prison by guards. Others just took part in illegal games or just took part in “survival of the fittest”. It’s difficult to find a prisoner in a Cuban penitentiary that has not come to the point of a relapse while captive. For the most part, they return to that world which they supposedly escaped under “re-education”.

From the very first moment I began to spend time with these men, I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of compassion for them. They were so isolated from the world that they did not realize that behind the bars there lay another world- a world that undoubtedly was difficult, but at least it was less cruel than the reality they faced. The majority of these men had lost their significant others, their family, and (worst of all) their will to carry on. Every once in a while, I would ask myself: Am I going to end up like these men at the end of my sentence? Fortunately, I always found the same answer in my conscience: Continue onward, don’t give up. The cause of freedom for my country is worth any sort of sacrifice.

That Monday, after I ingested the piece of bread given to me for breakfast, a soldier approached my cell and demanded, “Pablo Pacheco, get ready to come with me to the office of this prison.”

“No,” I responded. But I ended up being taken anyway.

We made it to the main office of the prison where a group of uniformed officials were waiting for me. The first one to speak was Diosdado, the director of Aguica. Diosdado presented me one by one to the penal Headship Council. I recall that, while we were speaking, they actually tempted to be decent until I told them: “You are all also very responsible for the untenable situation which our country is going through.”

A robust bald man who had a medal of superiority on his military jacket sprung up and shouted, “The culprits behind the situation we are facing are the Yankees and all of you who continue playing their game.”

I thoroughly looked back at him and told him, “You are wrong. The system which you defend is incompatible with human beings. Please, just let me go back to my cell.”

“Take him!” demanded Diosdado to the functionaries who, just a few minutes prior, had introduced me to him.

When I told my new companions about what had happened to me, they all said, “That’s Brito, the re-education chief and also one of the most cold-hearted guards of all.”

“Political one, protect yourself from him”, Raciel ended up telling me.

I decided to read the Bible for the rest of the day and this deeply helped me to withstand all that I was to live during the next few months of my life. Yet, as a source of inspiration I kept in my mind that I was not the only one to have passed through the jails of the regime just for attempting to express what my conscience dictates. In fact, I also was well aware (thanks to some prohibited literature I had read) that other fellow countrymen lived through this process under worse circumstances than myself, during the period dubbed “No one listened”.

In that same piece of literature, I got to familiarize myself with some testimonies from the men and women who had witnessed the ascent to power of Fidel Castro. Many of these Cubans had been supporters of Castro, but were soon betrayed by him, as he proved to be a real threat to all of the fundamental rights of Cubans. Such accounts inspired me to get back up from any missteps and continuing onward in the struggle for freedom, for I knew that I was not alone. The course of my destiny was unpredictable but I would not give up on it.

January 24, 2011

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Notes From Captivity / Pablo Pacheco

During the “Black Spring of 2003”, 75 of us peaceful dissidents were arrested and sanctioned to long and unjust prison sentences. As an additional punishment to our families, they dispersed us throughout the entire Cuban geography, hundreds and hundreds of kilometers away from our homes.

A week after arriving to the “Aguica” prison in Matanzas province, I decided to write a journal. It was the only way I could remember all the details from living in solitary confinement. Nearly eight years have passed and now I have learned that it is impossible to wipe out all that I have lived from my memory. The psychological damage caused by such isolation persists.

The first words which I wrote on my journal, where I also kept some inspirational phrases to help me through my imprisonment, were “Thank you God for keeping me alive; I only ask that you help me one day to let the world know of the cruel realities of the Cuban prisons, especially for political prisoners.” In another section of the notes I jotted, “Inevitably, the majority of those who have defended a cause which they believe is just have ended up in prison. But all this time which we live behind bars serves as a process which strengthens our spirits.”

I am of the thought that no sacrifice for the country is in vain. If we don’t get to benefit from the changes, then our descendants will. I also do not consider myself to be a hero. I think we all harbor some heroic elements within ourselves, including us Cubans. In fact, we Cubans have proved this for more than half a century of dictatorship.

