Cuba: ‘My Son Has Never Smiled Again’ Since His Father Was Arrested on July 11th (11J) in Cárdenas

Samuel Pupo Martínez with his wife Yuneisy Santana González. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 May 2022– Judges did not forgive Samuel Pupo Martínez for starring in one of the most iconic images of the protests on July 11 (11J). Climbing on top of an overturned vehicle, this then 46-year-old man shouted “Down with communism! Patria y Vida!” a few meters from the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party in Cárdenas.

That was the last time that Pupo stepped on the streets of his city. Almost eleven months after the popular protests, he is kept locked up in the maximum security prison of Agüica, in the province of Matanzas. His wife, Yuneisy Santana González, has not stopped denouncing the sentence of seven years in prison for contempt and public disorder handed down by the court.

In the trial, which lasted three days, “his lawyer made a brilliant defense but the prosecutor asked the defendants for the maximum sentence for each crime they had allegedly committed,” Santana tells 14ymedio. “The witnesses they presented were all from the Ministry of the Interior and they showed a lot of inconsistency in their testimonies,” she recalls.

The sentence was pending for a month and both Pupo and his wife felt hopeful because the lawyer had requested a change of the pre-trial detention measure. “He appealed to scleroderma, a degenerative disease that Samuel suffers from and that is not compatible with staying in prison.”

The lawyer presented a summary of the clinical history of Pupo, who in this time has been admitted twice to the prison infirmary, but they denied him the change of measure. “We realized that it doesn’t matter how brilliant the lawyer’s defense is when the sentence is already written in advance.”

When frustration overwhelms her, Santana remembers those historic protests that shook the island. “It was never seen before. So many people in many provinces asking for freedom. The world saw the reality of what we Cubans live,” she stresses. Although she regrets that “in a few hours everything turned into arrests and mistreatment by the police.”

Pupo was arrested that same day. “They violently arrested him and took him to the Party headquarters between three uniformed men and a man dressed in civilian clothes. Once inside, a ‘red beret’ took his cell phone and threw it on the floor. They also kicked him while he was lying on the ground.”

Santana only saw her husband again 103 days after that arrest. After the reunion, she learned that on the evening of July 11, he was taken in a patrol car to the police station. “While handcuffed, they hit him in the face to forced him to shout ‘Patria o Muerte!’ but he kept repeating ‘Patria y Vida!’.”

Later that night, he was transferred to another Ministry of the Interior facility on the outskirts of the city. “There a ‘black beret’ squeezed his neck so much that he collapsed. At dawn they took him to the Labiotec women’s prison, where he spent 40 days sleeping on a zinc plate without a mattress, with very little food and little water.”

During the first days, his wife went from one place to another looking for her husband. “At the police station they told me that they didn’t know anything. I explained that he was diabetic and that he didn’t have his medication, but the police only questioned why, if he was so sick, he hadn’t stayed home during the demonstration.”

In those first days, “Samuel was psychologically tortured. They woke him up at any hour of the night to interrogate him. Nine days after being detained, Pupo was able to make the first phone call to his family.

“That’s when he told me he was in Labiotec. He had spent that time in the same clothes, without being able to clean himself and with the same facemask. The first visit his lawyer was able to make was on July 28.” Pupo was then transferred to Combinado del Este, the largest prison in Cuba, but on September 11 he was taken to Agüica.

“The food in prison is disgusting and very little. They begin to serve the prisoners from a bucket and sometimes there is not enough for everyone. One day there was only one boiled egg,” the woman denounces. “The calls are once a week and the phone he calls me from is so noisy that I can hardly understand what he is saying.”

“He has lost a lot of vision in these months due to glaucoma, which he also suffers from, he is very thin and sleeps little,” she lists. However, Santana prefers to remember him as an enterprising man, who works as a self-employed person, has a good command of English and teaches that language to a group of students. “In 15 years of marriage we had never separated.”

Together they have a 13-year-old son. “He had a dream to see him graduate from sixth grade and go with him to the first day of secondary school. But he couldn’t fulfill it because he was in prison,” says the woman. “I know my husband would not have missed that moment for the world. My boy has never smiled since his father was arrested.”

However, Pupo’s greatest dream “is that Cuba is free, we have democracy and the president can be elected, that there is not a totalitarian party in power.” He came to that conclusion in part because “in his spare time he was always looking for information on history. He was on top of everything and very up-to-date.”

“I became a mom and dad all at once. Since that day I sleep very badly because I wake up at dawn thinking about how it will be.” The prison guards “tell me all the time that they are going to put me in jail if I continue to demand freedom for him and for all the political prisoners in Cuba.”

When she receives these threats, Santana always has the same question that is immediately answered: “What did Samuel do? Raise his voice, demand his rights and ask for freedom for his country. I am very proud of him.”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.