Life has shown me that the future is unpredictable and what lies ahead in Cuba is difficult to predict.
The regime in Havana tries to oxygenate itself any way it can. Raul Castro is more pragmatic than his older brother, he knows that system they built is unsustainable and that any moment it could collapse under its own weight.
The elite in power announces more access to the “Internet,” (which will really be an Intranet), controls politics in Venezuela, allows dissidents to leave a return to the island, calls for more foreign investment and under the table tries to approach its eternal enemy, the USA.
Three years outside the island have helped me to mature politically, professionally, and above all, to learn to live as a human being.
From my point of view, those who will rule on Cuba’s future will not be those who have been persecuted, abused, imprisoned and beaten for years. Perhaps one will come to fill an important position in a democratic government, perhaps.
I don’t doubt that some exiled could manage to take the reins of the Cuban nation and that is legitimate, because one never ceases to be Cuban. Also, the exiles have the greatest advantage because in freedom they can study and prepare, unlike those still on the island.
The children, grandchildren and other descendants of those in power in Cuba have studied abroad and that’s not by choice. But the topics studied by a peaceful opponent are the prison bars, hunger and repression, a great deal of repression.
In the Cuba of the future there must be room for the whole world, but if we rest on our laurels, tomorrow our island will be governed by those who today are encroaching upon the rights of Cubans, ordered the beatings, spying on opponents and other atrocities. Those who are pushing for change will be swallowed up by history, not for the first time, I see it coming.
Five decades of repression is a long time to implant fear and erode the values of a people, five decades change the mindset of people and destroy their own capacity to govern. Hopefully, hopefully, I am wrong.
Pablo Pacheco Avila
30 May 2013
I remember one of my last telephone calls from the National Hospital for prisoners in the Cuban capital when I was about to head to Spain. I spoke on the phone with Yoani Sanchez two hours before my exile to Spain. She was at Jose Marti airport to meet me in person and say goodbye, but she wasn’t allowed to do it: in the capital of hatred and intolerance this hug was postponed.
Yesterday the Radio Marti reporter Jose Luis Ramos asked me to call him early in the morning: he knew of the missed meeting. “If you come right now to the station you will see Yoani,” he told me. I left immediately. While the blogger gave an interview, I greeted several friends at the station.
Half an hour after my arrival at Radio Marti, Yoani appeared, accompanied by reporters and Jose Luis himself, who introduced me. The hug was like a tattoo in the mind, repeated over and over. We recalled our work together; she and her husband were always ready to record every one of my articles, which I read over the phone from prison. They made it a priority and other colleagues also helped me.
Yoani at first glance isn’t impressive, but two minutes of conversation are enough to see the intelligence and bravery of this girl. She offers arguments, not attacks on others, and does not vary her discourse in an attempt to please. We planned a later meeting, more private and working.
I think Yoani Sanchez still doesn’t understand the weight that destiny has put in her path and it’s better this way, it helps her not to waver. I was happy and excited, we shared that embrace that was delayed for so many years by bars and distance; a distance that hurts more if you are an exile.
3 April 2013
Two Generations of Dissidents of Conscience Under the Same Regime
By Pablo Pacheco Avila
I clearly remember my arrival to Spain along with relatives and other ex political prisoners. We lived unforgettable moments which marked our lives. The media would constantly converse with us to report what we had lived through for more than 7 years of captivity due to political reasons under a system which attacks any who opposes it.
Spanish political leaders met with us and made us many promises to support the cause of freedom in our country. Two years later, I’ve noticed that the politics of Spain with the regime of Havana is full of hypocrisy and economic interests. Human rights and the prosperity of the Cuban people then becomes rhetoric of propaganda. But behind all of this, it is preferable to simply take a sip of a good diplomatic wine.
In one of the meetings we had with the then leader of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, I asked him if his Party won the elections what he would do with the Spanish companies which, for years, have been accomplices of the Cuban dictatorship, upon paying a slave-level salary to the workers. As a response, Rajoy promised to keep his compromise with democracy.
Months later, Rajoy arrived to power and his minister of exterior relations, Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, made declarations that he would not visit Cuba until they respect human rights there. This provoked much irritation among those in power on the island. The response was given by Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly. He threatened the Spanish companies on Cuban soil. And thus began the Spanish silence.
