“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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