Vladimiro Roca: “Many just saw me as the son of Blas Roca” / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

vladimir roca
Vladimiro Roca, in an interview with CubaNet (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 16 November 2015 – Vladimiro Roca Antunez is one of “the old guard” group of dissidents who is still in Cuba. He holds a degree in International Economic Relations, and was a MIG fighter pilot in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He served 5 years, from 1997 to 2002, in Ariza prison in Cienfuegos, as one of a group of four dissidents who wrote “The Nation Belongs to Everyone.”

Vladimir will be 72 on December 21. His family, friends and neighbors call him Pepe.

Martha Beatriz Roque: What were your years as a MIG fighter pilot like? Where did you learn to fly these planes?

Vladimir Roca: I have always considered the years I spent as a pilot, both as a fighter and in transport, as the best of my life, because the profession of pilot is entirely vocational. Anyone who doesn’t feel a passion for flying can never be a good pilot, and not just a good one, not even an ordinary one.

Speaking of my years as a pilot is something that fills me with emotion. The day that I flew solo for the first time, it was the greatest feeling of freedom I have felt in all the days of my life. It’s very hard to describe.

I studied in the former Soviet Union. I was in the first group of young rebels who studied aviation in that country. We went for a quick course that was supposed to last a year, but then there was a change of plans and they divided up the group of pilots into those who would end up flying the MIG-15, those who passed to flying the MIG-19, and a group that was going to fly the Il-28 tactical bombers. I was in the last group, as a bomber navigator in those planes.

During the Missile Crisis, the bombers were retired. When I returned to Cuba, I went to a base in the Holguin area, which was under the command of then First Lieutenant Rafael del Pino. He put me to flying the MIG-15s.

Martha Beatriz Roque: People associated with politics locate you on the left. From the ideological point of view, what is your position?

Vladimir Roca: It is a definition that comes from our founding of the Democratic Socialist Current, with many people who defined themselves as leftists. As for me, from the practical point of view I define myself more as center left, with a tendency to the center, because according to physics the equilibrium is in the center, and this is precisely what I seek. The extremes are, in my opinion, pernicious.

Martha Beatriz Roque: How and when did you make the transition to the opposition? What projects have you participated in?

Vladimir Roca: My transition to the opposition was quite long, because it started at the end of the sixties. By that time I was serving in UM 3688 in the Cuban Revolutionary Air and Air Defense Force (DAAFAR) Aerial Transport Brigade. I began to see events, things that were happening in the military, that didn’t correspond to what I knew of Marxism, but I thought that I was the one who was mistaken, or that I didn’t have a good understanding of what I had been taught in the textbooks. So I started to re-study the classics, Marx, Engels, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Hegel, Feuerbach and others to understand where I had gone wrong and to be able to rectify it.

Reading these authors led me to decide that I was not wrong, that things in the country were not going well, especially the economy and that if we continued along this path, the vicissitudes in the society would go from bad to worse.

At first I worked to change the situation from within and to the extent that I saw I couldn’t accomplish anything, the more I was looking for trouble; and many saw me as a freak, or someone who did what he did because he was the son of Blas Roca. I then started to disassociate myself from the system to make ever more open criticisms, until in 1990, following the call for the 4th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), in the discussion of the document in the Department where I worked, I openly expressed my opposition, stating that if this system had an “ism,” in my opinion it was fascism.

I had participated in the founding of the Democratic Socialist Current, the Democratic Agreement, the founding of the Cuban Social Democrat party, in the Internal Dissidents Task Group for the Analysis of the Cuban Socio-Economic Situation, better known as The Group of Four, which was made up of Félix Antonio Bonne Carcassés, René Gómez Manzano, you and me. This project led me to prison for five years, because we wrote the document “La Patria es de Todos,” (The Nation Belongs to Everyone), which I consider historic.

I was also in Todos Unidos (All United) with, among others, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, in the Agenda for the Transition, the Cuban Network of Community Communicators, and currently I participate in Espacio Abierto (Open Space) and the Unity of Democratic Action Roundtable.

Martha Beatriz Roque: What role do you play right now in the opposition?

Vladimir Roca: First, I’m trying to rebuild the base of the Social Democratic Party of Cuba, as most of the members we had emigrated as political refugees.

Second, I help by offering counseling and advice to opponents who ask. And third, by supporting, within my capabilities, citizens who want to start their own businesses, either by giving them ideas or collaborating on projects.

Martha Beatriz Roque: Have you had an opportunity to participate in any international event for democracy in Cuba?

Vladimir Roca: Yes, I have participated in three such events. In Mexico, the two meetings of Roads for a Democratic Cuba in December 2014, and in Cuernavaca in June 2015, both prepared by the Christian Democratic Organization of America (CADO) and the regional office in Mexico of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. I also participated in the Cuban National Meeting held in Puerto Rico in August 2015, organized by United Cubans of Puerto Rico.

They have been two more efforts to try to unite the democratic Cuban opposition from both shores, which I believe are having positive results. Although little is done to put the focus of attention on the Cuban people, who are the ones who have, in my opinion, in the final instance, the ability to bring the changes we all crave in that seem to be so far off.

Martha Beatriz Roque: Is there any difference between this opposition of the twentieth century and that which has a greater role now?

Vladimir Roca: I think the only difference is in age. That in the twentieth century began with people over 40, on average, and currently it is people much younger. Those of the twentieth century mostly had had the experience of living in a democratic republic, those currently only know it by reference. Otherwise we all agree that the system doesn’t work and we have to change it.

Martha Beatriz Roque: What is your vision of what is happening between Cuba and the United States of America?

Vladimir Roca: I think that is the result of lengthy negotiations that began under President Jimmy Carter, and that respond to the interests of the American people and the need to put an end to a conflict that has gone on too long without concrete results for the benefit of the Cuban people .

This confrontation has served only to make it so that Castros’ tyranny was able to keep the people on a war footing in order to deny them the most basic rights.

Martha Beatriz Roque: Do you think that the resignation of Abelardo Colome Ibarra (Furry) is the beginning of the end of the gerontocracy, to make way for a younger generation?

Vladimir Roca: It could be, but I wouldn’t venture to give a judgment, knowing the misrule of our country, it could be signaling something and doing the opposite. This is what they have done since the year 1959. 

Martha Beatriz Roque: How do you see Cuba within 5 years?

Vladimir Roca: I do not know. The interesting thing about life is that you do not know what will happen in the next 10 minutes and you have to live it if you want to know what will happen. I don’t even know if I will be alive in 5 years.