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

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

We Can’t Always be Deceived

There are many dissimilar forms of lying, but our fellow human beings cannot always be deceived. Right now, the authorities of Havana are carrying out a fierce campaign against anyone who dissents from the current political system to the extreme that they make a state journalist publish articles or entire websites that are run by, or sponsored, by the island’s government. We must know that the worst corruption of the revolution lies within that very regime, which has dominated Cuba for more than five decades, and has tried to displace the pacific dissidence.

But can someone explain the fear of publishing such a post in Granma, the state-run newspaper which represents the Cuban Communist Party? Is it ethical to deprive the people from knowledge of a phenomenon that is neither new nor established to any form of government? It is mediocre to think that all individuals with administrative positions suffer from the universal whip which scorns the minds of the weak ones of a society that is plagued by human misery. The official press, likely to accept the imprisonment of thought, once again leans towards pleasing the caprice of a minority that enjoys unlimited power.

On occassions, we feel subtle compassion for our fellow neighbors who prefer silence before a superior fear of a pain that would produce grave consequences. It is easy to isolate a portion of society with the threat of aiming weapons when they do not have any ways of defending themselves from the consumed fallacy.

It is impossible for all citizens to share the same exact ideology. From the very first moment, they amputated our chance to give our opinions and decide the future. We now need to rebel against the marked difference between slavery and freedom. Of course, not everyone choses to live under the fire of repression and to dust off the double morals which corrode the most pure ideals.

Since the very first moment that I used reasoning, I have searched for diverse sources of information. It is very sad to sin as an idiot or a naive person. The benefit of the doubt should always be present amongst each one of us. Absolutely no one possesses absolute truth. Whoever declares themselves as holding such truth is mediocre and turns themselves into a walking cadaver.

Dreams are necessary in order for humans to live amongst one another, but life cannot be lived just solely on dreams. Such a response would make us feel guilty. The fault never remains forgotten, and it is not true that fault is not only negative. Universal history demonstrates that only the people of a country are responsible, or not, for the artificial rhetoric imposed on us by the owners of absolute power.

Pablo Pacheco Avila, prisoner of conscience

Calling Upon the European Union

We political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are addressing the Council of the European Union, which will meet during its scheduled semi-annual session and will discuss, among other things, the relations between the EU and Cuba. With total respect for the sovereignty of the Union and each of its member countries, we are aiming to push the following points:

1) We regard the common position based on a political block and adopted in 1996 as an ethical and dynamic mechanism that is on the path of promoting respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in Cuba, which with so much gradualism grants the Cuban government the possibility of collaborating with Europe if the Cuban government chooses to respect the rights and freedoms previously mentioned. Eliminating the common position or inverting the logic of its gradualness would, no doubt, constitute the furthering of the deterioration of the unalienable rights and freedoms of the Cuban people and would continue to initiate a barren and circular path that previous heads of states and governments of the Union and other nations have taken.

2) We are warning that the lamentable situation regarding political, civil, and economic rights, in addition to the lack of fundamental freedoms, could lead the Union and the international community to react. For that reason, we consider that if the analysis of the human rights situation in Cuba and its relations with the EU is limited to only one annual meeting, then it will be very insufficient.

3) Given the aggressive manner in which events in Cuba are occurring, we suggest that the Union institute a consultation mechanism that would be fluent in regard to the faculties of official representation for the Union’s foreign affairs as well as the European Commission that is capable of swiftly measuring the common position according to the behavior of respect towards fundamental rights and freedoms in Cuba. This mechanism could include:

A) Maintaining a constant monitoring process of elemental rights and freedoms over the sectors that supposedly promote those same rights within Cuba.

B) Semi-annually proposing concrete measures one way or another according to the gradualness of the common position and the course of such rights and freedoms in Cuba.

C) Acting as an interlocutor between the European Council and the Cuban government in order to continue the political dialogue that should not be abandoned.

D) Displaying the common European positions in international forums in order to stimulate their applications outside of the European Union’s frontiers.

We ask the EU’s member states to take our opinions into account during their analysis of EU-Cuba relations that will occur at the center of the European Council. At the same time, we are expressing our gratefulness towards the Council as well as all the other European institutions that have supported rights and freedoms for Cuba, as well as our immediate and unconditional release from prison.

We are inviting all the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as well as all the organizations in and outside Cuba that concern themselves with rights and freedoms for the Cuban people to endorse this document.

The members of the group of the 75 that are confined to the provincial prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila: Antonio Ramon Diaz Sanchez, Pedro Arguelles Moran, Felix Navarro Rodriguez, Pablo Pacheco Avila, Adolfo Fernandez Sainz.