Two years later after our arrival to the Iberic country, many things have happened and none of them have been favorable for change in Cuba. The most lamentable case has been the death of the dissident leader Oswaldo Paya in a suspicious car accident in which there was a Swedish and Spanish citizen involved.
I understand and admire the fact that the Popular Party is doing the impossible to return Angel Carromero to Spain. It is a legitimate action to defend their citizens wherever they are having problems, but it is detestable to not know how the Cuban dictatorship acts and the Spanish politicians are thinking that silence will put their citizen in freedom.
Regardless, I think that Carromero will spend a long time in prison, at least until the spirits die down a bit. It will not be the first foreign captive in Cuba. Nor the last, although one of the only foreigners who will put behind the bars for a car accident. I am convinced that if Paya had been an everyday citizen, Carromero would be in a bar right now watching a soccer game between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In this recent conflict between both nations, those who lose the most are those of us who want freedom for our country, those who long for all Cubans to have the right to have rights, those who want to return to reconstruct the ruins which this 53 year old communism has left us. Those of us who lose are the friends of Oswaldo Paya, his family and, more than anyone, the internal opposition movement. Carromero has also lost, though I am sure that his government’s silence will not take him out of the hell he must be living in, behind bars in a cell of any Cuban prison.
By Pablo Pacheco Avila
I have lost count of the times I have heard the phrase “I am not interested in politics”. Often, it is young Cubans who say it.
It’s legitimate that we may not be interested in politics, especially if one has lived most of their life under a totalitarian system where even the flight of a pigeon is linked to politics.
Those of us who were born after 1959 were practically converted into robots. Our capacity of thought was reduced to “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che” or “Country or Death, we will Win”. In sum, it was a bunch of slogans which bordered dementia.
I respect young Cubans who come from the island and are not interested in politics, it is their right.
But, I feel that it is something completely hypocritical to see those same people who are not interested in politics form a scandal when some US congressman or woman proposes a law to restrict something that has to do with Cuba, or when they want to modify the discredited “Cuban Adjustment Act”, a law which so many Hispanics and people of other ethnic groups long for.
The majority of those who take shelter in the “Cuban Adjustment Act” leave the island because of economic problems and not because they stood up against the ruthless regime which enslaves the country. In fact, upon obtaining US residency, one of the first things many Cubans think of is in returning to their homeland to take a look over the shoulders of their own country. Those who act in such a manner are the oddest political refugees which humanity has ever seen.
In the last 9 months, Cuba has lost two important figures of the peaceful opposition. Their deaths have left lots of doubts up in the air. They were both recipients of the “Sajarov” Award. First Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White, in a case of “dengue” and a few weeks ago the president of Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, after a suspicious “car accident”.
Those who have confronted the dictatorship know of what those who are at the service of the intelligence apparatus are capable of doing when any person who wants change for Cuba and who wants to destroy their totalitarian power stands in their way.
I feel shame when I hear Cubans who live in freedom say: “I am not interested in politics”, and it is not even because of the phrase itself, really, but instead it is because of the hypocrisy which hangs on those words. It is true that many are not interested in talking bad about the regime, about condemning its crimes, denouncing every violent act against the people, yet they do say things about the politicians of the country which has given us refuge whenever they try to pass some law against the dictatorship and, in one way or another, affect their interests.
It is possible that Cuba will change very soon. It is also possible that everything will continue the same, or worse, especially for those who confront the power of the Communist machinery from the inside. But every Cuban has the responsibility of taking action for the destiny of our nation.
There is no such thing as good or bad hypocrisy, just like there is no such thing as good or bad fear. It has been proven: every country which has chosen hypocrisy and fear as their shield has ended in ruins or in shackles. It is time to put an end to harmful fear and subtle hypocrisy.
By Pablo Pacheco Avila
The most important month of the calendar for me is July. Firstly, it is when my only son was born and second, it was the month that I left Cuba.
Life, without one choosing, imposes change on us. Many times, these changes are too rough to handle, like crosses hanging over our backs, but human willpower is limitless.
Just a few hours ago, it was the second anniversary of my arrival to Spain, and the first of arriving to the United States. I remember that I told my family after talking on the phone with Cardinal Jaime Ortega in the provincial prison of Ciego de Avila, “We have to pack our bags, without even thinking of returning, at least as long as the same ones who are forcing me to leave are in power”.
