EFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 26 May 2022 — Pedro Luis Boitel was forced to go thirsty during a hunger strike in prison, because “Castro gave the order that they cut off his water until he died,” according to what his cellmate, the human rights Armando Valladares, told Efe.
“You cannot write the history of political prison in Cuba without naming Pedro Luis,” says Valladares, a painter, poet and former US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, in an interview with Efe.
“Fidel Castro expressly hated Pedro Luis, a leader of the 26th of July Movement and exiled (by Fulgencio Batista) in Venezuela,” Valladares comments shortly before participating in a colloquium in Miami on Wednesday for the 50th anniversary of Boitel’s death.
“He was well known and the candidate with the most possibilities to win the elections (for president) of the FEU (University Student Federation)” before the Revolution, he adds about his companion in cell 64, of circular building number 4 in the Isle of Pines prison, now in disuse and from which they both fled.
In 1961 Boitel was arrested and charged with conspiracy against the state. He was sentenced in a trial to ten years in prison, a sentence that was later extended with other charges.
A kind of maximum security Alacatraz, found in a small island in the south of Cuba, the Isle of Pines was considered “impossible” to break out of, recalls Valladares, who turns 85 next Friday.
Valladares, imprisoned at the age of 21 for refusing to hang a plaque that read “I am with Fidel” and who spent 22 years in prison, during which he suffered torture and punishment of all kinds and went on eleven hunger strikes, met Boitel at the La Cabaña prison in Havana.
“When they finished my interrogations in the political police, they sent me to galley 12 in La Cabaña. At the door was Pedro Luis, thin and with very large glasses. Then we were together for years and years and years,” he recalls.
“When we escaped on October 21, 1961 – I remember it because I was released on the same day 20-odd years later – there was a guard who walked around at sunset with a dog and a rifle,” he relates about this installation, in which Fidel Castro was also imprisoned before being amnestied by the Government of Fulgencio Batista.
“We went inside the barracks dressed as soldiers, greeting the guards. They captured us on the third day because the people who were supposed to pick us up on the coast did not come, they thought it was impossible for us to escape,” adds Valladares.
“We were the only ones who managed to get out of the cordon of the prison, it will remain in history, I don’t know why there is a tendency to eliminate this heroic and almost novelistic act from the interviews,” he laments, and clarifies that the idea of the escape was Boitel’s.
Upon being captured, they were taken to the punishment cell where they remained “almost a year,” says Valladares. “We went on strike to get us out of there, which was the first,” recapitulates the author of the book Against All Hope, where he recounted his memories after 22 years in prison.
According to the activist’s account, Boitel was taken to the Military Hospital (in Havana), where he was one of the first to be given civilian clothes. “He was making strikes until the last one in (the prison of) the Castillo del Príncipe.
It was a hunger strike, not a thirst strike. Fidel Castro gave the order that the water be cut off until he died,” says Valladares.
Boitel died at the age of 41 on a hunger strike on May 25, 1972 in the Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana.
The organizers of the tribute to Boitel, among which are the “Plantados hasta la Libertad de Cuba” [Resisters until Cuba is Free], the Institute of Cuban Historical Memory against Totalitarianism and the PEN Club of Cuban Writers in exile, yesterday brought a floral offering to the tomb of the Boitel’s mother, Clara Abraham de Boitel, at Miami’s Flagler Memorial Cemetery.
In the afternoon, the documentary Boitel: Murienda a plazos, directed by Daniel Urdanivia and produced by Pedro Corzo, was screened at the Tower Theater in Little Havana, where Valladares spoke to the audience.
Next to him was “another great friend of Pedro Luis”, Richard Heredia, also an anti-communist and who was with Boitel “underground.”
“It is a well-deserved tribute. Pedro Luis is a legend for all political prisoners like me. Fortunately, we have groups within Cuba that have even adopted his name,” he stressed.
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