Prison Diary XII: The Birth of a Dissident / Angel Santiesteban

Lamberto Hernández  Plana foto de Hablemos Press
Lamberto Hernández Planas

Just days before Angel was moved illegally and by force from La Lima prison, where he was incarcerated for crimes he did not commit, and when we are still without news of him except that he was locked in the 1580 Prison, or The Pitirre, in San Miguel del Padron, on a severe regime, well away from possible visits international and national journalists and human rights and without even being allowed to make a call to his family, managed to get this post out for the world to remember the terrible case of a prisoner of conscience with whom he shared his prison, Lamberto Hernandez Planas.

Lamberto’s case became known well outside the island and was even brought before the Congress of Deputies in Spain. Even so, and after denouncing it for years, Lamberto has spent more than two decades incarcerated and is a clear example of how the Havana regime systematically violates human rights and how it punishes dissent.

Angel has included links at the end of the post for those who want to know more and initiate action to also demand justice for him.

Thank you very much.
The Editor

Lamberto Hernández Planas or How a Dissident is Born

In La Lima Prison, where I am serving an unjust sentence for crimes I didn’t commit, I met another political prisoner, Lamberto Hernandez Planas, who is 43 and will soon have served 22 years in prison. Neither the tortures and horrors that I will related to you have made him budge a single inch from his ideas of freedom.

I shall digress. Whenever I hear the testimonies of the victims of the violence of the dictatorship I think of the people of Cuba, of those who, when we achieve a free system and the terrible abuses of the Castro government are brought to light, will say that they knew nothing of the atrocities committed against their brethren. I especially think about the intellectuals who support the regime and silence in their works the truths that they should collect and capture in their art.

Lamberto Hernández, despite over two decades of imprisonment and being subjected to inhuman special security regimes — in which he has suffered and endured the unspeakable — has not ceased to fight.

In the early ‘90s, he dedicated himself to bringing pottery from the Isle of Youth to Havana with the intention of reselling it, and thanks to having mastered Portuguese, he became friends with African students. His life passed totally normally until a State Security official approached him intending to propose that he collaborating over some foreign students suspected of being counterrevolutionaries.

His job would be to extract information, and in particular some information about the possible intention to create a political party. If he obtained this information, he should go to the police station at Gerona to send it.

Lamberto, who up to then had had no political inclinations, accepted the proposal and promised to see if he could obtain this information. But his real intention was to shake off the official.

They waited months and after having giving him several warnings to cooperate and understanding that he would not, they decided to act: he was arrested and taken to the police station, where he was charged with theft. They presented it as a complaint from a young person he didn’t know.

Then he learned that it was a 23-year-old who’d been blackmailed because she prostituted herself with foreign students. He didn’t even have a residence permit in that city, and for more proof presented be the defense, on the date of the supposed events he was not in Gerona because he was in Havana. Of course his witnesses were useless.

It was known ahead of time that he was already sentenced (any resemblance to other realities is purely coincidental). From the time of his unjust conviction and entering the penitentiary, he started his activity in the opposition, first claiming his innocence and civil rights, but then his conscience grew and with it his political activism as he circulated through prisons all over the island, seven in total. He met the opponents most representative of the Cuban dissidents, and, like in school, he took in readings and practices and citizenship.

His convictions were growing along his protests about the penalties and those hiding behind common accusations. For this he received beatings and suffered multiple fractures. He undertook several hunger strikes, sometimes the only weapon left to Cuban political prisoner to demand justice, which have left many injuries in his body.

He describes how he bore those years of “special regimes,” especially the first eight, six of them without any family visits.

They kept adding new sentences “for inciting the masses” in prisons, “boycott,” “organizing political activities” in prisons, but all of them dressed up as common crimes to prevent recognizing them as a political prisoner of conscience.

In 2003, state security, in a gesture of desperation, offered for him to serve as an informant and then a witness in the trials of the 75 dissidents arrested in the “Black Spring,” to which, of course, he flatly refused and so he came to be known as prisoners of conscience when he returned to the cell.

For his refusal to collaborate again and pronounced stance against the Government he has been the victim of intense torture and have even attempts to kill him. His body carries the burden of chronic diseases such as peripheral neuropathy, second-degree internal hemorrhoids, and amblyopia (shortsightedness), hiatal hernia, esophagitis, bleeding chronic gastritis, duodenitis, a cyst on a testicle caused from the kicks – which causes inflammation and severe pain, and rectal bleeding that doctors have not yet been able to discover the cause of.

When he reached the famous special regime Kilo 7, the guards were waiting at the entrance of the prison to warn: “You reeducate yourself or we will reeducate you,” to which Lambert replied: “If they kill men here, I came to defy death.” Immediately he  received the first of the many beatings that later did not cease.

“I always wonder,” Lamberto tells me, “why we suffered so much that we have given everything for the freedom of Cuba … it is not enough to have given my entire youth and endured pain and humiliation.” But when you think of what you can all Cubans could enjoy, but above all genuine freedom for our children and grandchildren, it seems little to commit to the cause.

He assures me that, despite his now twenty-two years of imprisonment, the physical and mental health and the twelve hunger strikes, he is still up in arms but not with the same strength but with the same spirit multiplied to continue defending our human rights, unyielding, and always without falling into the sentimental trap of offering freedom that they have announced since 2011.

Lamberto Hernández belongs to the Human Rights Committee, he was part of Hard Line Front and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Boycott, and today is part of the Cuban Republican Party (PRC). His wife Niurka Rivera Despaigne is part of the Ladies in White and the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR).

“That’s my modest contribution, brother,” he says and walks away because he’s been warned that recount is starting. I look at the silhouette of this humble man who struggles from complete anonymity.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

La Lima Prison, March 2013

11 April 2013