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.