The Prisoner With the Placard is Considered ‘Disappeared’: ‘The Hunger in Cuba Was So Great That We Ate Fear’

The image of Juan Enrique Pérez is one of the most iconic of the ’11J’ mass protests throughout Cuba on 11 July 2021.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 November 2023 — Dayana Aranda Batista, wife of Juan Enrique Pérez Sánchez, detained for participating in the protests of 11 July 2021 (’11J’), demands a proof of life for the political prisoner who was transferred, without prior notice, to the Melena del Sur prison in Mayabeque.

This Friday, Aranda traveled to the Melena II penitentiary center but the prison authorities did not allow her to see her 42-year-old husband. “They transferred him on Saturday, October 28, but I didn’t know it,” the woman tells 14ymedio. “I went on Monday to see him at the Quivicán prison where he was before and that was where I found out that they had changed the prison.”

“They didn’t give me any explanation,” says Aranda. “My husband has not called me so, until they let me see him, I consider Juan Enrique missing.” The woman remained for hours outside the prison, but in the end she was not able to enter and check if the political prisoner is in the penitentiary center. “They didn’t let me see him” she laments.

This newspaper learned of Pérez’s transfer to Melena II through Layda Yirkis Jacinto, mother of Aníbal Yasiel Palau Jacinto, sentenced to five years in prison for demonstrating on ’11J’ and who was also taken from Quivicán, last weekend, to Melena II. In a phone call, the 28-year-old confirmed that both were taken “handcuffed hands and feet” to the prison.

The transfer could be motivated by an attempt by the prison authorities to separate the 11J prisoners who, in the Quivicán prison, went on a hunger strike last July demanding their rights and denouncing the mistreatment to which the political prisoners are subjected.

Melena II prison facilities. (Courtesy)

Pérez himself, sentenced to eight years in prison for the crimes of attack, contempt and spread of epidemics, went on a hunger strike last year demanding his freedom. At that time he was held in the Melena II prison and, after beginning the fast, he was transferred to a punishment cell in Quivicán.

The image of Juan Enrique Pérez Sánchez, father of four children, holding a sign that said “The hunger was so great that we ate fear” is one of the most iconic of the popular protests of 11 July 2021 in Cuba. From that day, Aranda remembers that both of them demonstrated peacefully in the town of Vegas, in the Nueva Paz municipality of Mayabeque, and “a bus arrived with police dressed in civilian clothes.”

“They knocked us down, beat us very violently and arrested us along with other people who were also demonstrating,” the woman recalls. “They transferred us to a prison in San José de las Lajas, my husband was badly beaten and they even broke a rib that never healed properly and it still hurts.”

They knocked us down, beat us very violently and arrested us along with other people who were also demonstrating.

“They separated us and after 12 days they released me with a bail of 8,000 pesos. I came to know about my husband five months later when I received his first call from the Melena II prison,” she details. “At the trial they asked for 12 years, which in the end ended up being eight.”

“On 11 July of last year he demonstrated again inside the prison, the guards beat him and sent him to a punishment cell. His health is fragile, he is hypertensive and asthmatic,” Aranda lists. “He has not stopped protesting and demanding his rights,” she summarizes.

Before life went wrong and Juan Enrique Pérez Sánchez ended up in prison, the man “had a small carpentry shop at home and also a workshop where he fixed mobile phones and computers.” But those times of being surrounded by cables, saws and screwdrivers now seem like a distant past to has wife, a time that will not return.


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