Sakharov for Fariñas: Acknowledgment of Cuban Democrats

Generally, awards give rise to controversies, and that is normal. Only totalitarian regimes are bent on wanting everyone to think and act the same way. But, despite some voices who disagree (most of which come straight from those who defend the regime), the most popular and prestigious awards handed out throughout the world during the last couple of years have favored the struggle for democracy.

First, the Norwegian Academy prized the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, with the Nobel Peace Prize. Days later, the journalist and peaceful Cuban dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, has been awarded the Sakharov prize. Both of these fighters share a common characteristic: Liu and Fariñas both defend human rights, and have both suffered political imprisonment for promoting civilized changes in their respective countries. Most likely, neither of these two men will be able to accept such awards, which were achieved after much effort, willpower, and courage, in person.

The Cuban authorities have systematically violated the rights of Cubans to exit and return to their countries freely. And this is the third occasion that one of our very own has won the Sakharov prize – a fact that I am beyond proud of. The first recipient was Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (2002). In 2005, the Ladies in White were distinguished with the award, and now it has been Fariñas’ turn. But the authorities of Havana did not authorize the representatives of this group of women to pack their bags to assist the ceremony being held at the European Parliament to receive the award. And, if Paya was able to take that trip in 2002, it was solely accredited to the pressures of the international community.

The process of the liberation of Cuban political prisoners, which went underway this past summer, and of which I benefited from, was made possible to various factors. The unfortunate death of the political prisoner of conscience, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was what put the whole process in motion. Later, we must signal out the bravery displayed by the Ladies in White, the firm attitude kept by those who were imprisoned due to reasons of conscience, and the final straw was the hunger strike undertaken by Fariñas, which had the purpose of demanding freedom for the gravest of the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring. All of this was further backed up by a strong wave of international pressure.

This is why I cannot help but congratulate (and appreciate) Fariñas for his Sakharov Prize, which he has dedicated to the Cuban people. His recognition of all democratic Cubans leaves it very clear that he will continue fighting for democracy in Cuba.

- Pablo Pacheco

Galban: Testimony before the CSI (International Confederation Union)

Miguel Galban speaks before the International Confederation Union.

First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for allowing me this opportunity to be here with you today. I will briefly tell you about what happened to me in my country. My name is Miguel Galban Gutierrez, and I was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003, being sentenced for 26 years of confinement, and afterwards, I was condemned to a life sentence by the Ministry of the Public Prosecutor. My trial did not consist of any lawful procedures, at all. At the moment of my detainment, I was the sub-director of the National Center for Training Labor Union (CNCSL) and a journalist for the independent newspaper Habana Press. My work simply consisted of denouncing the Cuban reality to the rest of the world, and similarly, in the union, my job was to provide the peaceful opposition and the Cuban workers with efficient information that would further allow them to defend their rights as workers.

I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, and later completed my Masters Degree in Maintenance. I would like to point out that, ever since the year 1998, the Cuban government has denied me the right to perform as a professional just because of my political views and my rebellious attitude. Let’s not forget that in my country the only employer is the government.

I must tell you all that during my unjust confinement, which lasted longer than 7 and a half years, I was tortured both physically and mentally, and I was humiliated and harassed both my prison guards and by officers from State Security.

When I was first thrown into prison, they placed me in a penitentiary that was located nearly 180 Kilometers from my house. This prison was known as the dark and fearful Aguica, a stronghold of torture and horrible treatment, considered by the regime to be at the “forefront” of all those other terrible places which can be found throughout my entire Cuban island. When I arrived at that place, there was a sign hanging at the entrance which foreshadowed the horrors I was about to endure in that living Castro-ite hell. It read: “You have arrived to Aguica. If you don’t fix yourself, we’ll fix you.” And so they would try, with the only two methods that they know- horrible treatment and beatings. I was able to confirm this on many occasions during my stay there for four years in a half, while they kept me confined to that dungeon of torture known as 15 & K, which happens to be the same spot where the headquarters of the National Direction of Established Penitentiaries resides.

The most repressive of the torturers there was captain Emilio Cruz Rodriguez. I recall one occasion when he applied an asphyxiation technique on me, with the help of various henchmen of course. This painful process consisted of him pressuring both of his hands around my neck, pushing down on my carotid artery until I was at the point of nearly passing out. For a few days after that, the area which he pressed down on was deeply bruised. He got permission to do all of this from the director of the prison unit, captain Diosdado More and a State Security official called Porfirio Penate.

