Entronque de Herradura is a little village in the Pinar municipality of Consolacion del Sur. I go there in search of Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, a Cuban with rapid speech, skill with the ten-line stanza and proven courage. He was among the 75 dissidents sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003, but not even a long prison stay made him lose his smile or wit.
Fleitas asserts that he is “just a meddlesome peasant.” In this interview he speaks of his life, his early activism and of that other passion, which is the land where he has worked as long as he can remember.
Question: In other interviews your work as an opponent always comes up, but I would like to speak of your personal history. What did you do before that fateful March of 2003?
Answer: As a child I worked in the fields. I had to grow up fast, and I studied auto mechanics. Later I became a driver and even drove a bus. In 1989 I started driving a taxi and later became a transport inspector. However, in 1993 I stopped working for the State, demanding that they pay me with dollars to be able to buy in the hard currency stores because the national currency had no value. Since then I have worked on the plantation with my father.
Q: Where did the ethical and moral values that guide your life come from?
A: My father taught me respect, kindness, honesty and love of work, spirit of service and help to others. From my mother, a farmer and housewife, I learned effort and integrity as well as loyalty and also love, which I have seen in them, because they have been married since 1950.
Q: What was the process that led you to be disappointed in the political and social process which, from its beginnings, said it was defending the peasantry?
A: With the triumph of the Revolution we thought, like many, that it was something good. But after three or four months things began to get bad; the executions, the land was no longer ours. The discourse ran one way and reality the other. All that was waking me up.
Q: But it’s a long way from discontent to activism. When did you begin to be a dissident publicly?
A: In the year 1988. Since then and until now I have been active in several opposition organizations and held different responsibilities.
Q: During the Black Spring of 2003 you were arrested along with other dissidents, journalists, librarians and independent trade unionists. They sentenced you to 21 years imprisonment and you were behind bars almost nine years. How hard was jail?
A: What most struck me about the Cuban penitentiary system is the great cruelty with which the inmate is treated, whether political or not. There you are not a person, you are at the mercy of your jailers. I saw extremely sick prisoners ask for medical attention, and the guards laughed in their faces. We must humanize Cuban prisons!
I also have to say that prison offered me the chance to see, to my surprise, how many people support, in one way or another, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba. I never felt alone inside. Prison also gave me the opportunity to harbor not even a drop of hatred against my victimizers. In my heart there exists neither hatred nor rancor towards them.
Q: You have participated in several unity initiatives among opposition forces, the latest of them the Open Space of Civil Cuban Society. Do you believe consensus can be achieved in spite of differences?
A: All proposals of this type are excellent. What I do consider unjustifiable is the dismissive insult and personal attack among ourselves. That is the method the Cuban government uses against us, it is anti-democratic and not at all ethical. No activist should fall for something like that. We must have consensus on basic points, and that is what Open Space has achieved and what we have sought for years. I am happy to be able to participate in that initiative.
Q: What do you think about the intention of the governments of Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations after more than half a century of confrontation?
A: As of last December 17 a new era for Cuba began. The government of the United States has realized that the prior policy was a dead end with no way out, and now a host of opportunities is opening for our people.
I have asked people about the measures announced by the American government, and they look favorably on them, because they mean prosperity for the people. But when I have asked them what they think of the Cuban government in the face of this challenge, they answer that they do not trust it. Nevertheless, I am optimistic. We must create awareness that dialog is best. I believe that the United States is committed to us and has intelligently confronted the regime.
We have to have the courage to reclaim democracy and to respect our rights. The era of change may be coming for all Cubans, and it falls to everyone to do it in harmony. Cuba has to flourish again for everyone and for the good of all!
Unanimity is not good. We must live in diversity. But it is good for us to be unanimous when dealing with differences. Well…better I say it in verse:
Why is it that it doesn’t matter to you
To ruin your dignity?
Because so much calamity
Will never produce heroism.
Bury that pessimism
That daily assaults you.
Raise your voice, you are able
To be the example of the titan
Awaken those who are
Prisoners of their own webs.
Translated by MLK