The Political Prison in Cuba, From Pepe to Luisma

Between José Martí (Pepe) and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (Luisma) there is more than a century, but their stories are too similar. (Collage)

#DiarioParaLuisma day 70

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 28 January 2022 — Luisma and Pepe, it is January 28 and the situation seems so dark that I can only imagine them together and committed. I put in writing in this diary some images that come like flashes to my mind while I keep hearing news of friends leaving and spaces that are closing in Cuba:

He is 17 years old and also 34. The shackle is leaving a mark on the skin of his ankle that will remain for the rest of his life. The phone calls he makes from prison are increasingly spaced out. He was born in the Havana neighborhood of San Isidro and has a wide forehead and a mustache. His street is called Damas but it could be Paula.

“The pain of prison is the harshest, the most devastating,” he writes. When he scribbles those words he is full of hope. How can a teenager forced to break stones in the quarries of Havana maintain his hopes? Perhaps he believes that in the future, the country for which he sacrifices himself will not have young people captive for demanding freedom. He is wrong.

They call him Pepe. If he knew of someone named Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, perhaps he would stop to find out who bears those surnames that sound like knocks on a door. Action is not his thing, many criticize him, but in his brief life of 42 years he will leave a deeper mark than that of certain scowling belligerents. His is the word.

More than a century passes for one, a few decades for the other. It’s Friday and once again their stories intertwine

An old gas cylinder converted into an alarm sounds to wake the prisoners. During the early hours of the morning he dreamed that he was making an impassioned speech in Tampa and then brandishing a sledgehammer against the window of an expensive boutique in the Cuban capital. He came to believe that he was going on a hunger strike and, immediately afterwards, he heard the laughter of those who called him “Captain Spider” behind his back.

He does not understand where these images come from. He draws the same thing on the wall of his daydreams as he poses for a photo hiding the worn elbow of his coat. He is lean and strong; white and mulatto; Creole and universal. He’s not good at swear words, but when he utters them they turn into songs. What he would most like right now is to walk again, unwatched, through the city where he was born.

He wakes up and those dreams are lost in the urgency of screams of the jailers, the lament of Lino Figueredo, almost lifeless after the rigors of prison, and of Yunieski, the teenager from Romerillo who doesn’t even know why he ended up behind bars. He helps them up, he starts the worst part of the day in any prison: the vigil.

More than a century passes for one, a few decades for the other. It’s Friday and their stories intertwine once again. “I will not hate you, nor will I curse you,” they clarify and point out, and although they bet on life, it has to be “a dignified life.” “If I hated someone, I would hate myself for it,” they manage to say. “Either you are barbarians, or you do not know what you are doing,” they add.

But yes, they are barbarians. The mediocre power that has locked them up in Cuba is, unfortunately, made up of barbarians.


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