This place I am telling you about does not offer the prisoners adequate food or medical care. We lived in subhuman conditions, while we’re all crammed into overcrowded spaces- spaces which are about 24 meters squared, where 24 prisoners must live side by side. There is a lack of ventilation, illumination, and the hygiene is terrible. There is no psychiatric attention available for the prisoners, and therefore, the levels of suicides and self-inflictions are very high in comparison with other jails throughout the country. Furthermore, the prisoners do not have the right to receive any mail, while the few who are actually allowed to receive some have no privacy whatsoever, for guards give them in their letters only when they have read it first and understood it. Only then can a prisoner receive his open envelope.

As for the medical attention I received during my prison years, I can say that it was nearly nonexistent. I waited for more than 5 years to have an endoscopy performed on me because of my gastrointestinal problems. My vision has been strongly affected, as has been my hearing. Many of my teeth have deteriorated while some of them are missing, due to the strong pains which I felt in some of them, leaving me no other choice than to take them out. The stress I suffered from left some serious consequences, as well as lots of damage to my memory. I have undergone some serious misfortunes that will forever mark my life, like the death of my mother, who passed away on October of 2008. Her death was not a product of a biological disease, but instead solely due to all the suffering she went through because of my unjust and cruel imprisonment. In addition, she was not able to visit me, for the distance was very far and she was not able to travel for such long trips. The Cuban authorities only allowed me to see her twice.

The Cuban regime did not just condemn us, but also our families. They were victims of such repressive mechanisms for 7 years and a half. We must keep in mind all the difficulties they confronted just to visit us and take us essential things we needed to survive in those cemeteries of living men. Our families deserve to be acknowledged for all their bravery.

My niece, who was doing very well in her job as an information specialist, was forced to quit after they punished her with slashing her salary by 50%, for the sole reason that the Cuban Intelligence Unit had found out that she received an e-mail from someone abroad who was asking about my condition.

Cuba has not changed, and it violates all international covenants of the International Worker’s Organization (OIT) which it has signed. Cuban workers are continuously denied the right to strikes, to peacefully protest, and to move freely to the capital to find work. Workers on the island are defenseless in the face of such arbitrary measures formulated by their employers, they suffer discrimination at work for political beliefs, and they are forced to affiliate themselves with the CTC which is the official union that is a subordinate of the state and run by the Communist Party. Furthermore, they are required to assist political activities and must be paid according to union quota.
I find myself here today not because I was released as a result of a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Cuban authorities. Instead, I have been used as a token of trade which had the objective of ending the measures which the European Union has kept towards the Castro regime. My decision to accept such a deportation has been strictly because of family, for they could no longer continue to be victims of the dictatorship. They deserve honorable lives, decent lifestyles, and to live in freedom just like our creator wanted for all people.

We hope we can count on support from all of you so that during the next International Worker’s Conference, which is scheduled to take place on June 2011 in Geneva, the Republic of Cuba will be included in the list of the 25 countries which violate worker’s rights the most. We hope that a mission goes underway that members of the CSI or of OIT could meet with Cuban union members, whether they are official or independent, so that they can see the reality. Independent workers carry out their labor in very dangerous conditions, just like my own case which I testified here before you: they sent us to prison with very long sentences, forcing us to live side by side with actual dangerous criminals charged with elevated rate of dangerousness, molesters, and murderers. In addition, we hope that our case be present in the OIT and in the annual report made by the CSI, because the Castro-brother’s government continues with its inactivity.

May God bless you all,
Thank you very much,
Miguel Galban

Fulfilled What?

My sister in the civil struggle, Marta Beatriz Roque, commented to me that the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, had recently declared in New York that Cuba “had fulfilled” its promise. And now, I ask myself: did the totalitarian Castro-ite regime honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Did Cuba fulfill the observance of international economic, social, and cultural pacts and the civil and political pacts which it signed nearly two years ago but has not yet ratified in the State Council nor put into practice into the Socialist Cuban Constitution? Did the regime in Havana adhere to documents which it signed during the Ibo-American Summit? Did Cuba respect the principles highlighted in the UN charter?

In sum, did it fulfill the implementation of democracy, respect for rights, and social justice in Cuba? And if Mr.Moratinos said this in reference to the exile of the majority of my brothers from the group of the 75 to Spain, then I should remind the chief of Spanish diplomacy that each one of us are all prisoners of conscience, so declared by the prestigious NGO Amnesty International, which means that we should have never been kidnapped as hostages of the communist Cuban regime in the first place. And, much more important than our immediate release, I’d like to remind him that what is necessary is the unblocking of our rights and freedoms which are inherent to all members of Cuban civil society.

