The "Castro List"

These have been remarkable days. From the time it was known that the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos had on his agenda the topic of releasing a significant number of political prisoners, people started to sit up and take notice.

Never before has a telephone been as important for me.  The uncertainty was making me crazy. Neither the mobile nor the land line were ringing. Surrounded by crackers, roasted peanuts and mango juice I sat glued to the Sony shortwave radio, listening the soccer games and waiting for the good news.

In the dissident sector there existed — and does exist — many doubts and misgivings.  And no wonder. The behavior of the Cuban government over the last 51 years is hardly something that inspires optimism.

Saturday, July 3, the rumors started.  Everyone was talking about the famous list. We called it, “Castro’s list.” The number that it comprised was like a charade. Some were saying no more than five would be freed. Others swore that a good sources assured them that all the prisoners of conscience would be out on the street.

Speculations came and went and I stayed in touch with the different families of the political prisoners. No one knew a thing. Not even a single figure of the opposition. Until the independent journalist Pablo Pacheo, sentenced to 20 years in April 2003, gave to a reliable tip.

Pacheco called me every week from Canaleta prison in Ciego do Avila. That afternoon it was raining cats and dogs in the capital and a tiny voice told me, “Ivan, be discreet, but officials from State Security told us that our stay in the cells is a question of days or weeks.”

But the news came as a surprise to me and in the least expected way, on Wednesday, July 7. While biting my nails to the quick watching the semifinal match between Spain and Germany, because the Iberians’ goal wasn’t coming, the telephone rang.

It was my mother, the journalist Tania Quintero, from the prudish and distant Swiss city of Lucerne, in a choked voice, telling me that the reporter in Cuba’s TVE just reported that the 52 remaining prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003 would be released.

I told her I would call back in ten minutes.  I wrote a note and read it over the phone. Then I called the various families who still didn’t know. Lidia Lima, wife of the economist Arnaldo Ramos, listened to me in silence. I thought the call had been cut off. But she was crying so hard she couldn’t speak.

Then I called to Ciego de Avila, to Oleidys Garcia, Pacheco’s wife. She was watching the soccer match with Jimmy, her 11-year-old son. She was mute. And then started to cry, nervously.

She said it didn’t matter if her husband was on the list. “What matters is that a new road has opened up…” she was telling me, when Puyol got a header, Spain scored, and we were so excited we decided to talk again in a minute.

In this hot and humid Havana, the names on “Castro’s list” are still unknown. The secrecy and paranoia is typical of the Cuban government.

Although no dissident should ever have been imprisoned, the gesture is appreciated. Palm branches for General Raul Castro, the Catholic Church, and the Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos.

Perhaps this news will help to save the life of the dissident Guillermo ‘Coco’ Fariñas. People close to Fariñas told me he was going to suspend his 125-day hunger strike.

Moratinos, a man who has been and continues to be sharply criticized by the opposition on the island and also from exile, despite his innumerable efforts to free the political prisoners, and to see Cuba once and for all on the democratic path, fulfilled his promise when he said the month of July would bring surprises.

Iván García

Photo: AFP