The Castros’ Chess Game

After sorting through various possibilities, the Spanish journalist Lali Kazas and I agreed to rent a car and head to Ciego de Avila.

It’s the day they’ve announced the releases and extraditions to Spain of five political prisoners of conscience, among them is Pablo Pacheco, who used to call me from the prison to talk about baseball and football, among other things.

We got to the town on April 9, and went to the home of Oleyvis Garcia.  A few minutes later, without even wiping off the dust from the road, we knocked on the door.  A soldier in olive drab introduced himself and addresses Lali and me by name.

It was Colonel Mesa, from the Department of State Security.  When I call my mother to tell her this, she says to me, “Ivan, Mesa is the one who dealt with me in Villa Marista, the day after you were arrested on March 8, 1991.  He was a captain then, thin and not very tall.”

“I don’t remember.  The one I remember is Chaple, the one who was in the little room they sent me to the two times you visited me.”

“Mesa was in charge of your case and perhaps you didn’t speak with him.  How did he treat you and Lali?”

“He was very friendly.  He wanted to know how we knew about Pacheco’s release and we told him that we heard it on the radio.  Before he left, he gave us a telephone number to reach him in case a problem arose.”

And a problem did arise not long after the colonel left.  Oleyvis needed to go to the Western Union office to get money sent from the United States by Pacheco’s family.  The office closed at 4pm, so we drove her there.  But despite it not being 4 yet, it was closed. We checked and were told that the employee had not gone in to work that day.

We called Colonel Mesa and in a few minutes, the issue was resolved.  We don’t know where they found someone, but they opened up Western Union and paid Oleyvis the money, that very same night she had to travel to Havana with her son.  On Monday, July 12, when they’re already in the air, is the day that they will finally be with Pacheco.

My mother interrupts me.  She wanted to know if I was able to get any more information from the colonel concerning this odd process of prisoner releases, decided on by the hierarchy of the Catholic church, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Cuban government.

“Yes”, I told her, “But he told me that he didn’t know; that he just follows orders and the one that is responsible for them is General Raul Castro.”

At 6 in the morning on Sunday, I was awoken by my cell phone’s ring.  It was Pablo Pacheco, who had called me to say that he was with a military unit on the outskirts of Havana.  He was with other political prisoners who were being given medical checks and they were giving them first-rate care.  “The food is excellent; they’ve even given us beef.  We slept two to a room with air conditioning,” he told me.

I went back to sleep.  Four hours later, my cell phone went off again.  It was Oleyvis, Pacheco’s wife.  At that moment, both she and Jimmy, their son, along with other relatives, were being given a medical examination in a clinic of the Ministry of the Interior, on G and 19th Street, in the neighborhood of Vedado.

“We’re all being booked in the Instituto Superior Capitan San Luis, belonging to MININT (Ministry of the Interior), in Valle Grande, on the outskirts of the city.  We are being well fed and well treated, but we haven’t been able to see our husbands.  I think that before going to the airport, we are going to be greeted by Cardinal Ortega; I’m not sure if only the relatives or also the political prisoners”.

While he was still in Canaleta prison, Pacheco dreamed he was back home with his wife and son, watching the final match of the World Cup.  The three could watch it together and jump in celebration of Spain’s victory.

On the other hand, while not from there, it is in Havana that the Castros have begun their game of chess; with all of the pieces well controlled and well-played, among them the dissidents.  This is so nobody would even dare to take their king, and they will be the ones to declare checkmate.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by: Andrew Cuan