A New Path

Painting: “Lighthouse” by Seamus Berkley

In no time, life could take a 360 degree turn. Just two months ago my fate was in limbo. I would frequently ask myself, “will I come out dead or alive from this living tomb of men?” I was serving a 20 year prison sentence, of which I had already completed 7 years and 4 months in 3 different maximum security prisons throughout various locations in Cuba. On one unforgettable morning, I heard the voice of Cardinal Jaime Ortega emanating from the phone in the office of the director of Canaleta Prison. The words he told me were very similar to those spoken by the archbishop of Havana to other prisoners of conscience who now live exiled thousands of miles from their homeland. This offer has been turned down by some of the other prisoners who still remain in captivity.

I don’t think anyone has the most minimal idea about how life outside of Cuba is until they get to experience it firsthand. It’s not easy, but my innate optimism is telling me that things will turn out alright. My time in the temporary Red Cross foster center for 2 months has been mixed with questions and stumbles. We now have a new path ahead of us; now my family has official residency in Spain, a work permit, and we are receiving much warmth from the people of Malaga. In a few minutes, I will go out in search of an apartment, enroll Jimmy in school, and try to find myself a job. The latter will probably be the most difficult part, because it is no secret that there are 4 million people unemployed, according to official statistics. Yet, my optimism is multiplying: I should continue onward, carrying the sadness of knowing that Cuba is physically absent from me, but always reassuring myself that she continues living on in my memory.

Pablo Pacheco

The Cuban Model Does Not Work

(“Photo taken from blogforcuba.typepad.com”)

The recent declarations made by former Cuban president Fidel Castro to the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg have started an international media commotion. Within the island, however, the repercussions remained virtually unknown to the population because, save for a few exceptions within the power nomenclature and a minimal number of citizens who have the rare opportunity to inform themselves, barely anyone has heard the maximum leader acknowledge, 51 years after his ascent to power, that “the Cuban model does not work, not even for us”.

It is interesting but I don’t understand it. Why such a commotion over a fact that has already been confirmed? The peaceful Cuban opposition has been stating this for a very long time now, and just for saying that same phrase the authorities sent 75 dissidents to prison in March of 2003, many of whom are still imprisoned, and not to mention the long list of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience that have passed through Castro’s prisons during half a century of totalitarianism.

This whole egotistical show put on by the figure who is still the First Secretary of the Communist Party simply means that only he can speak without censorship. From my point of view, I don’t think that the “revolutionary leader” regrets his sins and that he is starting to ask for forgiveness. His love of power and his need to “represent” are now leading him, senile and all, to make many errors, which luckily for us, display his true personality.

Now, the Cuban government has started to try to adopt measures that distance it from its usual and traditional leftist politics. What will happen now with the “Cuban model”? It’s difficult to predict. Cuban civil society needs free space, and perhaps Fidel’s words can serve as a point of reference so people could start demanding their freedoms. The everyday citizens, who are worn out by ideology and tormented with vital problems, need a viable model that would once again grant them a dignified way of life and would allow them to join global society. They are in need of a country where screaming out what their conscience feels into the four winds is not a penal sin. Those who still live off of the State, hanging onto its every word, have just received a warning. In reality, it wouldn’t cost a thing to toss this “utopian” and archaic Cuban model into the trash can, changing it for a new system where we would all have the access to rights.

Pablo Pacheco
(This essay was written by Pablo Pacheco for the newspaper “La Epoca”)

Waking up from this Lethargy

At 40 years of age, I have finally understood that the international community does not see the sad ruin that today is CUBA as being a consequence of the inefficiency of a system of government that has promoted hate, intolerance, and an out of proportion level of evil. However, the blame has always systematically fallen upon supposed internal and external enemies. This is so because those who are the true culprits, those who have resided in power for more than 50 years through ostentation and impunity, have encouraged divisions and dislikes among Cubans, perfectly playing the role of Pontius Pilate as they wash their hands off of blame during each crisis.

The island is going through a total crisis in economic, political, social, and also humanistic, terms. There are visible clues that a witch-hunt may unfold in Cuba. It’s no secret that totalitarian systems that are on their final phase lash out and attack their own people, producing irreparable damages for families. That is how they behave and that, amongst other things, is what sharply separates them from the civilized world. It is the responsibility of all the Cuban people to avoid a human catastrophe of such unmeasurable damage, especially for the sake of those who live in the island. If we do not prevent such a disaster, we run the risk of making our children, our grand-children, and further descendants not forgive us.

With the grave problems that Cuba currently faces, the least important news hailing from within the island has to do with the former Commander-in-Chief. Yet, these news reports are the ones that dominate the most powerful media slots, further attempting to increase his inflated ego. Now, he is the new Messiah of the Apocalypse. What Fidel Castro doesn’t know, or wishes not to know, is that at this point in the game nobody pays attention to him, not even his followers or imitators. The time has come for us to stand up for the interests of Cuba, not have Cuba stand up for our interests.

