AS A NOVELIST and poet in Communist Cuba, Esteban Cardenas suffered chronic adversity. Arrested by State Security (Fidel Castro’s KGB) twice regarding unpublished manuscripts, Cardenas began attempting to escape Cuba in 1977.
In one attempt, Cardenas sought asylum by jumping off a roof into the Argentine embassy. He landed in the embassy’s garden and broke his ankles. State Security then stormed the embassy and pulled him out. (Cardenas eventually managed to escape the island.)
Nine years old when Castro rode triumphantly through Havana, Enrique Patterson’s revolutionary faith ebbed in 1968 when Castro endorsed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and perpetrated the ofensiva revolucionaria (Revolutionary Offensive), which completed collectivization by expropriating Cuba’s remaining small businesses.
At an assembly where he was supposed to condemn the Czech reformers, Patterson criticized the Soviet suppression and referred to the invaders as imbeciles. He also criticized Castro’s pro-Soviet position. (Castro inveighed against the reformers’ "anti-Marxist and anti-Leninist theses" that called for civil liberties and democratization.) Consequently, Patterson was purged from the Young Communists, terminated from employment, removed from candidacy for a scholarship to study abroad, and forbidden to leave Cuba.
Police periodically raided Patterson’s residence during his tenure at the University of Havana from 1973 to 1981. Hitherto unaffiliated with human rights organizations, these aggressions prompted him to join the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and the National Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Patterson subsequently co-founded the Democratic Socialist Current, resulting in fortnightly arrests. State Security opened un expediente de peligrosidad (Dossier of Dangerousness) on him. Cognizant that Patterson had asthma, the police threatened imprisonment for his next anti-government "crime" with the additional threat that "medicine is for revolutionaries! We won’t even have to kill you; you’ll die on your own." Faced with this dire likelihood, Patterson went into exile.
Born in 1964, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez’s alienation from the Revolution also commenced during adolescence when he read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and found its antithesis in Communist Cuba. Indignant, he pointed out the regime’s contradictory policies, for instance "free education" and compulsory agricultural labor for students. Officials reprimanded Garcia Perez and made negative notations in his expediente acumulativo del escolar (Cumulative Academic Record), foreclosing his aspiration to be a lawyer.
Steadfast in identifying autocratic injustice and consequently fired from several jobs, the Ministry of Labor reported Garcia Perez to State Security, which began to monitor him with Soviet assiduousness. (State Security detained Garcia Perez at its Department of Instruction in 1983 after he declared Castro culpable for the deaths of 23 Cuban troops during America’s intervention in Grenada. Police had beaten him prior to the detention.)
The totalitarian hammer once again came down on Garcia Perez on March 15, 1990. Galvanized by a broadcast inaugurating the Fourth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, he declared it imperative for Cuba to reform akin to Eastern Europe. State Security beat him and charged him with "oral enemy propaganda." Cuba’s supine judiciary sentenced Garcia Perez to five years.
Garcia Perez maintained his indignation in prison, eschewing communist "re-education," holding hunger strikes, and becoming a plantado (a political prisoner who refuses to wear the uniform of common criminals). Authorities responded with solitary confinement, beatings, and transfers to gulags.
The regime more than doubled Garcia Perez’s sentence in 1993 when he escaped to see his dying mother after authorities denied permission. (He was then denied permission to attend her funeral.) Further torture and transfers followed.
Garcia Perez co-founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoners Movement in 1997 at Combinado de Guantanamo prison. (Pedro Luis Boitel was an anti-Batista student leader who later opposed Castro. He went on many hunger strikes in Boniato prison to protest the torture perpetrated there. On the forty-ninth day of a hunger strike in 1972, Boitel went into a coma. He died four days later on May 23, 1972. Authorities forbade Boitel’s mother to see his body.) In response, authorities beat and confined him to a tapiada (a tiny, dark, metal-covered cell). Garcia Perez was most recently transferred to Nieves Morejon prison, where he has been beaten and languishes today.
When pro-life physician and Christian Oscar Elias Biscet exposed the barbarity of Cuba’s abortion system in 1998, authorities evicted his family and barred him from practicing medicine. Prior to the November 3, 1999 arrest leading to his present imprisonment, Biscet had been arrested nearly thirty times and beaten for advocating Cuban emancipation. (On one representative occasion, police burned a cigarette into Biscet’s elbow and punched him in the face.)
Biscet was convicted on February 25, 2000 of "insult to the symbols of the homeland," "public disorder," and "instigation to commit a crime" for inverting a Cuban flag during a press conference. A founding member and president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, Biscet turned 40 this July in the Holguin province’s Cuba Si prison, nearly 500 miles apart from his family. He has been subjected to extensive solitary confinement and other abuse such as confiscation of his Bible.
In addition to sharing heroic dissidence, Esteban Cardenas, Enrique Patterson, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, and Oscar Elias Biscet are black Cubans. The latter commonality is significant given the recurrent myth that Fidel Castro has enhanced black Cubans’ quality of life. "[B]lacks are demonstrably better off under Castro than they were under the Batista dictatorship," Randall Robinson writes in Defending the Spirit. Economist Jude Wanniski similarly claims that "Fidel made life better for black Cubans."
In addition to brutalizing these and other Afro-Cuban dissidents, Castro’s totalitarianism subjugates Afro-Cubans as a whole; there is no Afro-Cuban exemption from "illegal exit," "disrespect," "illicit association," and other repressive policies. Afro-Cubans are enslaved, muzzled, and terrorized no less than white Cubans.
In fact, there is evidence that Afro-Cubans are more acutely repressed. Prohibitive emigration, for example, has applied with greater intensity to Afro-Cubans. Patterson notes, "I am certain that because of my race, I was the first member of the group [the Democratic Socialist Current] that the political police went after."
Robinson, Wanniski, and others would have us believe Castro empowered a disenfranchised Afro-Cuban population. Reality tells a different story, and Castro’s subjugation of Afro-Cubans persists.
For further information, see www.Biscet.org, Nestor Almendros and Jorge Ulla’s Nobody Listened, Andrea O’Reilly Herrera’s Remembering Cuba: Legacy of a Diaspora, Carlos Moore’s Castro, the Blacks, and Africa, Steve Fainaru and Ray Sanchez’s The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream, Maria Teresa Velez’s Drumming for the Gods: The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, and John Clytus, Black Man in Red Cuba.