Notes from Captivity XVI / Pablo Pacheco

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The complaints cost me points with the commander.

by Pablo Pacheco Avila

It has been 92 days since my last meeting with my wife and son. I was impatiently looking forward to the officer on duty calling my name for the visit, and being able to hug my family and talk with them, even though it was only for two hours. In captivity, visiting time is considered a blessing from God.

Around noon I heard my name on the guard’s walkie talkie and he immediately presented himself at my cell asking, “Are you ready?” “For more than three hours,” I answered.

I’d spent more than two months without breathing free air. The guards hadn’t taken me outside the bars and walls of my cell during this whole time. One week after the last visit they had taken me to the prison infirmary for a routine medical check-up and since then I hadn’t left the confines of “The Polish.” Whenever I passed the barriers of confinement I felt like another man, a free man, if only for an instant.

Between hugs and tears my wife and I greet each other. With my son I had to pluck up my courage so he wouldn’t notice my distress and to a certain extent I succeeded. Then, he started to tell me about his experiences at school and innocently asked about my studies. Oleivys looked at me and inevitably our eyes welled up with tears, fortunately Jimito wasn’t looking at us at that moment. The white lie we told our son after my arrest, about my supposed school, broke our hearts.

Oleivys clued me in to recent events in Cuba and the campaign for our release. The three of us ate together. In reality, only the boy ate well. We two, knowing the crude reality of our lives, made it difficult to eat the food that Oleivys had made with so much effort and sacrifice in our home, almost eight hours before the meeting.

Suddenly Captain Peñate of the political police burst into the office where we were and announced the end of the visit. Oleivys looked at her watch and we had actually passed the two established hours. We said goodbye on the spot, my partner and I having agreed not to show our despair in front of the “executioner” when it came time to say goodbye, it was one of our most effective weapons against the guards.

Back in my cell, I waited for Captain Emilio Cruz Rodriguez, Chief of Internal Order in the prison and the main “executioner” of the prisoners. He ordered his subordinates to search my belongings minutely.

Emilio took umbrage with a small jar of mayonnaise my wife had bought in the hard currency stores. They made me put it in another container because the metal detector beeped at the metal that protected the mayonnaise. I explained handling the sauce could contaminate it, but they ignored me. After an exchange of words he said, “It’s not my problem if it gets contaminated, I’m following orders.” Never mind Captain, I’m a prisoner for my ideas, not for my food,” I told him.
Before leaving the cell Emilio told me, “Pablo, on your previous visit your wife lodged a complaint about me with regards to a beating given to a prisoner.” It’s possible, I responded. 
“I just want to inform you, Pablo, that these complaints of your result in my getting points from my Commander in Chief,” he added. To which I replied, “Captain, may your Commander in Chief be equally brave the day it’s not about protecting yourself and you have to respond before a court for your abuses.” Emilio stared at me, upset, and didn’t say another word.

When I got back to my cell I wrote a note to my brothers in the cause telling them the details of the visit. Then, out of an instinct of solidarity, I sent them a bag of goodies that my family had brought. It was customary among all the political prisoners in “Polish” to share opinions, food, books and everything we could share. Among us prevailed the power of solidarity above selfishness and human misery. Time proved that captivity strengthened us as human beings and we today we give thanks to God for it.

That night, the words of Emilio hammered in my brain and I confess they kept me up late. I never imagined so much evil in one person, I understood that the cruelty with regards to mayonnaise was in retaliation for the complaint Oleivys had lodged with the military.

Three days after the visit I had to throw away the sauce because it was rancid. I lost one of my most precious foods in prison. It always lasted me five or six weeks, saving it, but this time Emilio’s hate and intolerance forced me to throw out the food. Little did this guard imagine that his attitude gave me extra strength to continue denouncing the abuses and crimes in the Cuban prison system.

2 July 2011