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.]
Arturo Perez de Alejo Rodríguez was born in Manicarauga, Cuba on May 23, 1951. He received a degree in topography and worked in several different fields, including as a subsistence farmer and as a surveyor. As a young man, Arturo believed the 1959 Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power would change Cuba for the better.
Arturo soon became disenchanted with the Castro regime. He was drafted into military service and sent as part of a Cuban force in Angola’s civil war during the 1970s. As a soldier, he witnessed acts of brutality that sharply contrasted with the official version of events.
In 1980, thousands of Cuban citizens stormed the Peruvian Embassy seeking asylum to escape from the Castro regime. Following the incident, the regime announced it would allow people to leave Cuba, but privately, the government encouraged its supporters to harass and brutalize those fleeing the island. The events at the Embassy of Peru led Arturo to break with the government.
In the 1990s, Arturo became more active in the Cuban opposition. In 2001, he founded the Escambray Human Rights Front, which monitored human rights violations in the region. Arturo was arrested in March 2003, as one of 75 nonviolent dissidents during a massive crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was subjected to a summary trial and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his opposition to the Castro regime.
After more than seven years as a prisoner of conscience, Arturo was freed in 2010 when the Catholic Church and the Spanish government negotiated the release of the 75 Black Spring prisoners. He and his family were exiled to Spain where they lived for several years, before resettling in the United States.
Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.
Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.
Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.
In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.
While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.
Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.
Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.
The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.
The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.
Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.
In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.See all Cuba videos