Pablo Pacheco

First Steps…

Malaga, our new home of freedom

The Great Dream Fulfilled

After being released on parole and hustled off to Spain with a dozen political prisoners of conscience from the cause of the 75 of the Black Spring of 2003, along with their families, and to my right and left Oleivys and Jimmy, my wife and son, I am finally writing my first lines for the blog, “Voices Behind the Bars.” I have reiterated to the press and to my friends that this blog is healthier than ever.

Today, God has allowed me to fulfill my long overdue dream, held during seven long, hard years of captivity as a result of the hatred and intolerance of a system of government that curtails, day after day, the rights of all Cubans, crushing without pity the slightest vestige of disobedience. I am writing these lines from the modest premises of the Spanish Red Cross in hospitable Málaga, using the same method as always, a pen and a notebook — accessories of my conscience — as it is still too soon to be able to count on a computer.  I look at the horizon and repeatedly ask myself in silence: Is this a dream or reality?

A tear runs slowly down my face remembering that two days ago I was able, on his 12th birthday, to give my only son the first look, the first kiss, the hug denied for seven years. Happy Birthday my son, I love you so much! “Thank you Papa, I love you too, a lot a lot a lot,” he answered. Seconds later, the most important person in our lives joined us in a familial embrace. Oleivys was crying too.

The day could not have ended better. I chatted with my colleague and compatriot Mabel Fajardo Roig, living here in Spain and working as a correspondent for WQBA. Unconsciously glancing at my watch, I realized it was past midnight. Listening to Willy Chirino on my MP4 player I fell fast asleep hugging Jimmie. Before, I asked God may no other human being ever have to live a story like mine. But this is something very hard to avoid.

Pablo Pacheco Ávila
Former political prisoner of the cause of the 75

A Common Prisoner Dies

During the night hours of this past June 26th the common prisoner Roberto Rodriguez Ramos died of a heart attack in the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila.  The functionaries of the Order of the Interior of the jail took Rodriguez Ramos to the provincial hospital Antonio Luaces Iraola after the prisons doctor checked him, according to the source which prefers to remain annonymous due to fear of reprisals. 

The source added that the prisoner, 54 years of age, died in the clinic mentioned above.  Roberto Rodriguez Ramos was a resident of the Cuban capital.  In addition to this now deceased prisoner, there is a group of over 100  Havana residents that find themselves in this province under the indication of the National Direction of Penitentiary Establishments which goes directly against the will of the prisoners themselves and their family members.  Roberto Rodriguez Ramos was jailed in “Tarea Confianza”, the prison adjacent to Canaletas. 

We must also remember that in a matter of 20 months, 5 men have comitted suicide.  Among the victims are the blind Rautel Fernandez Prieto.  The source concludes this leak of information by stating that this very jail has one of the highest rates of suicide and self-affliction in the entire country.  They add that this very well could be the reason why Colonel Reinerio Diaz Betancourt, the ex-director of Canaletas, was removed from his position. 

Pablo Pacheco, Prisionero de conciencia

Chronicles of a Cuban Prison

“Galley 43 has exploited, and in the area of recycling”, a common prisoner told us.  “It is hell to work with meat and not even being able to eat a steak,” answered Charon.  Even if it may not seem that way, the common prisoners come together  in solidarity whenever a crime is committed against one of us.  Such chronicles may seem funny but the reality is quite the opposite.

The authorities of this penitentiary chose a large group of prisoners last year to work in a factory adjacent to the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila.  Everything is indicating that the cruel realities of this jail (and what goes on in those factories) will be masked and hidden before the eyes of any high ranking international personnel , especially if it is someone from the United Nations.  The mentioned factory specializes in numerous things like carpentry, construction, plastic jar making, and the recycling of clothes.

On other occasions I have written about the anomalies in the salaries of the prisoners, but today I am specifically referring to those who work in recycling, and according to them have received 300 pesos in national currency- 12 CUC a month.  During this time, the men who have worked in recycling have been caught stealing brand name clothes.  They then go on to be astonished prisoners and are removed from their positions.  A prisoner is a prisoner.

In many occasions I have heard stories about the recycling sector.  Civil workers and soldiers have been known to steal on the side.  They get caught, are surprised, but then everything continues.  That is where the gist of the problem lies.  I don’t think that it will be difficult to sell some of those items, which they themselves took, to the prisoners and later sell them to stores.  The captive should be encouraged and be able to buy clothes that go from hand to hand with their modest salary.  “It is very, very difficult to work with shit and not get stained with it,” one recluse said.

