Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello
I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health. They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a passport, about four years ago.
This is no longer the same country it was in the spring of 2003. The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them. At that time, for example, a Cuban was not permitted to say in the hotels. Now it’s not prohibited, but the economy doesn’t allow the ordinary citizen to exercise that right. Who, other than “papá’s kids” [the Castro offspring] has the money to pay for a room? Another thing is the ability to travel abroad. Those of us who are on parole are not allowed to travel, or we know that if we do it we will not be allowed to return.
“The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them”
I remember Cardinal Ortega, in a statement published by the newspaper Granma, said that all of us would be set free, but they only freed those who chose to go into exile. That is a way of punishing us for not accepting deportation, it is a whim of the commander in chief and a mockery of Spain and of the Church. On 31 October last year we made a formal demand for a document of freedom, but we never got an answer. We only have an identity card.
I got out of prison because of the efforts made by the Government of Spain and the Catholic Church with the Government of Cuba, but especially thanks to the internal pressures, which came from the actions of the Ladies in White, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Guillermo Fariña’s hunger strike. No one ever pressured me to leave Cuba. The Cardinal called me and proposed it and I said no. My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that. It was very important that I had the support of my wife, Berta Soler, who has always agreed with our staying.
“My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that“
The country has not evolved at all in terms of human rights. Just look at the lists of arbitrary detentions issued monthly by the Human Rights Committee and Hablemos Press. The methods used by the State Security include beatings and abuses of all kinds. The repression has intensified to prevent the population from joining the activism. It is true that they have not been making the same mistake of the Black Spring, because that was a failure that cost the government dearly, but they continue to imprison people for political reasons and still refuse to ratify the international covenants on human rights.
Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique
I left prison in November 2010. Just before, Cardinal Ortega called me and told me he was preparing for the prisoners of our cause to leave the country. I told him I wasn’t interested. It was a decision I’ve thought about a lot since that time, but I wouldn’t take it back. If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever, but I’m not going to accept this blackmail. On leaving prison they gave us a little piece of paper to get an ID card, but I never managed to get anything legal. My family shares this decision and when your family supports you, the decision is more firm.
“If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever“
The opposition still hasn’t been able to consolidate itself. The constant emigration of people with experience does a lot of damage to us, these exits don’t allow us to consolidate. Of course the regime was forced to take some actions, but it was done out of pure pragmatism. They have no interest in changing. In this similar situation of restoring relations with the United States I can’t see clearly what their real interests are. Maduro from Venezuela is an influence in this, because he isn’t happy to see there is a possibility of coming to an arrangement with Cuba.
Diosdado González Marrero
Right now, almost four years after thye released us, I continue to see it as a question of principles to have made the decision not to give in to the Government’s pressure and accept exile as a condition for leaving prison. I saw it then and I continue to see it the same way now. In about a week I’m going to join my family abroad. I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba. I tried to leave like a normal visit, but it’s not allowed. My wife and I even went to the cardinal to intercede, but it wasn’t possible to resolve our request. I am leaving for two reasons: my desire to reunite with my children and grandchildren, and because we Cubans have to live in democracy. I have done my best for the unity of the opposition, but it’s very difficult, there are too many individual interests in each organization. No matter where I live, I will continue working for the freedom of Cuba.
“I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba“
Having spent eight years in those places that don’t even deserve to be called prisons, and coming back out to the street, I saw that everything was worse. After you get acclimated again, you can get used to anything. Now we see changes. There are things that Cubans have the right to, that they couldn’t do before. Get a cellphone, connect to the Internet, travel, those were goals that seemed impossible, likewise with the development of private businesses or land leasing, but politically, nothing. After Fidel Castro got sick and handed over power to his brother, they started to eliminate prohibitions and now, with the conversations between the Cuban regime and the American government, things will get better still, especially with the flow of tourists from the United States.
Eduardo Diaz Fleitas
They released me just a few days before I served eight years in prison. Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me to suggest that I accept leaving for Spain in order to be released. I told him I wasn’t interested in leaving Cuba. Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need. I never regret having stayed here, and I don’t think I will leave under any circumstances.
“Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need“
The biggest change the country has suffered in the last 12 years that I see is the greater deterioration. There is no respect for human dignity nor any kind of improvement in any order of life. Now we need the regime to decide to accept real changes and seek peace for the progress of the country.