The evening of March 17 my mind was elsewhere. I didn’t have a cent in my pocket and I had to buy a vitamin-filled milk complex, which at the time cost 4 dollars, for my daughter Melany, who was barely a month and a half old. The baby’s voracious appetite forced the pediatrician to order the vitamin-filled complex to complement the mother’s milk.
Back then I was an independent journalist working for the agency Cuba Press, which was presided over by the poet and journalist Raul Rivero. I wrote for the web site of the Inter-American Press Society, plus chronicles and stories for Encuentro en la Red [Encounter on the Web], a web site created by Cuban immigrants in Spain, which was the best, journalistically speaking, that was being promoted outside of Cuba.
Payment for the articles arrived every two or three months. The day before the government launched a raid against 75 opponents and independent reporters, I was barely treading water. It was a hot month of March. The Iraqi invasion by the U.S. troops was imminent. The previous night I had spoken with my wife regarding the possibility of selling some of my clothes and a watch so we could buy the food for the baby.
That evening I spent the night at the baby’s house to help the mother, who was very tired by little Melany’s habit of waking up in the middle of the night and then sleeping until dawn.
Around midnight, on Tuesday, March 18, I returned to my house, in the district of La Vibora, where I lived with my mother, my sister and a niece. I felt the exhaustion of centuries and the bags under my eyes reached the floor.
I saw, on the balcony, my mother Tania Quintero, who was an independent reporter as well, signaling incomprehensibly to me. When I arrived she informed me that they had detained several reporters and dissidents.
My exhaustion was gone immediately. The bad news did not stop there. There were massive detentions going on all over the island. The next day we found out that almost a hundred people had been detained and their homes had been carefully searched.
My mother and I were waiting for our arrest at any moment. We were walking around with a toothbrush and a spoon. I spoke with my wife and sadly told her that they could come for me at any time.
We held our hearts in our fists. Those days were full of fear. I did not understand the government’s reasons for jailing a group of people whose opposition was peaceful or who wrote without mandate.
Reporter friends like Raul Rivero, Ricardo Gonzalez, Jorge Olivera and Pablo Pacheco, by State decree, slept in cells sealed by the political police. I listened to short-wave radio and the world-wide denunciation was spectacular. Castro, in his calculated strategy, thought the Iraq war would divert the world’s attention from the matter. But it did not happen that way.
As the days passed, a powerful wave of attacks was let loose by the Cuban Media against the opposition. The circus began. Trials without rights and where the people who had infiltrated the dissidence came out to the light. I remember with horror that there were 7 prosecutor requests for the death sentence.
The crime was to dissent and to write articles that were not favorable to the government. As “definitive proofs” the office of the public prosecutor presented typewriters, portable radios, books, blank sheets of paper and money. They didn’t trouble themselves to show a single firearm nor any explosive materials.
“Castro has gone crazy” I thought. The more that I analyzed different fact, the less logic that the conclusions made. What was certain: the government had prepared meticulously for the hit.
The Varela Project, of the dissident Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, had Fidel Castro by the balls. Any democratic leader who traveled to Cuba asked him to fulfill the laws of his own Constitution, which authorized the reform of laws when 1000 signatures have been collected.
And that is what Paya’s movement had done. In fact, the former US President, Jimmy Carter, in a speech given at the University of Havana in front of Castro himself, had demanded that the legal requirements be met.
This ended up exasperating Castro. Since 1998 five spies, from a ring of twelve, had been jailed in the United Stated, and no leagl maneuvering had succeeded in overturning the penality. So he decided to play hardball.
He reformed to the Constitution to perpetuate his political system. He created the scary Law 88, known as the gag law, which could send you to prison for over 20 years, simply for dissent or writings, under the accusation of working for a foreign power.
The conditions had been created to unleash the raid against the opposition. The Iraq war was the smoke screen that Castro used to obscure the news.
No dissident of journalist was sure of his situation during the following months. My mother and my family were forced into exile. I preferred to watch my daughter grow up. I felt I had every right in the world to be at her side and watch her say her first words in the country where she was born and where her parents and grandparents were born. Fidel Castro was not going to stop me. Even at the risk of going to prison.
Seven years after the fateful Black Spring, little has changed in Cuba. Fidel Castro awaits his death in bed, writing his memoirs and a litany of personal reflections about anything going on the planet.
His brother Raul, without any big changes, has continued the same repressive politics against whomever opposes them. He continues to disqualify and spurn them. The intimidating Law 88 is still floating in the air of the Republic. Whenever the government decides, they can jail the dissidents without any thought.
At this stage of the revolution and the logical erosion of power, the Castros are determined to remain power until death. Nobody is going to change their minds. Not the international pressures, nor the honest talk of other countries’ leaders who wish for Cuba to join the group of democratic nations.
Seven years have gone by since the incarceration of dissidents. Life here is still the same. Nothing has changed.
Photo: La Víbora, a neighborhood of the municipality, 10 de Octubre, the most densely populated in Havana
Translated by Marfa Otano