Although recycling is not the only place where this occurs, one of the most lamentable cases occurred on June 14th when Henry Veitia Valdivia lost one of his legs when he suffered an accident with the mechanical cementer machine, thanks to the very minimal security measures emphasized by the authorities.  This young man was in and out life and death and we currently do not know about his state of health.  Well, just like a Ruben Blades song so perfectly says, “With the salary that I am paid, I will not risk the life that God has given me”.

Pablo Pacheco, Prisionero de conciencia

Cuba as Vicepresident of the UN Human Rights Council

Samuel Bak- “Luna”

Upon receiving the news that Cuba has been elected Vice-president of the UN’s Human Rights Council for the next period of the international organization’s sessions, all of us who defend human rights in whatever part of this planet called Earth have been left astonished, I would say.

I acknowledge the governments that make up this council, which is the same as the now defunct UN Human Rights Committee, which time and time again condemned the authorities of Havana with resolutions that the regime ignored each time, playing the role of the innocent one, just like a 7 year old kid that carries out acts of mischief behind his parents back. But, now, should the United Nations eliminate this dependency, or should they just give up the true purpose of an organization of unified countries? This question will be up to the countries that make up the UN to answer.

It is truly an insult to the intelligence of even the most mediocre of men. It is true that many other countries step over individual rights, including the right to life which God has granted us. I do not refer only to the classic violators, but also to the United States and the civilized Europe. The prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, along with others, that the George W. Bush administration, and currently Barack Obama, have continued to maintain open for supposed Talibans for an undefined period of time. It is funny, I remember that the Taliban regime was not considered as perverse as it is now when it used to confront communist soviet expansion.

As for the old continent, we receive daily news that are targeted against immigrants. In sum, there is lots of dirt to uncover. But people, it’s not the same to live in a country where human rights are violated.  Those responsible of such absurd determinations forgot, in the midst of their desire to contradict the West, that here, in this country, a group of peaceful women who simply demand freedom for their jailed loved ones (due to reasons of conscience) were dragged and beaten out in the open street in the Cuban capital by soldiers and mobs which were directly ordered by the offices of the Political Police.

Despite the attempts by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana and whom I unconditionally support, we political prisoners and prisoners of conscience still remain under harsh conditions- most of us with severe diseases which we have acquired in prison.  In fact, the only one from the group of the 75 that was released as a product of the negotiations has been Ariel Sigley Amaya, on June 22nd, and I am immensely happy about this.  The entire world, through the eyes of the foreign media, along with his friends and family members, have been shocked to see the frail rag of a man that has been made of him.  Of course, I am referring to physical deterioration but his ideas are still going strong and firm.

The colleague which I chatted with about this subject (Cuba and the UN), believes, and I wouldn’t disregard it, that this may turn out to be a double-edged sword for the government of Raul Castro Ruz.  Holding the vice presidency of the UN Human Rights Council usually means a compromise to uphold our natural human rights.  In honor of the truth, I openly express my doubts in respect to such interpretations, for I think the government of Havana will fulfill no such thing, and I also doubt the confidence that other member countries have granted Cuba with.  What fulfillment?  I am still waiting for a fulfillment.  I am still waiting for the official publication of the social, economic, and political accords which the governmental authorities signed more than 2 years ago.  Time is and will be the best witness of all these outcomes.

Pablo Pacheco, Prisionero de conciencia

From an MP4 to Silence

Today could be a special day, and in fact, it is. In addition to the marital pavilion meeting, my unrivaled wife handed me an emotional letter from Sebastian Lebriel, a Dutch television host. I will respond to this letter soon through my blog, Voices Behind the Bars.

Too good to be true, I thought. Thirty minutes after I returned from the pavilion, the functionary from the Order of the Interior of Detachment 3 informed me that I had to accompany him to the room at the entrance of the prison. Something must be wrong, I thought. I completely forgot about the dialogues between the Cuban Catholic church and the government in favor of the Cuban political prisoners. Perhaps these 7 years of captivity and of suffering from the darkest part of humanity activated my intuition. The sense of smell that I have been using these days for the World Cup did not fail me. I was lead to the room of lawyers and was being questioned by none other than the State Security Chief- Agustin- who is in charge of the prisons of Ciego de Avila province. Also present was the infamous Lieutenant Jose Marino, chief of Political Police Operations and main culprit for the pompous searches of my home and the home of Pedro Arguelles Moran on the 18th and 19th of March 2003.

If I say that I was not afraid, I’d be a flat out liar. Just like if I say that I did not foresee something negative coming, I’d be lying to myself. The State Security officials told me that thanks to a diverse range of sources, they knew that I had a digital memory device and that these technologies were strictly prohibited in Cuban jails. They told me that I had to turn it in and that they would be responsible to hand it back to Oleidis. I acceded without a fight, though I must say that such ridiculousness gave rise to an uncontrollable and ironic laughter in me. This apparently surprised the main henchmen.

