I think we survive for various reasons, but in particular for the principles we embrace – justice, conviction, fairness – and the ideas for which we fight. They are enough because we know we are there for a so-called “crime” that our conscience does not condemn. We were condemned by courts, but not by our conscience.
I can tell you, there are prisoners who feel free and there are free people who feel imprisoned.
We political prisoners felt free behind bars. Despite the risk of death, the beatings, the hunger, and the torture we received; we behaved according to what we believed. We embraced freedom of expression and unity, even though it might cost us our lives; it certainly led to many beatings. However, we looked at our jailers and they were not free because they had to follow orders that perhaps many of them did not accept. That is very important.
The prison experience was something wonderful. It was hard and difficult but wonderful. I would always share this anecdote with my sister that summarizes it: How did I survive? I would say, “My sister, for me the biggest priority is to look my adversaries, or whatever you wish to call them, in the face.
When there is someone who tries to destroy you, a beast that boasts of and revels in your suffering; that enjoys your deterioration; that is gratified when it separates you from family… When they took me to Guantanamo prison in 1998, 1997 they said, “We brought you here because it is the furthest from your home province. If Fidel [Castro] builds one further away tomorrow, we will take you there.”
[Fidel Castro (1926 – ) led the Cuban Revolution and seized power in 1959. He established a communist dictatorship in Cuba and led the country until 2008.]
When Eduardo Castellon, a State Security official, threw a rope to me so that I would hang myself in the cell he said, “Hang yourself, black man…” When they set the dogs on me and when I was viciously beaten, my consciousness and humanity told me, “You have two options: give up or resist.
I chose the second option: resist. If I had chosen the first I would have died, I would have stopped being myself, and I would have betrayed myself as well as the ideals for which I was fighting. Since I was born a man and a Cuban, the steps I took on March 15, 1990 [in protesting the government]… I was not pressured by anyone but my own conscience. I had to resist. I don’t think I did anything better than other Cubans have done in the Castros’ prisons.
One of the dictatorship’s greatest defeats has been the dignity and the fortitude demonstrated by political prisoners.
In the presence of hate, repression, and brutality, there is only room for dignity and resistance. I have not done anything else. I’m not a hero nor have I done anything remarkable. I have simply done what many before me would have done in much more difficult situations. Political prisoners, without fear of exaggeration, have been responsible for the biggest, most essential, and most unforgettable defeat that the communist Castro regime has suffered.
They have used every type of torture: beatings, assassinations, everything, and we have resisted. For me it has been a terrifying experience, but it has also been very beautiful and fruitful. Some speak of forgetting. I cannot forget those years because they gave me many opportunities to understand things, because it’s not the same to hear about such terror as to experience it.
How could I have imagined that those who declared a hunger strike could be placed in a cell, completely naked, deprived of water, and be denied medical attention? I never could have imagined that.
If there is anything for which I can be thankful, it’s that I’ve had the opportunity of knowing those horrors and of knowing my brave brothers who provided inspiration, encouragement, and examples of heroism and resistance. Because of them and those I left behind in prison I remain inspired.
Jorge Luis García Pérez (better known as “Antúnez”) was born in Placetas, Cuba in 1964. He is the leader of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front. The Front is a Cuban civil society organization named for a political prisoner who died while on a hunger strike in 2010.
As an Afro-Cuban, Antúnez experienced the regime’s discrimination against minorities in restricting both educational and career opportunities. Such treatment, along with severe political repression, contributed to his disenchantment with the regime.
Antúnez, inspired by freedom movements in Eastern Europe, became active in the Cuban opposition. In March 1990, he was arrested for publically denouncing the Castro regime and sentenced to five years in prison. Despite his incarceration, Antúnez remained defiant by refusing to wear a prisoner’s uniform and rejecting the government’s re-education programs.
Antúnez also created the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners group in honor of the famous prisoner of conscience who died during a hunger strike in 1972. Through this organization, the prisoners drew inspiration and encouragement to continue their struggle. As a result, Antúnez was subject to solitary confinement, torture, and an extension of his five year sentence. He endured 17 years of prison before being released in 2007.
Antúnez continues advocating for freedom and democracy in Cuba with his wife, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, leader of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. His work involves supporting Cuban political prisoners, and expanding political freedoms and civil liberties.
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