To a Certain Extent, We’re All on Parole / Juan Carlos Linares

HAVANA, Cuba, — “La Libertad Extrapenal” — similar to parole — is a punitive category in which the offender does not live in prison, but has their civil rights suspended, and may even go back to prison if the authorities so decide. Jorge Olivera Castillo finds himself in this condition, along with another 13 or 14 other victims of the diabolical 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring, who decided to stay in Cuba. To them, the government will not let them go overseas on a visit.

Recently, I asked Olivera (presiding over the Cuban Writers Club) why they haven’t coordinated jointly a legal challenge to get rid of this vexatious status. His answer was:

“Many friends have encouraged me to hire a lawyer and file a complaint in court, claiming our arguments, because it is a paradox that other human rights activists, independent journalists and bloggers who have done the same things we did and for which we were sentenced, are allowed to travel.” Maybe next year action will be taken against this anachronistic remnant of Fidel Castro.”

Technically, Olivera’s penalty is set to expire in 2021, and so he remains in the list of political prisoners. When asked if all those compatriots who are under the same injunction receive the same restrictive treatment, he told me, “At least everyone who has gone to inquire at the immigration offices has been told that for the moment we do not have permission to leave the country, that is, we are in the same black list,” and he points out, “If instead of asking for permission for we asked for it for final departure I believe they would give us authorization.”

The government certainly will justify that every ex-convict has legitimately invalidated his naturalrights; however, in this case it is poisonous to dismiss these 13 or 14 Cubans who were sent to prison for defending something intrinsic in every civilized society: the defense of human rights. Specifically, they apprehended him when he was the director of Havana Press, a pioneering Press Agency of independent journalism.

The 75 prisoners of the repressive wave would be released for real or supposed health reasons, and also because of the huge pressure from the international community. And in your case (I inquired), in addition to these two reasons, don’t you think the was the added “blessed” concern that the inmates with whom you coexisted, and your guards, could only be wondering who the fuck gave the order to imprison such a noble and decent man?

“Well,” said Olivera, smiling, “the prisoners there didn’t believe that I got 18 years just for writing, that my crime had to be something big. The truth is they gave us parole because of a confluence of political factors, and because of arrogance (of the Castro brothers) not to give an inch before the whole world, and to grant us a pardon or an amnesty. Also, the severity with which they treated us accelerated the process of declining health in most of our cases.”

So, our conversation turned to the Cuban Writers Club, a new project funded in 2007. Today there are around 40 members: novelists, short story writers, poets, from almost all the provinces. They have plans to create a contest that includes all genres.

Oliver is a full member of the Pen Club of Cuba in the exile, and has received a fellowship from Harvard, as a writers, thanks to a proposal from the Pen Club of England.

Finally, I ask him for an opinion: Those of us here who oppose the regime, and we know our authorities well and the laws they hide behind, could we claim that we all live on parole?

And smiling, he confessed, “To a certain extent, yes.”

by Juan Carlos Linares

Cubanet, 13 November 2013