Pedro Luis Boitel, Prisoner Number 26621

Pedro Luis Boitel died 50 years ago today in prison, during a hunger strike. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Corzo, Miami, 25 May 2022 — That was the numerical identification that the prison administration of the Isla de Pinos prison hung on Pedro Luis Boitel, who on May 25 marks 50 years since he died on a hunger strike.

Giving political prisoners a number was a form of dehumanization, of standardization, but they did not achieve their goal, because the prisoners proudly displayed the number, which reflected their time in prison and, to a certain extent, the fight for democracy.

This martyr of the country, a worker at the emblematic Cuban radio and television company CMQ, was also a leader of the historic University Student Federation (FEU), an independent entity that was distorted by Castro’s totalitarianism.

Pedro Luis was a man capable of reaching the maximum stage of a human being in society, that of a citizen fully aware of his duties and rights, always ready to claim and defend his prerogatives without fear of consequences.

In the documentary, Nobody Listened (1984), Boitel’s mother, Clara Abraham de Boitel, expresses with great pride that her son could not bear an injustice. She affirms that he was a man not destined to live long because of his strong commitment to the truth and fairness. His mother knew him very well because his life was soon distorted by Castro’s totalitarianism.

His life was short, but full of national glory. He was one of those men who fully conformed to Martí’s expression: “When one dies in the arms of the grateful homeland, death ends, the prison breaks; life finally begins with dying!”

Boitel faced the regime of Fulgencio Batista. Persecuted by the Police, he went into exile in Venezuela, where he fought groups that sought to destabilize the incipient democracy of that country.

In Venezuela and before the triumph of the insurrection, he had his first confrontation with the Castro brothers, who were drastically opposed to him informing the world of what was happening in Cuba, a sign that, even before coming to power, the fateful brothers intended to establish absolute control over information.

His status as a student leader was contested by the Castros and the 26th of July Movement (M26J). The moncadistas did not trust Boitel to preside over the FEU, his independence of opinion made him unpredictable for the interests of the new regime, and they decided to support another university student, Rolando Cubelas, a government official, commander of the rebel army and leader of a rival organization of the M26J during the insurrectionary stage, the Student Revolutionary Directory.

The new leadership of the FEU led to this prestigious entity becoming one of the transmission belts of totalitarian power. The Cuban student body was subdued and the historical rebellion crushed before the firing squad or with long prison sentences.

Pedro Luis went to prison for many years. His colleagues remember him as a tireless man, always ready to report any abuse and willing to endure any punishment without ever giving up.

His rebellion was such that he even escaped from the Isla de Pinos prison. His companions in the escape, Armando Valladares, the only survivor of that brave deed, evokes with admiration the leadership of the student leader before and after being captured, evokes his stoicism in the face of the insanity of the henchmen and affirms that he learned a lot from Pedro Luis.

For many of his colleagues, he has been the most emblematic Cuban political prisoner after José Martí. His rebellion and constant hunger strikes made him unique in a setting where brave men like Alfredo Izaguirre, Armando Sosa Fortuny, Onerio Nerin Sánchez, Roberto Martín Pérez and Israel Abreu, just to mention a few, left traces of exceptional courage and national convictions.

Pedro Luis Boitel’s legacy of heroism and fidelity to Cuba was picked up by many Cubans, particularly those of more recent generations. Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prison organization in the Castro prisons; his sister, Berta Antúnez, formed the Pedro Luis Boitel Civic Resistance Movement, and the numerous times imprisoned hero of the Black Spring, Félix Navarro, organized the Party for Democracy under the name of an unforgettable martyr.


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