“Zapata Lives!” An Interview with Antonio Diaz Sanchez; by Pablo Pacheco

During the last couple of years many people have sacrificed their bodies and souls in order to try to achieve the democratization of the island. Plenty of men and women have ended up serving excessive sentences in prison and have also been accused by the regime under the false and rhetorical label of mercenaries, traitors, and separatists, amongst many other epithets.

However, I must point out that, save for rare exceptions, our conduct is totally peaceful and nearly always supported by the constitution of the republic and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also a fact that the government of Havana never, during 50 years of revolution, prepared itself to confront these enemies whom have opted to make their demands through civic and civilized manner in order to change an archaic and discredited system.

Today, Cuba is one of the few countries in the area and in the world that keep more than 50 prisoners of conscience behind bars. As a result of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, a campaign without any precedents has surged, demanding freedom for people whose only crime consists of disagreeing with the official dogma and challenging the imprisonment of thought by denouncing the censorship found in Cuba through writing in various press agencies.

Thanks to the collaboration of some common prisoners and to the will of wanting to overcome obstacles, I have now completed an interview, through mail, with Antonio Diaz Sanchez, a political prisoner of conscience. He was, along with 74 other dissidents, arrested in the Black Spring of 2003. This period has been considered one of the most oppressive acts against peaceful people in Cuba during 50 years. Antonio Diaz Sanchez is a member of the Christian Liberation Movement- a group which holds the record of having the most members in prison in Cuba.

The interview starts like this:

Pablo Pacheco Avila: When and where did they arrest you? Where were you taken?

Antonio Diaz Sanchez: It was March 19th 2003 around 7 pm. My house was literally assaulted by more than ten agents of State Security dressed as civilians. They burst in and searched every room in the house, including the bedroom of my 15 and 4 year old daughters. I was about to shower, for I had just gotten home. State Security clearly violated the constitutional mandate of “inviolability of residence”. They raided my house without the consent of its inhabitants. In fact, they didn’t even show any papers or licenses that authorized the raid. This document was only shown to me 15 minutes after their unreasonable raiding and occupation of my house. My sons, my daughters, and my wife were all present. The agents then performed a meticulous search that lasted 5 hours. Afterwards, I was taken to the general barracks of State Security, known as Villa Marista.

P.P.A: Can you describe what happened afterwards? In other words, the descriptions of the trials and prisons which you have been confined to.

A.D.S: On April 3rd, just 15 days after the arrest, the trial took place. It consisted of a speedy process which almost completely lacked the steps which are supposed to be guaranteed. I consider that trial to be a total farce. I proved my innocence, yet 4 days after they issued a fault of guilt for the crime of Attempting to Attack the Territorial and Sovereign Integrity of the Cuban State. Such a crime required the punishment of serving 20 years of deprivation of freedom. On April 24th I was then transferred to the Provincial Prison of Holguin, which was located more than 700 km from my home. On the 15th of May, without the sentence being official, the Supreme Tribunal declared that I would be confined in isolation. Just like that, the measures of maximum severity were applied to me. Such a measure proved that the government was violating Cuban law which states that a person is innocent until proven guilty and the accused would be in a state of security in which no measures of imprisonment could be applied until a concrete verdict was announced. This same viciousness was also used on the rest of the members of the group of 75. On November 8th they moved me to the prison named “Cuba Yes” which is located in the same province of Holguin. I remained there until December 5th 2005 when I was then transferred to the Provincial Prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila. During those two years and seven months I only had the right, according to the sentence which was applied, to two hours of family visits for every three months, and 3 hours of conjugal meetings every 5 months. Family visits were strictly limited to only two adults and two under-aged children. This absurd decision forced my daughters and wives to travel more than 1,400 km, which is a greater distance than from Havana to Moscow. In addition, my wife, Angela Sanchez, has traveled 9,700 km during the last 7 authorized matrimonial visits. The insecurities of Cuban transportation must also be mentioned, for it is something else she has to deal with. In reality, all these processes are just premeditated methods that the government uses against the prisoners of conscience and their families, as they try to break family connections and communications and wrongly try to discourage them from their political ideas.

P.P.A: Antonio, tell me about your stay at the capital hospital of Carlos J. Finlay and about the scheme designed by State Security against you.

A.D.S.: In September 2002 they transferred me over to the military hospital known as C.J.F. located in the capital of the country with a diagnosis of a possible case of a severe ulcer, most likely caused by the constant stress which I have undergone. After the ulcer was confirmed, I remained hospitalized for several months and State Security then brought up the proposal of being able to return to a prison in the City of Havana but only if I accepted to wear the common prisoner uniform. Due to an elemental matter of dignity, I denied such an offer. On May 30th 2009 I was returned to the prison of Ciego de Avila where I have remained confined, alone, in an isolation cell where I find myself locked up in for 23 hours daily as a minimum.