It is an incredible fact that the international community must know that in the jails of this island video and photo cameras, radios, DVDs, recorders, fans, cell phones, and phones in service for prisoners are all either restricted or constantly monitored. Flash drives, Ipods, MP3s, and MP4s are all prohibited as well.

What is interesting about this story is that I simply use my 4 GB MP4 to listen to music, to play mind challenge games, and to stare at pictures of my beloved family. From today on I will have to do without staring at the one thing that I long for the most from within this wretched place. Such an insignificant thing is capable of worrying the informants of the Investigative Technical Department, Interior Order, Internal Control, and State Security of this detachment B of the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila, especially in galley 43.

It’s quite possible that the culprit of so much denunciations has been observing me for days on end, to inform his employers as they violate basic rights. Perhaps while I record this story the architect of passing on so much valuable information will hear this and applaud it. Their lack of human value leaves a lot of things unanswered. Even so, I’d still help him with whatever I can, but please, I won’t accept that someone will manipulate my intelligence. I am solidary by nature and if I have learned something during these 87 months of captivity it has been to forgive my fellow human beings. Even if so much human misery makes it seem absurd. We must keep in mind that such kinds of men are only pawns of the government and their political game. This is very common in Cuban prisons.

Sebastian Lebriel is right when he says in his letter that it is very terrible that one must live through such an injust struggle in this lifetime. But, my friend, if it is not me, it will be someone else. As long as evil exists in this world there will be men and women determined to fight against it. I do not doubt that one bit.

In addition to being prohibited from freedom, I am also prohibited from entertainment, from listening to music, and from seeing the pictures of my Odeilis and my only son, Jimmy. But it doesn’t matter, this means that I will only have more time now to continue what I dedicate myself to in prison: writing down what my conscience dictates and denouncing the constant violations of human rights in Cuba.

Pablo Pacheco, Prisionero de conciencia

Take Care of Yourselves

The Long Road- Chad Elliott

Politics is the art of the possible. This is the reason for which I decided to support the dialogue between General Raul Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino from the very beginning. The cardinal appealed to our good will and intelligence, interceding for the Ladies in White and the political prisoners and the prisoners of conscience. The archbishop of Havana has ignored the criticisms from abroad or from within the island that have been made against his gesture. In honor of the truth, it must be said that any such attacks against this initiative could end in sterile results without the liberation of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and Jaime Ortega knows that very well.

His compromise with Cuba is an order from God and also hails from a calling from his own conscience. I sympathize with the cardinal, I don’t deny it. I fully trust Ortega Alamino. If I am criticized for this, then so be it. If I turn out to be mistaken, then I will acknowledge it. Besides, this opinion is my right and I will not trade it in to satisfy anyone. I’ve always believed that I should first be in accord with my own conscience and later with that of my fellow colleagues. Of course, this is without damaging my own values. In politics, sometimes it seems as if we are very far from reaching a desired objective when, in truth, the solution lies right before our noses. It is also true that during such fragile and tense moments we just may be very close to achieving the goals which we dream of.

But the transfer of Antonio Diaz Sanchez first and later Adolfo Fernandez Sainz and Felix Navarro have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Despite the ferrous control held over us, we political prisoners and prisoners of conscience manage to maintain a system of communication, evading the blockade of the government. Now, it is just Pedro Arguelles Moran and I. Our fates are uncertain, but whatever they may be it will be a very difficult process to once again form a group like that one which we formed here in this provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila. I do not doubt that in other prisons the same thing occurs, but our fellowship allowed us to survive and protect ourselves.

These men have been my friends during these long seven years. Tony, rebellious and incomparable when it comes to seeking solutions. Felix Navarro, unique for his intelligence and fairness, impossible to compare due to his tolerance of any idea. Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, owner of his own thoughts and a man of important of ideas at the time of making group choices. Pedro, rebel by nature but noble at heart, and an avid reader despite his limited vision- this due to a disease in his eyes. Nobody can imagine the influence that each one of these men has had on me upon sharing their wise advice with me.

It is possible that tomorrow anything could happen, but as long as their remains even one political prisoner or prisoner of conscience there will be nothing- absolutely nothing- to celebrate. Besides, if we guide ourselves by the laws which are in force then these prisoners should be in minimum security prisons or in freedom. But none of that. Sounds like conformity to me. I don’t doubt that the Cuban authorities still hold the final card under their sleeve. Perhaps it is the golden Ace. However, at this point in the game, I highly doubt that any of this will help them win.

Today, I value the wise words of Adolfo and Felix, “patience Pablito, patience, but always remain firm before the tyranny, for this will always give us power”. I do not know when I will once again be able to see these excellent and dignified men, but I do know that each of them left very important traces of their wisdom in my heart. I hope they also remember my favorite phrase- “Take care of yourselves, for we still have lots more that we owe and should do for Cuba”.

Pablo Pacheco


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