Fifteen or twenty minutes before boarding the plane with my wife and son in a semi-empty terminal of the “Jose Marti” Havana Airport, I felt the strongest of emotions I had ever felt. I found some of my partners in cause and their families. A nightmare of more than 7 years was ending, but most of all, it was the illusion of discovering a path with lots and lots of expectations of living in a foreign land.
Time flies. It goes by so fast that sometimes we do not even notice. Yesterday, I was being consumed in a prison cell of high severity in Cuba, and today, right now, I enjoy freedom in this country which has always lent a helping hand to Cubans.
Now, I look back at the past and I laugh, although with a mixture of pain- it is inevitable after everything we lived- but I thank God for all the good and bad things he has given me.
Many of my brothers have found the path, while for others it has been more difficult, but I am certain that each one of them will find that route of happiness and prosperity.
Those who are no longer with us will always be remembered with love and respect, especially Orlando Zapata Tamayo, our martyr. Zapata was the climax which opened up the iron bars which, during years, kept us in inhumane conditions for simply thinking differently. His sacrifice caught the attention of the free world, that world which sometimes, because of complicity and other times because of ingenuity, was on the side of those who oppress, on the side of those who have ruined an entire nation. Of course, the political and economic interests have surpassed human rights, the rights of a people to live in freedom, prosperity, and of living like human beings.
Those who decided to continue the struggle from the inside and said no to exile deserve an outstanding position in the history of Cuba. Not all of us have the valor of living with the Sword of Damocles hanging over heads. Supporting them from here is more than a duty, it’s an obligation.
Right now, I dry my eyes off and do so with a bittersweet emotion. I live free, alongside my lovely wife and my rebel son. I can see my mother everyday and my two brothers frequently. That, for me, is more than enough to be happy. However, pain does invade my heart each night. Cuba is still a slave. Those in power continue ruining it, and whats hurts me the most is seeing how people decide to take refuge in fear and double-standards to just end up enslaved.
I look back again and I thank God and all those who have lent me a hand. I have to look towards the future, for in the past one cannot dwell, and the future is unpredictable, while the present is magnificent for me, for I have what I have dreamed of in life.
By Pablo Pacheco Avila
The visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba left a storm of arrests, blocked phone lines, and beatings against non-violent dissidents. The most visible of these cases has been the measures taken against the individual who screamed “freedom” in the Pope’s Mass in Santiago de Cuba. The worst part of this specific case is that the oppressor used a symbol of the Red Cross to attack the victim.
For me, what has been most lamentable about the Papal visit has been the exclusion of a sector of the Cuban population. It is unbelievable that His Holiness dedicated half an hour to Fidel Castro, the main henchman of the Cuban Catholic Church, and refused to meet with the Ladies in White and/or other peaceful dissidents, even if for just a minute.
On this trip to the island by the Vicar of Christ, there was no truce on behalf of the oppressors against the dissidents. Actually, I see the Catholic Church of Cuba as the winner of this story, as well as the peaceful Cuban opposition. The decadent dictatorship has lost.
The Cuban Catholic Church was persecuted, insulted, and decimated during the first years of the dictatorship. Their convents and schools were closed, countless priests were exiled, etc. But they never lost Faith and continued preaching the Gospel. Something similar happened to those who believed in freedom, those who confronted the regime and who would die in the execution wall screaming “Long Live Christ the King“.
The dictatorship loses, because they lose spaces and the tiny openings become cracks.
Raul Castro, one of the executioners of such cruelty, looked tired, humiliated and worn out on television when the Bishop of Santiago de Cuba refused to shake his hand. Who was to say that the atheist soldier, 52 years after persecuting the religious would witness another Papal Mass. God forced him, for God has power over men.
I agree with the words of Benedict XVI: “Cuba should be the home of all and for all Cubans, where justice and freedom may thrive in an atmosphere of serene brotherhood“. But I should also point out that the only ones who do not allow this to happen are the sames ones who His Holiness shook hands with.
Evidently, there will not be reconciliation between the blade and the wound. The wound is carried by those who slept in dungeons while the Pope visited Cuba, those who are not allowed to travel to their own country, those who have died for defending the freedom of their land, the oppressed, those who were excluded by Benedict XVI. And the blade is carried by all those who oppress their people, who beat people, especially women who carry flowers in their hands. They are the sharp blades, ready to stab the victims.