Visiting family in another country involves several considerations. One wonders, "When will I have time to for the trip? Can I afford it?"
One usually doesn't wonder, "Will I be allowed to leave my country?" Vladimiro Roca does.
Roca wants to visit his daughter and grandchildren in Tampa, Florida. He lives in Cuba, though, a prison posing as a nation. (Cuban prisoner of conscience Oscar Elias Biscet observes, "While respect for human rights does not exist, a nation does not truly exist.")
Roca could have been a comfortable henchman in Fidel Castro's autocracy. His father was Blas Roca (1908-1987), a founder of the Cuban Communist Party and member of Castro's politburo.
Born in 1942, Vladimiro trained to be a fighter pilot in the Soviet Union and served for a decade in Cuba's Revolutionary Air Force. His disassociation from the Church of Castro occurred during his later work as an economist:
I began to oppose the government only when I understood that it could no longer maintain a double standard. In other words, when I clearly realized that this government's economic system would destroy all the riches of my country, I affirmed to myself that I would not continue to have any contact with organizations that went against my own beliefs. It was not until 1990 that I went public with my views in my job. I was employed by the State Committee of Economic Collaboration. I was fired in January 1992, after having recognized and supported a project [the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current] aimed to create a democratic socialist Cuba.
Roca founded the Social Democratic Party in 1996. His heresy culminated in a June 1997 essay entitled "The Homeland Belongs to All," co-written with dissidents Félix Bonne, René Gómez, and Marta Beatriz Roque.
"The philosophy of the government is not to serve the people but to be their dictator," they wrote. "The Cuban Communist Party, in imposing a single party system, places itself in the unenviable company of Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Trujillo, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein, among others."
Roca and his peers were soon arrested and held without trial-Roca in solitary confinement-until March 1999. All were convicted of "sedition," Roca receiving the harshest sentence of five years. (Roca and Bonne are Afro-Cubans, but oddly "civil rights leaders" like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson didn't manifest solidarity for them.)
He spent the first two years, five months, and 17 days of his sentence in solitary confinement. Roca recalls being led into the isolation cell: "The place did not look like a cell; it resembled a cage meant to hold wild animals."
With 70 days left to his sentence, Castro released Roca a week before Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba in May. The totalitarian machinery that caused Roca's trauma remains untouched, and reform will occur only when that machinery has been abolished. As Roca said after being released, "I have reaffirmed the conviction that the system [emphasis added] has to be changed because it does not work."
Roca didn't become a free man on May 5; his condition shifted from acute imprisonment to the general imprisonment, both physical and mental, of being a Cuban.
If Roca became a free man on May 5, he wouldn't be prohibited from criticizing Castro or communism. He wouldn't be prohibited from gathering conscientiously with other Cubans.
If he were a free man, Roca wouldn't have to ask permission to leave Cuba. His body would belong to him.
It has been weeks since Vladimiro Roca requested an exit pass to go to Tampa. A captive grandfather waits to see his family.