14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 10 July 2023 — If a couple of years ago her efforts were devoted to obtaining food, transportation, or perhaps planning to emigrate, now her greatest concern is the freedom of her relatives convicted for the protests of July 11, 2021 (11J). Prison has not only changed the detained on that historic day of popular demonstrations in Cuba, but also their loved ones.
Yaquelín Cruz García is no longer afraid to speak out. On July 15, her son Dariel Cruz García will be 22 years old. A day later, on the 16th, he will have spent two years behind bars after being arrested at his house in La Güinera, in Arroyo Naranjo (Havana). The young man was sentenced to five years for, among other things, allegedly launching “expletives against the leaders of the State and the Communist Party of Cuba.”
While the eldest of four brothers is in prison, the mother juggles to survive and help Dariel, known in the neighborhood as El Bolo . “Last month I couldn’t go visit him in prison because I didn’t have anything to take him,” Cruz García told 14ymedio . “I have three more children and it is very difficult for me to support everyone with a salary of 2,500 pesos a month.”
El Bolo is confined in the Jóvenes de Occidente [Western Youth] prison and his mother sees him as if he were still small: “My son is going through a lot of work, I hardly can help him. This month only one pound of sugar per person came to the bodega [ration store]. We have made an effort and we have saved the five pounds that we all received this month, so that he can keep them in prison.”
The unity of the relatives of political prisoners continues to be a challenge because the political police dynamite alliances, generate intrigues and also threaten them when they meet, but something is achieved, especially in La Güinera where the July 12, 2021 protests were one of the most intense of those days.
“Here in this neighborhood several mothers of political prisoners have met, we help each other if someone needs a medicine. We meet frequently, but it is like everyone is the same, because this country is going backwards like a crab,” Cruz Garcia details. “Nothing has come to the butcher shop and only three pounds of rice arrived through the bodega,” she explains.
“He understands me when I tell him that I can’t bring him anything, he is very understanding,” remarks the mother. “All the relatives of these prisoners can see what they carry. We are consumed, sad, glued to the floor. The blows of all the years have fallen on us.” Cruz García can not even describe her existence: “They have taken everything from us, what we have now cannot be called life, this is death but breathing.”
Families draw strength from what they barely have left. “We try to strengthen ourselves,” describes Migdalia Gutiérrez Padrón, mother of Brusnelvis Cabrera Gutiérrez, sentenced to 10 years for the crime of sedition. “It has been a time of suffering, although my son is stronger every day,” she details. “During the last visit I had on July 5, we talked a lot and he told me very emotional stories about other political prisoners.”
“Because my son is a political prisoner,” he flinches and the word, unthinkable until a few years ago in her mouth, resonates. The woman recounts her situation and supports it with phrases such as “human rights,” “freedom,” “democracy” and the forceful adjective that best defines the current Cuban regime: “dictatorship.” No word is superfluous when it comes to defending Brusnelvis.
“He didn’t know anything about that but meeting all those young people in prison who took to the streets to ask for a free Cuba has been very nice. Many didn’t even know about politics but now we have learned a lot about what is happening in Cuba and I am very proud that he is firm with his ideas. I am going to follow him in that and I am going to do everything to achieve the freedom of all of them.”
“Having a child in prison makes you open your eyes, everything changes and even more so right now because everything is very difficult, Cuba no longer has anything, here nothing is worth anything and buying anything is a problem,” denounced Gutiérrez Padrón. “The second anniversary of July 11 and 12 is coming up and what I want most in this life is for my son to be free and all the political prisoners. That is my dream, but I also want Cuba to be free.”
Brusnelvis, 22, is being held at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, the largest prison in Cuba. His mother has not wasted a minute to make alliances and support others in a similar situation: “I feel that the relatives have united but more unity is needed, because I understand the fear that can be had with the repression. We are a group of seven mothers and we give each other a lot of solidarity.”
Annia Zamora, mother of Sissi Abascal, shares a similar experience. “Throughout these two years we have managed to get many relatives of these 9J 11 prisoners to maintain a relationship, call each other and support us in whatever is necessary,” the woman, a resident of the town of Carlos Rojas in the province of Matanzas, told this newspaper.
“When another mother of a political prisoner hugs me, that’s very important to me and Sissi has a very close relationship with all the ’11J’ prisoners who are in the same prison [La Bellotex]… In our union is the freedom of our prisoners, that is why we cannot keep quiet,” Zamora emphasizes. “We are their voice because they cannot speak.”
“Having a family member imprisoned right now in Cuba is an odyssey, you can’t find anything in the stores,” denounces the woman. “We live in a small town and I have to move from town to town to look for something, to bring some food to my daughter. We even have to bring her water, because the prison water is contaminated.”
“Sissi is a very loved girl, I am very lucky to have a very close family,” she says. “My daughter has been deprived of many things, her relationship with her nephews, for example. They have a very nice relationship and when they visit her in prison they sit on top of her, they want to comb her hair, make her braids. They cover her with kisses,” evokes the mother.
Not only the parents, the children of the prisoners have also been transformed in these two years. Yuneisy Santana González is the wife of Samuel Pupo Martínez, who was not forgiven by the judges for starring in one of the most iconic images of the protests on July 11. Climbing onto an overturned vehicle, this 48-year-old man shouted “Down with communism! Homeland and life!” a few meters from the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party in Cárdenas.
“Our son is already a 14-year-old teenager and I can’t find words to explain why his father is still in prison. Our warrior misses him a lot and his dad has missed the important changes of his adolescence, although he was a very present father before,” she details. “Our little boy has lost his appetite and his grades at school have dropped.”
Their son is excited that Pupo, who will be 49 years old this July 28, will be back home for his son’s 15th birthday. The father was sentenced to three years in prison, which he is serving in the Agüica prison “along with prisoners who have committed blood crimes,” the wife clarifies. “They denied him parole a few months ago, but we’re still here.”
“It cannot be that shouting freedom and demanding rights is a crime,” laments Santana González. Although the woman wanted to look for a job in Education, she insists that she was not accepted because of her relationship with an ’11J’ prisoner . “I’m cleaning houses so I can support my family,” she explains.
“All of us, the prisoners and the families, are paying a sentence, an unjust sentence, but I am not going to keep quiet in the face of so much injustice. It is already July 11 and they are not going to silence us.”
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.