Nine Years After the “Black Spring” / Juan Adolfo Fernández Sainz

That same day, March 18, 2003 I went to Chinatown, in downtown Havana, to exchange ideas with colleagues in the independent press. The issue was the Iraq War, which had been declared unilaterally, and without the strong international support there had been for Operation Desert Storm, after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Like the previous day there had been numerous arrests of opponents, it crossed my mind to burn some papers but I decided not to. My articles, my comments, I wrote to be published. They were my views and had nothing to hide. I did not feel guilty. The afternoon of the 19th my house underwent a thorough search.

My room was filled with soldiers until dawn. I noticed that the people who had invaded my space did not know anything about us. They had previously been poisoned. To them I was a traitor in the service of a foreign power.

In the process of the criminal investigation, it was the same. All they cared about was that I incriminate the U.S. government. As I am a translator of English, I had worked with groups of visiting Swedish journalists in Havana, and had published articles in their newspapers. I prepared to answer for that. They asked me nothing about it. I had been collaborating via Fax with the Russian news agency PRIMA NEWS devoted to reporting on human rights violations.

Neither was that mentioned in interrogations. I concluded that they were not even interested to get to the truth only to condemn us by all means.

When the independent press emerged in Cuba in the mid-nineties, independent journalists were condemned to two or three years for contempt or dissemination of false news. To call FC a murderer or “crazy,” or to say in Cubans were being tortured in jails, was an affront to the nation. Contempt.

For the dissemination of false information, after it was published, for example, that a prisoner had been beaten. Their family members had come to human rights organizations or independent press to disclose abuse. But later, visited State Security, say, the mother of the prisoner was threatened that her son was going to rot in jail. She nervously begins to cry, and the officer suggested that everything can be solved if she declares in court that her son was treated well in prison, is being re-educating, and nobody has abused him.

The court, diligent, condemns you for spreading false news. Two or three years in prison.

But when Decree-Law 88 was enacted, the Global Gag Rule, the change was drastic. From that time, criticism of the government to the foreign press is equivalent to supporting the implementation of the “imperialist blockade against Cuba,” an all-out attack on national sovereignty. The penalties were very severe. Belonging to an agency was an aggravating factor, to be paid for it was even worse. But I, a Cuban citizen, I am describing the situation in my country. To argue that this is related to the policy of a foreign government is a clumsy trick.

The law was enacted shortly after the discovery of the Wasp Network. FC wanted revenge, and the Cuban Parliament, always obliging, obliged. They shelved it until the right moment appeared: It was when the U.S. declared war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

When you decide to declare yourself in opposition, the first thing you think of is your family. Since the world began those who confront the powerful are at risk, and their families are at risk.

I thought about it a thousand times. My family is very small. My wife and my daughter who was a teenager. You know they will be dragged into this abyss of suffering. One day I was filled with courage, but when I measured the consequences I put on the brakes. The examples of history help. I thought of Mambises in Ignacio Agramonte; young, educated, rich, in love.  They gave everything for Cuba. And I thought: the Cuban nation is going over the cliff.

You can jump off the train and take control of your life knowing that it is dangerous. Or let these tyrants run your life, make important decisions for you and lead you off the cliff anyway. If, as we want to suffer, we suffer for doing the right thing in our own eyes.

It was a brutal sentence. One day in prison I amused myself adding up the sentences of all the 75; we had almost 1500 years in total, an average of twenty. I got fifteen, the same that FC got got masterminding the assault on a military fortress where the attackers killed 19 soldiers and wounded 26. They asked for the death penalty for Jose Daniel Ferrer in the act of judgment. None of us had committed violent acts, or incited violence. There have been worst waves of repression, but nothing so cruel against proven civil and peaceful opposition. All the major projects proposed by the opponents were for a peaceful transition to democracy.

When I read that the prosecutor was asking for fifteen years it was night. I was shocked. I thought of my loved ones, what they had feared would happen. I went to bed very sad. In the silence of night I asked God for strength to endure with dignity, and I decided that I would not regret it because I was proud of what I was doing. I felt comforted. The next morning as usual I was taken for questioning. I told the officer I was not there to beg for mercy. I felt all the satisfaction one can in such circumstances.

I spent seven years in prison and have no regrets. After I chose the easiest route and went abroad. Hence my commitment to those who decided to stay. And my decision to do whatever my conscience tells me to, to support the fight we have chosen. Not to impose any idea. I know them, they want the best for Cuba.

17 March 2012