Yoandris Gutierrez Vargas: “Walking Through the Labyrinths of Hell” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

For Rosi of Cuba…she knows.

It was Sunday, and amid the suffocating heat and the sluggishness of the truck which was taking me from Santiago de Cuba to Las Tunas, I chose to instead get off at Bayamo, that symbolic land full of rebellion and patriotism bequeathed to us by our ancestors. I gulped down a refreshing drink, an “Eastern Pru”, which consists of a fermented base. I went all the way to the home of Yoandris. For quite some time now I had really wanted to talk to him; I wanted him to tell me about his jail experience and how life was treating him now as a freed dissident.

“In the year 2006, my grandfather Manuel Gutierrez returned to Cuba to see his family. After just a few days of being here, he was taken to a tourist hotel in Guardalavaca (Holguin province) by political police officials. The argument given to him was that Mr. Fidel Castro was going to visit Bayamo for the celebration of that unfortunate date- the 26th of July. That was a day when many Cubans died on both sides. My grandfather was relocated to Holguin and had to pay the mandatory hotel guest fee. He had to spend the little money he had left which he had brought from the United States since he is already a retired man.”

“Since they were giving out little flags during those days in order to decorate the streets, I took one of those flags which were slipped under my door and I painted the white stripes black as a symbol of mourning. I then wrote a “75” on it, in reference to the prisoners of the Black Spring. I hung it outside my house and it stayed there through the night. Then came the attacks from the so-called authorities. It was on July 23rd 2006. On that day, State Security took me to the barracks known as “El Punto” (“The Point”) on the outskirts of Las Tunas. They shouted at me, they offended me, and they threatened me thousands of times. In addition, they even fabricated a crime for me, something about offending patriotic symbols. Afterwards, my family was left abandoned.

My 4-year-old son was stripped of his father and protection, seeing as I was the one who sustained the family. They sentenced me to 1 year of imprisonment which I served in the Provincial Prison of Las Mangas. That is where I met Jose Luis Garcia Paneque, Jorge Gonzalez Tanquero, and Felix Navarro, all 3 from the group of the 75. Within a few days, I got to witness firsthand the torture that political prisoners were subjected to, all the threats and humiliations they force on them.”

“I arrived the same way thousands of other youths did, without knowing what a prison was like. In that place I was threatened by Major Nunez from State Security. They quickly locked me up in a room with a group of violent men who actually had knives with them. The leader of the group was Nilson, who belonged to the Council, and they all operated under the freedom granted to them by State Security, the Prison Security, and the Interior Order Chiefs.

They told me that they were going to kill me if I publicly protested against the government because they had been authorized to do so by all their bosses. They are people who are sadistically used to create terror, which is the only discipline exercised by the prison authorities. Nilson later died in the Manzanillo prison for causing the death of another young prisoner, Yuliet, who was a 19-year-old homosexual that had been “bought” between one prison and another. Yuliet was assassinated by a so-called Negrito. And Nilson was charged for the death of Yuliet.”

“There, I received beatings and plenty of restrictions just for protesting, as a dissident, against the government. Later I was imprisoned again under the pretext of ‘disrespect towards the figure of our Commander in Chief.’ That’s the name they have given to that cause which has taken so many Cubans to prison. The law was applied to me when this self-titled ‘Commander in Chief’ wasn’t even exercising the role of President anymore. I was sentenced to 2 years which I served in the prisons of Las Mangas and the one known as ‘El Secadero’ (‘The Drying Room’). In the provincial prison, I received multiple beatings carried out by Colonel Modesto, as well as one by Lieutenant Silvera on September 2nd. The re-educator, Eddy, was the one on guard, and he ordered I be taken, injured, to the punishment cell with no medical attention. That’s where I spent my birthday on September 6th. I was not allowed any visits, my family was not allowed to see me at all until 2 months had passed and my bruises had disappeared.”

“When I heard the disc containing an excerpt of ‘Against all Hope,’ by Armando Valladares, I felt as if I was once again hearing the screams of the prisoners, the abuses of the jailers, as if I was once again living behind the bars, because every single thing he narrates is real. And it is even possible to say that today it has multiplied. In modern Cuban prisons, they still assassinate and torture, they continue harassing family members of prisoners, and when they are political prisoners it is even worse.”

“Now, besides being a member of the Republican Party of Cuba and of being an activist from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, I am also a missionary from the First Baptist Church of Bayamo. My pastor is Samuel Columbie Iglesias, who has been attacked by State Security on multiple occasions. Despite of all that has happened, I tell my oppressors to repent, to cease staining their hands with blood. And to those who have kidnapped the happiness of Cuba, remember that we have all been created by the same God. I tell them to repent before it’s too late for them. Cuba needs to live in freedom, just like other nations of the world. We Cubans have the right to be free and that is why many of us are fighting for it.”

I left Bayamo late that night, the land of Cespedes and Fornaris. I left without snapping a photo of Yoandris, but I kept his words in my pocket. This is a voice that needs to cross the barbed wires, I repeated to myself over and over again.

PS: Yoandris Gutierrez Vargas lives on 19th Street-A No. 11, e/ 12 & Liberty, Zamora Complex, El Valle, Bayamo, Granma.

Translated by Raul Garcia

March 25 2011