‘The Terror that Reigns in Cuba Dismantles the Exercise of Opposition to Achieve Freedom’

Manuel Vázquez Portal presents his book on Friday in the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, June 9, 2023 — In Miami on Friday, Former Cuban political prisoner, poet, and journalist, 72-year-old Manuel Vázquez Portal, jailed during the wave of repression in 2003 known as the Black Spring, will present a book Cartas marcadas [Marked Letters] 20 letters he wrote from the “solitude of isolation” in his cell to overcome the “censorship and silence”.

“They were written so as to not allow myself to be defeated by the solitude of isolation,” he said to EFE on Thursday. Vázquez Portal, to whom love of family, freedom, and faith in God gave the strength to sustain himself in the “oppression of a punishment cell” he endured while in “isolation, in solitude” for over a year.

The former Cuban prisoner managed for his letters to mock the penitentiary’s controls and were “clandestinely” smuggled out of the Boniato and Aguador prisons, both in Santiago de Cuba, to his wife, Yolanda Huerga, a co-founder of the Ladies in White and his son, Gabriel, who was 9 years old at the time.

“These 20 letters written to my wife and my son were born marked; first because I had to mark the envelope so my wife would know which ones were for her and which ones were not; later to circumvent the censorship and silence, the mark of the cross with ashes the Cuban government had placed on me,” said Vázquez Portal.

It has been 20 years, he adds, since the writing of these letters that served, at least, to “safeguard psychological balance” and that constitute a “political and esthetic ideology”.

The book, edited by Berlin-based Ilíada, also serves as an homage to the 75 Cuban dissidents, intellectuals, and human rights activists who were incarcerated during the Black Spring and to the Ladies in White, the latter being “the most solid and courageous group in the history of the Cuban opposition, its symbol,” he highlighted.

Released in June 2004, thanks to a strong international campaign, the Cuban journalist states that “the terror and the domination of the Cuban dictatorship does not allow the successful articulation” of protests in the medium term, as was shown during the peaceful protests of July 11 (11J), 2021.

The largest antigovernment protests in decades took place that day, a “spontaneous social explosion” that spread thanks to social media, though it lacked coordination, maintained Vázquez Portal.

That is, continues the dissident once sentenced to 18 years in jail, “the terror that reigns in Cuba dismantles the exercise of opposition to achieve liberty”. He predicts, however, that this will be a “determining” summer because “always during summers in Cuba there is an explosion.”

In this context, he maintains that “Cuba is a pressure cooker, without escape valves and the dissatisfaction inside is great,” with a “collapsed government that does not govern and the only thing it does is repress to stay in power.”

The book will be presented in the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami, within a tertulia titled “The other corner of words”, which will include as presenters writer and activist Janisset Rivero and President of PEN Cuban Writers in Exile, Luis de la Paz.

Written in the “most anguished solitude and poverty”, Cartas marcadas [Marked Letters] act to potently “awaken love of family, homeland, and freedom” and a revulsion against hate.

“Not even after they sentenced me to 18 years did I let hate soil me. On the contrary. I thought it necessary to cleanse the soul to explain to others how to confront a dictatorship.”

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


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