Mister Moratinos: We are peaceful fighters and social communicators who, peacefully, try to upheld rights and freedoms to be respected equally for all Cubans. We are not secret agents of foreign countries, and we are not mercenaries at the service of any nation. Our noble and dignified struggle only aims to bring truth, freedom, justice, and love to the largest of the Antilles.

Pedro Arguelles Moran

Hunger Strike

The political prisoner, Lamberto Hernandez Plana, declared himself on hunger strike on September 23rd.

Hernandez Plana is 41 years old and hails from a home on 24th street number 109, between 15th and 17th in Vedado, in the municipal capital of Plaza of the Revolution. He is one of the ones from the group that was transferred from Camaguey in 2007 to Aguica in Matanzas when they went on strike in the prison of Kilo8 in protest of the deaths of various common prisoners caused by guards.

On the 23rd of September they once again transferred him to Camaguey, where those murderous guards reside. According to him, he is transferred so much because they do it in order to avenge themselves and to keep him exiled from his native City of Havana, for he has already been outside of the capital for 18 years.

Lamberto Hernandez Plana has informed me that he will not eat until he is in the City of Havana, while he suffers from ulcers, severe gastritis, duodenitis, a stomach hernia, and also poli-neuropathy, and he does not have any medicines in his reach right now as he finds himself in transit from Canaleta to Camaguey.

Pedro Aguelles Morán
Provincial Prison of Canaleta
Ciego de Ávila

Scars in the Memory

Remembering the happy days is not a problem; forgetting the days of captivity is nearly impossible, for the wounds deeply scarred my soul. Now that I have more time to meditate, I ask myself: how did I survive so much human misery? A misery which is not only linked to the penal population, for I must say that I did meet many decent men in prison who were tossed down to that lower level world of captivity by the exclusive system which has been ruling in Cuba for more than half a century. Without realizing it, they have also becomes victims of the dictatorship.

After the brief and manipulated trials against the accused of the group of the 75, the machiavellic mind of Cuban intelligence systems and the head of the PCC decided to scatter us throughout various Cuban prisons located all over the island, all of which were hundreds of kilometers from our original homes. It was an additional punishment to our families and also an experiment to try to get us to surrender. They were mistaken. My wife (who I must say is the main source of pride in my life) and son, both who carried the heaviest burden, did not miss a single visit. My son got his start visiting the prisons at the young age of 4.

Looking back on the day that I was transferred, together with three other brothers in cause, from the headquarters of State Security Operations in Ciego de Avila to the Western region of the island, I can clearly remember the pompous process carried out by the police, as well as the bravery displayed by my companions. This, along with the assurance that we were jailed unjustly, evoked an additional strength in me which allowed me to survive more than 87 months of imprisonment.

Pedro Arguelles was transferred with us. Him and I both were sentenced to 20 years of prison by the provincial tribunal of Ciego de Avila. Unfortunately, he is still in captivity, because hate and intolerance do not allow the regime to understand that he wishes to remain in Cuba, even if it means that he will forever have the sword of Damocles lingering over his head. Other prisoners have taken this same stance as well.

I arrived at the penitentiary of “Aguica” on April 19th, 2003. There, they ordered Manuel Uvals Gonzalez, Alexis Rodrigues Fernandez, and myself to get off. The officers of the interior order carried out a minimal search of our belongings and then moved us to different areas of the prison, very far from one another. They figured that cutting communication among us would be another form of severe punishment. They were wrong about that, as well.

That night, my bed was the floor. The cell I was assigned was the 4th one from the ground floor. I was surrounded by dangerous people who had been sanctioned to life sentences for homicides, while others were being kept isolated due to acts of serious indiscipline, but they all displayed their solidarity with me, just like they would also do with Blas Giraldo Reyes from the group of the 75. If I were to say that I slept that night, I’d be lying. Instead, my mind traveled 400 kilometers to my humble home, where I would be with Ole and Jimmy. The latter, my son, would be the one who understood less of what was really happening. At the point where I found myself deepest in thought, the bell went off, announcing the morning chores we were to carry out in “Aguica”. The worst was yet to come, but I’ll leave that story for a latter time.

Pablo Pacheco

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