There is nothing more unfortunate for a human being to go through life without realizing that you have gone through it. I must honestly admit that the forced separation from one’s family is extremely difficult- it hurts a lot. The older ones from the family understand the situation and eventually accept the reality. But the little ones, in all their innocence, are unaware of the reality and question when you will return home. That’s when you feel a knot in your throat and you feel like you could barely breathe. At that moment, you are forced to lie, because you do not want to contaminate them with so much pain. Those of us who had small children during the Black Spring know very well that this is not a lie, for all the experiences were very similar.

Now, in exile, I could publish memories from my days of imprisonment. From today on, I will start to write for this new blog. I will detail my experiences. I hope to find the same support I had during “Voices Behind the Bars”.

Cubans, undeniably, have to find a path. Ideologies have only served to divide humanity. The important thing for everyone is not a government of the left or of the right, but instead to live like human beings. And we deserve it. One day, Cuba will find the path based on justice, not stained with vengeance. We must keep one thing very present: only love can save us from human misery.

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

Human Rights Day / Pablo Pacheco

While the world celebrated Human Rights Day, in Cuba the government was repressing peaceful dissent and the Ladies in White. Some of us former political prisoners, exiled to Spain last summer, also raised our voices that day, in support of democracy, respect for the fundamental rights of all Cubans, and for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience on the island.

Several weeks ago, the Amnesty International group in Huelva extended an invitation to me to mark the day. Fortunately, I was able to arrive on time after missing the train, and so was able to describe the harsh reality of my country. I managed to help at least a dozen people to understand that in Cuba there is no government for the people, as Havana has tried to convince people for several decades, but a cruel dictatorship that systematically violates human rights and has turned Cuba into a nation in ruins.

It is the ideal time for the democratic world to support the Cuban people. To understand that we care less about the ideologies of left, right, liberal or otherwise. We just want to live like human beings, with freedom, dignity and by the sweat of our brow. The regime, which has enslaved us for years, is weak and isolated. To miss this opportunity may cost us many years of suffering.

Much news filled that day. The greatest media coverage was about the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobao, whose government prevented him from collecting his Nobel Peace Prize. Personally, I do not think his seat was empty as the press reported. It is true that his body was absent, but his soul was there in the empty chair, and although the communist regime in Beijing has him behind bars, he is a free man. Human freedom begins with our thoughts and they can only imprison us when we allow our thoughts to be chained. The names of the countries who boycotted the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony does not surprise me, because their governments are also enemies of freedom.

December 17, 2010

Note: Pablo Pacheco formerly blogged in “Voices Behind the Bars” when he was a political prisoner in Cuba. He has now been released and forcibly exiled to Spain, and has a new blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile.” We will continue to post him here, for a time, until his faithful readers have found their way to his new home.

Premeditated Revenge / Pablo Pacheco

The exile to Spain of fifty Cuban former political prisoners and their families has been a well organized maneuver, calculated and premeditated by the dictatorship in Havana. It is difficult to know when they started making plans for this operation, but I imagine it had its roots in the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who staged a long hunger strike after receiving a severe beating from the soldiers at a prison in eastern Cuba.

Added to that disgrace was the courageous stand of Ladies in White, who face the most abhorrent acts of repudiation, pressures from the political police and, to top it off, Guillermo Fariñas’ fast to demand that the regime release the sickest among the political prisoners of conscience.

Moreover, the Castro government has lost credibility with the international community. Many voices on the left have awakened from a slumber which, for years, had mesmerized them into believing that a just government existed on the island. Fortunately, many have now realized that in Cuba there is a dictatorship that curtails the fundamental rights of all Cubans, and these international voices have also helped to secure our liberation, a liberation which unfortunately turned into exile.

After the natural euphoria of breathing free after so many years of imprisonment, and the suffering on the part of our families, we began to face the second part of the punishment, which was their taking advantage of our vulnerability to send us with nothing to a country plunged into a deep economic crisis. Aside from the painful uprooting from everything that was our past, we are having to learn to live in an environment that is entirely new for all of us, face the humiliation of seeing ourselves forced to live on temporary aid–from the NGOs that support us–in order to survive, with the growing anxiety that our path is double the difficult in the midst of so much unemployment, because we have no papers to establish who we are.

