Fidel Castro’s “Hardships” in Prison / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones

Fidel Castro’s mug shot (photo from the internet)
Fidel Castro’s mug shot (photo from the internet)

“We sleep with the lights off, we have no roll calls or formations all day, we get up whenever (…) Plenty of water, electric lights, food, clean clothes and all for free”

cubanet square, Roberto Jesus Quinones Haces, Guantanamo, 15 May 2015 – This May 15 marks the 60th anniversary of the release of the Moncadistas. The attack on the Moncada barracks is characterized by many as a terrorist act. Beyond the adjectives, always debatable, those who have been charged with praising the rebellious generation and denigrating the army officers of the time say nothing about the soldiers killed that Carnival dawn. Nineteen officers fell, but their names do not count for the official historians.

What would happen today if a group of Cubans, tired of political discrimination and abuses, were to attack a military unit? Would they receive sanctions as benign as those applied to the Moncadistas? Would they be allowed to meet in jail and be separated from the regular prisoners? Would they be granted amnesty?

The “cruel” prison of the Moncadistas

In the articles that the figureheads of Castro Communism have written about the event, it is emphasized how “cruel” the prison was for the Moncadistas during the year and nine months that they were held. It is embarrassing to read that in comparison with what many opponents of the regime later had to — and still — suffer.

In the book “The Fertile Prison,” published in 1980, historian Mario Mencia says that Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria were sentenced to seven months for their participation in that event, a surprising sentence compared to the sentences currently meted out to the brave women who dare to raise their voices against the regime. Suffice it to say that recently Sonia Garro spent more than a year in jail awaiting trial.

Arriving at the women’s jail at Guanajay, Melba and Haydee were not only allowed to make phone calls to inform their families, but they were fixed up with accommodations consisting of a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and dining room; they were permitted to receive all kinds of books, visits by family and friends, and they were always separated from the ordinary prisoners. I must add that before 1959 only three women were sentenced for political reasons, all during the Batista dictatorship, an insignificant number if we compare it to what happened after 1959.

The 27 Moncadistas were sent to the Model Prison on the Island of Pines and separated from the common prisoners, something that Castro-communism has never done with political prisoners. Mr. Mencia says that jail was a hell because it had 460 cells for 930 prisoners and only three showers and two toilets per 25 men. I would like, if he is still alive, for Mr. Mencia to see the 2C outpost of the Guantanamo prison where I was a prisoner between 1999 and 2003, a place built for 90 men and that at that time came to house up to three hundred, many of them sleeping on the floor with only two holes for defecating and two showers. Or he should see the sealed cells where political prisoners are kept. Would Mr. Mencia write about that?

The Moncadistas – according to Mencia – were allowed to have an electric stove, a library with more than 600 books, to read even after the 10 pm roll call, to play ping pong and volleyball and to form an ideological academy in which they debated all kinds of subjects without intervention by the prison authorities. Fidel Castro had at his disposal a Silvestone brand radio. Sixty years later, no Cuban political prisoner enjoys such benefits.

On page 76 of the book there appears a letter by Fidel dated April 4, 1954, where he wrote: “I am going to dinner: spaghetti with squid, Italian chocolates for dessert, fresh brewed coffee and then an H. Upman 4 [cigar]. Don’t you envy me? They take care of me, they take care of me a little among everyone… They take no notice, I am always fighting so that they do not send anything. When I take the sun in the morning in shorts and feel the sea air, it seems that I am on a beach, then a little restaurant here. They are going to make me believe that I am on vacation. What would Karl Marx say about such revolutionaries?”

The permissiveness of the authorities so encouraged the prisoners that their families bought them a refrigerator.

In another letter from August 1954, page 149, the despot in the making wrote: “Cleaning is for the prison staff, we sleep with the lights off, we do not have roll call or formations all day, we get up whenever; I did not ask for these improvements, of course. Abundant water, electric lights, food, clean clothes, and it’s all free.”

The Supposed Isolation

The supposed isolation of the Moncadistas is another falsehood because the book records that on July 8, 1954, Bohemia published an interview with Fidel Castro with the title “The Political Prisoners on the Isle of Pines.”

The prisoners’ mothers formed the group “Cuban Mothers,” which would become the Committee of Pro-Amnesty Relatives of Political Prisoners. They were never beaten for fighting for their relatives’ freedom, much less arrested or slandered as the most worthy Ladies in White are today by the government.

On March 25 of 1955 Bohemia magazine published a document by the Moncadistas addressed to the Cuban people, and on several occasions they were visited by high officials of the regime. Castro-Communism has never permitted that liberty to its opponents.

The lessons of a political mistake

The mistake by the politicians of that era was to believe that if they granted amnesty to the Moncadistas, they would renounce the violent vocation that the letters written by Fidel Castro from his comfortable prison clearly announced.

The dictatorship disguised as Revolution, which that young man of supposed ideals imposed on us, is now 56 years old. He and his brother learned the lesson very well. Hopefully some day the Cuban people will learn that the best leader of a country is respect for institutions and, consequently, will create the needed mechanisms so that we never again suffer another dictatorship.

About the Author

jesus-quinones-haces.thumbnailRoberto Jesus Quinones Haces was born in the city of Cienfuegos September 20, 1957. He is a law graduate. In 1999 he was unjustly and illegally sentenced to eight years incarceration and since then has been prohibited from practicing as a lawyer. He has published poetry collections “The Flight of the Deer” (1995, Editorial Oriente), “Written from Jail” (2001, Ediciones Vitral), “The Folds of Dawn,” (2008, Editorial Oriente), and “The Water of Life” (2008, Editorial El Mar y La Montana). He received the Vitral Grand Prize in Poetry in 2001 with his book “Written from Jail” as well as Mention and Special Recognition from the Nosside International Juried Competition in Poetry in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His poems appear in the 1994 UNEAC Anthology, in the 2006 Nosside Competition Anthology and in the selection of ten-line stanzas “This Jail of Pure Air” published by Waldo Gonzalez in 2009.

Translated by MLK