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Freedom Collection

Interviews with Arturo Pérez De Alejo Rodríguez

Interviewed December 10, 2023

In his Varela Project, Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas himself would collect signatures and try to locate loopholes within the government in order to find ways of bringing freedom [to Cuba]. Although I was not involved in all aspects of the Varela Project, regardless, something had to be done. At this moment this is what I understood as the wisest thing and I joined to give my full-fledged support to the Varela Project by collecting a large number of signatures in my home province of Villa Clara, which by the way, was the province that collected the most signatures and we submitted 10,020 signatures…11,020 signatures on May 2, 2002 to the National Assembly of the People’s Power [the Cuban Parliament].

Of course, the Cuban government ignored our efforts and instead they intensified their suppression against us, and in this manner they would detain us, they would take us any day and detain us for hours. They would interrogate us, threaten us, and well, the Black Spring of 2003 arrived where they suddenly broke into my house. I had a library in my house with more than 1,200 books and they destroyed and confiscated them all, and they took me and then I found out other dissidents were apprehended as well.

[The Varela Project was a civil society initiative advocating for free elections and improved human rights in Cuba. It gathered signatures from Cuban citizens in favor of a plebiscite on elections, as permitted by the Cuban constitution. When originally submitted to the government in 2002, the petition contained 11,000 signatures, since that time the number has increased to more than 25,000.Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas (1952 – 2012) was a Cuban dissident and democracy activist. He founded the Christian Liberation Movement and established the Varela Project to advocate for democracy and human rights. He died in a mysterious car crash in 2012. In March 2003, the Cuban government arrested 75 nonviolent dissidents in an event known as the Black Spring.]

They confiscated all those books and used them as evidence against me in the trial, accusing me for owning books by Norberto Fuentes, Carlos Franqui, [Memories of a Cuban Soldier: Life and Death of the Cuban Revolution], by Dariel Alarcón Ramirez; a very, very expressive book that described how [Ernesto] Che [Guevara] had been betrayed by [Fidel Castro in] the Revolution in Bolivia, and well, they used all these books like weapons against me at the trial, sentencing me to 20 years imprisonment.

From the Department of State Security, we were transported more than 500 kilometers from my province, my home, in order to isolate us from family, trying to do the most damage possible to our families, and we traveled until we reached “Kilo Cinco y Medio,” a maximum security prison and forced to live in sealed cells.

[Norberto Fuentes (1943 – ) is a Cuban writer.A former confidant of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Fuentes defected to the United States and exposed some of the regime’s inner workings through his writing. Carlos Franqui (1921 – 2010) was a Cuban writer and political activist. Initially a supporter of the Cuban Revolution, Franqui became a critic of the regime after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and left the island. Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928 – 1967) was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary and physician who was a central figure in the Cuban Revolution. Dariel Alarcón Ramirez (1939 – ) is a former Cuban soldier who fought for the Marxists in 1959. He was one of five survivors of a guerilla force in Bolivia led by Che Guevara. In the 1990s he defected from Cuba and published a book, Memories of a Cuban Soldier: Life and Death of the Cuban Revolution.]