Farewell, My Friend / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva
Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

HAVANA, Cuba , September, www.cubanet.org – Independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, according to the latest information received, has just died in Madrid.

A former liver disease was the trigger for his vital signs to irreversibly decline.

The trip to the Spanish capital in search of better medical care would not alter the outcome marked by fate. There, far from his homeland and in the company of his wife he has had to say goodbye to an increasingly unsettled world.

Points of views critical of the government that he expressed in hundreds of articles and pithy economic analyses, earned him harassment, smear campaigns, detentions, acts of repudiation and a stint in jail as part of the Group of 75.

Together we remember Cuba’s Guantanamo prison* in late April 2003 after being sentenced to long prison terms for our activities in favor of democracy. He had been sentenced to two decades in prison, and I to 18 years.

From the moment that, handcuffed and under heavy guard, we boarded the bus heading to Guantanamo, more than 900 kilometers east of the capital, His serious health problems were visible. Several times during the trip he required medical assistance. So much so that on arrival at the prison he had to be admitted to hospital ward for provincial inmates.

In the passageway we were barely able to exchange a few words. The Interior Ministry agents forbade us from speaking, but the difficulties in communicating with Chepe were notorious. His ill health made me think that he might come to a fatal ending before reaching the destination fixed by our executioners.

In the solitude of the isolation cell I was able to learn of his transfer to a hospital in the city of Santiago de Cuba a few days of arriving in Guantanamo. I learned later that, because of the severity of his ill health, the political police had decided to take him to a prison in the capital.

Even so,before they granted him parole for health reasons, he had to endure nearly 19 months in prison.

His recovery after returning home was short-lived. The serious impact of his incarceration left traces that contributed over time to accelerate his decline.

Unexpectedly I was also released for health reasons weeks after he left the hospital in Combinado del Este, Cuba ‘s largest prison located on the outskirts of Havana.

Remaining in my memory are sporadic conversations we had on various issues of our national reality.

I was privileged to enjoy his qualities as a host, I can also attest to his ability to take on, with responsibility and integrity, the challenges imposed by the circumstances, and his unwavering virtue in making no concession in what he believed was best for the future the country.

Among his best political qualities I should mention his moderation, his support for gradual changes, and his clarity in dismantling the fallacies of the regime which continues to articulate false statistics and empty rhetoric.

I do not want to fix in my neurons that he will return to Cuba as ashes. The image I have chosen to remember that that of the whole man who did not shy away from debate and who never waned in his convictions, those of that languid but undaunted old man who accompanied me on the bus that distributed us among various prisons in the Spring of 2003.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo — oliverajorge75@yahoo.com

*Translator’s note: Olivera Castillo is referring to the Cuban prison in Guantanamo province, not the one run by the United States.

From Cubanet, 23 September 2013