I joined the political civilist youth movement in 1991. Curiously, what I remember most from that period is how my apprehensions led me to disguise myself with a hat and glasses when traveling from my town of Artemisa to Havana to meet with other activists. These feelings of fear, defenselessness, and even blame, are common to those who live in Cuba, stifled by oppression and numbed by endless totalitarian propaganda.
I went to prison for practicing independent journalism in Cuba. As soon as you get there, you must prepare yourself to narrate the horrors of the hellhole you've ended up in. And Cuban prisons are horrendous. But the horrors start not one step back in the penal tribunal, not two steps back with the police chief, but three steps back, with the Cuban penal code, which reflects the social decomposition of post-Soviet Cuba. The government's legal response to a wave of robberies (and to a similar wave of political unrest) is to make sentences more severe. Are they trying to punish the innocent? No, they want to "save the revolution," and since "the end justifies the means," toughness is expected from the police and from prosecutors, who are judged on their ability to quickly resolve cases; and from judges, who grow accustomed to handing down harsh sentences. In such a way, they get used to tough sentencing as they continue to lose their humanity.
On March 18, 2003, our people endured one of the worst episodes in Cuba's history. The peaceable political dissident community, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and independent journalists, along with representatives of the emergent and democratic civil society--74 men and one woman--were the victims of the most absolute, merciless, and cruel government power.
When I wake up and sense my husband's body next to mine, I ask myself if I'm dreaming or if it is true that he has returned to our home.
Eight years have passed since 75 Cubans were uprooted from their homes for thinking differently than the governmental discourse and having the courage to express it publicly. So many days and nights of agony and suffering for their parents, wives, children, and grandchildren; so much accumulated pain. But the important thing is that they couldn't uproot our love. Our love gave us the motivation needed to undertake a tenacious and constant fight for the release of our loved ones.
On March 18, 2003, I got up early as usual, connected my shortwave radio receiver, and tuned into a number of radio stations in the south of Florida in search of the day's most important news. As always, the radio interference was brutal and made it hard to hear. Still, I had to make the effort to obtain even a minimum amount of information that, as an independent journalist, would permit me to counter the official news provided by the regime through our small news agency, Agencia Libertad.
The clouds of exile are twice as bitter. Being forced from your birthplace and into legal limbo in the land of your grandparents where you're met by complete official abandonment only deepens the wounds. My gloominess has nothing to do with the affection and solidarity shown by the Spanish people, especially the citizens of Madrid. Thanks to many of them my family--my wife and my little 5-year-old Emmanuel--have clothes and shoes. We arrived with nothing. Or worse yet: We arrived loaded down with the heavy baggage of my long imprisonment.
I was born beneath the yoke of a tyranny, now more than 50 years old, in which prison is the only destination for its deterrents. I first came across this destination in 1997, when I was sentenced to five years in prison for the alleged crime of committing an outrage "against state security." In Cuba, besides being a journalist, I was the coordinator of the Cuban Youth for Democracy Movement, an organization that defends the many truncated rights within higher learning institutions, such as a university's autonomy. The answer to our demands? Prison.
At the chief's desk sat an agent of the political police. I didn't recognize his face, but he had the same harshness and arrogance as all members of that repressive body. As soon as I entered the office, the agent signaled me silently to pick up the telephone receiver lying unhooked on the desk.