P.P.A: What is the reason for which you are still being punished in a cell of maximum severity?

A.D.S: It is clear that this is a matter of repression for not accepting the blackmail that has been proposed by the political police for refusing to wear the common uniform. And even though it is not a first, they have chosen to totally confine me with the intention of worsening my health and having me give in. But God has granted me strength to continue resisting and I have been placed within his hands, which is the best place I could ever be in.

P.P.A.: How would you assess the current situation of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience? And the country as a whole?

A.D.S.: The existence of tens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience is a stain on the record of any government. Being in prison for reasons of conscience is a very cruel reality, even if one is confined to a glass prison. If we observe the living conditions of Cuban prisons, we must treat the case of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as a drama. As for the country itself, I think it is going through its worst period since it has been an Independent Republic. I say this not only because of the absence of fundamental freedoms, but also because of the economic crisis which shows no signs of improvement as long as the government uses a Stalin-ist method which has failed worldwide. There also exists the loss of so many values in our society that has eroded our national conscience.

P.P.A.: What are your aspirations for the future?

A.D.S.: The first and main aspiration of any prisoner is to return to their family dream. In my case, and I don’t doubt that many of the other prisoners under the same conditions as me feel the same, I have the strong aspiration to return to every Cuban benefiting from fundamental freedoms and rights.

P.P.A.: Do you have any messages for the national or international community?

A.D.S.: I would like to tell both that the situation faced by political prisoners and prisoners of conscience is a very dramatic one. For us, prison symbolizes a grand suffering and injustice that has no limits. For our family members there should be no difference between the international and national condemnations. However, whether one is referring to the national or international context, as people we see that institutions and even democratic governments still conserve a taboo towards this subject. Sadly, a universal declaration of human duties does not exist. Its first point could be solidarity with those who are suffering, the same way that Jesus taught us.

P.P.A.: How do you feel about the case of Guillermo Farinas and the possibility of him suffering a fatal ending?

A.D.S.: Guillermo Farinas, with much philanthropy and altruism, is demonstrating the solidarity of his human principles and values. His posture has been astounding. Although he appeals to my conscience, I wish he would cease his hunger strike before it is too late. He has done a lot, and I do not want to think of the worst. As for the barbaric slogan of “Socialism or Death”, the Christian Liberation Movement instead proposes the phrase of “Liberty and Life”. Farinas has the right to both. His life is currently the primary concern in my mind.

P.P.A.: What is your opinion about the role of the Cuban Catholic Church as a mediator between the government and the Ladies in White?

A.D.S.: I value the mediation and the achievement as something positive for the Ladies in White because they do not represent any political party or any specific ideology. Their reason for existing and their behavior are all values that the church has taught and practices, based on love and the sense of justice. But it very lamentable that other Christian Churches and other fraternal organizations have not publicly pronounced themselves at this point, especially since it’s such a sensible subject, even when many of their members are supportive of the Ladies in White. I don’t believe that this solidarity should be considered a challenge to the authorities or the current laws, and much less as a political act. Being supportive of them is a matter of loving our fellow human beings. I hope that the Catholic Church, and many other institutions that cultivate such values, will intercede between all the abuses that have been committed against these peaceful women.

P.P.A.: Please define the attitude of the Ladies in White.

A.D.S.: Extraordinary, altruist, brave, and faithful to the love of their loved ones who are being held captive for the conscience reason of thinking differently.

With these words, Antonio Diaz Sanchez concluded his interview. He then objectively recounted the current legislation of our country. This mans courage is astounding.

He was born on July 14th 1962, raised as a Catholic, and has been a Mason since 1988. In fact, when he was arrested he was heading the “Liberty and Civility” lodge as a representative of the Franco-Masonry, the highest legislative organ of the institution.

His home is located in the capital municipality of Marianao. He joined the Christian Liberation Movement in 1991 and belonged to the Coordinating Council when he was arrested. On March 10 2002, together with the prisoner of conscience Rey Iglesias Ramirez and Osvaldo Paya Sardinas, he turned in a document, which contained 11,002 signatures that demanded a reform based on 5 points, to the National Assembly of Popular Power. This initiative was known as the Varela Project and actually forced the communist government to modify the constitution of the Republic. Antonio Diaz Sanchez has suffered under some arbitrary measures carried out by the political police and the penitentiary chiefs. Amongst such actions have been: various months without being able to get any sun, violation of correspondence, prohibition of religious services, telephone services, and other arbitrary things. Far from giving up, such experiences have prevented him from keeping his head down- an attitude that has gained him much respect amongst fellow political and common prisoners, and possibly even some of the very henchmen who run this prison.

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Pablo Pacheco Avila, prisoner of conscience from the group of 75
Provincial Prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Avila, Cuba

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