Having spent more than seven years locked in our ideas, we are not trying to live without working, on the contrary, we would prefer not be given anything because we wish to live as human beings and with dignity. We are grateful to the Spanish people–I will never tire of saying it–and unfortunately we know that the Spanish do not have enough, these days, even for themselves. The government of President Zapatero should ask Havana for all the necessary papers so that we can at least fight for our reintegration into society. Or maybe Raul Castro will punish those who are now exiles in this country the same way he punishes professionals who wish to leave Cuba, refusing for five, six or seven years, to issue them travel documents? The difference is that we are already hundreds kilometers from our homeland, away from our families and friends. There is no explanation for this other than a premeditated revenge.

December 17, 2010

Note: Pablo Pacheco formerly blogged in “Voices Behind the Bars” when he was a political prisoner in Cuba. He has now been released and forcibly exiled to Spain, and has a new blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile.” We will continue to post him here, for a time, until his faithful readers have found their way to his new home.

First Day in Agüica / Pablo Pacheco

The bus was traveling at a moderate speed on orders from the Cuban political police. The driver had taken maximum precautions because any slip could derail the operation. Fifteen of us political prisoners of conscience, from the group of 75, traveled on the bus, along with thirty military and medical personnel. In front of us, there were two police cars and following behind were three government vehicles, including an ambulance.

None of the detainees had any idea of our next destination; we could barely look at each other and exchange questioning glances, because the officers of State Security who accompanied us on the bench seat had forbidden us to talk during the journey. Added to this was the fact that our hands were shackled to the grill, and despite our complaints they would not give way. We were afraid that in the case of a possible traffic accident we would be unable to protect ourselves with our hands.

After nearly five hours of travel, we arrived at the headquarters of State Security in the province of Villa Clara. There we had lunch (white rice, black bean soup, a piece of sweet potato, a chicken thigh or drumstick and sweet rice pudding for dessert) and we never imagined that this would be the last decent meal we would receive for years to come. Finally, the head of the procession, a lieutenant colonel, announced that Pedro Arguelles would stay in a prison in that region. Pedro said goodbye to each one of us with a brotherly hug and encouraged us to believe in our future victory. The guards looked on slyly, incredulous at seeing our state of mind in spite of adverse conditions. The initial group was joined by six brothers in the cause from Villa Clara and although it seems absurd, I didn’t recognize Librado Linares with whom I had shared activities of dissent.

Around midnight, we arrived at the “Agüica” prison in Matanzas, where there was a deathly silence. Waiting for us there was the head duty officer and head of internal order, Captain Emilio Cruz Rodriguez, the chief scourge of the inmate. Emilio, showing arrogance and authoritarianism, told us three newcomers to take off our clothes: Manuel Ulvas González, Alexis Rodríguez Fernández, and me. It was the first of many humiliations of political prisoners. The search was thorough; all of our belongings were siezed, apparently because they were suspicious of the detention centers where we had been. Over time I realized that despite having the same interests, prison officials and political police did not have a good relationship, there were differences and professional jealousy.

We three were dispersed throughout the prison, Manuel, 34, with a sentence of twenty years was assigned to “The Polish” section. He had left behind in his native Guantánamo his wife five months pregnant, and two children of five and seven years old. Alexis was interned in “The Bivouac,” because, according to Emilio Cruz, he had been carrying a bottle of wine, although it was actually vinegar; and I ended up in the third section, intended, like the other two, for inmates being punished, condemned to death, or with life sentences and high penalties.

I cannot say I slept that night because my thoughts were in my home, over 350 km away, with Oleivys and our only child, four-years-old. I cried, cursed, and prayed, I prayed a lot, and that was the only thing that helped me to find a shield against the loneliness that preyed on me. The floor was flooded with water due to leaks in the roof and a rain that had fallen hours earlier, the prisoners told me the next day. Between brooding and fatigue I was plunged into a grief that is hard to describe. Suddenly, some bells rang in the distance. It was the wake-up call in the prison, these were my first hours in the tomb of the living men in the shadowy prison “Agüica.” I never imagined I would spend 17 months in solitary, alone and in terrible conditions, although I admit that I knew in advance that I would have to pay a price for being a free man and not allowing my thoughts to be chained.

December 17, 2010

Note: Pablo Pacheco formerly blogged in “Voices Behind the Bars” when he was a political prisoner in Cuba. He has now been released and forcibly exiled to Spain, and has a new blog, “Cuban Voices from Exile.” We will continue to post him here, for a time, until his faithful readers have found their way to his new home.