“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along”
By Reinaldo Escobar
Translating Cuba - 14ymedio
March 20, 2015
Felix Navarro, José Daniel Ferrer, Jorge Olivera, Librado Linares and Hector Maseda
Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.
José Daniel Ferrer
The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.
Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.
Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. On Saturday July 10, the day on which I spent my 57th birthday in prison, I received a call from Cardinal Ortega. He informed me that he was forming the third group of ex-prisoners and that I could leave together with my family. I thanked him for the gesture and the fact that the Church had always fought alongside the unprotected and against the injustices, but I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence. On 22 March he called me again and the next day they released me from prison. Along with José Daniel Ferrer, I was the last to get home.
Right now I’m on conditional release, on parole, but I am convinced that sooner or later they are going to allow me to travel normally like any other Cuban. In my case, I have no intention of traveling abroad as long as the president of Cuba is not a democratically elected member of civil society.
In my opinion, the country has changed, but for the worse. It is true that since the beginning of December of last year the political police have stopped repressing in the way they had been the expressions of peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White in Cardenas and Colon. Before that, every Sunday they prevented their walking down the street, they were beaten and insulted, put into vehicles and abandoned to their fate at whatever place. This doesn’t happen any more and we believe it is very helpful, but the repression continues in other ways, with police citations and surveillance.
I was contacted three times by the Cardinal to leave for Spain and I said no. When they told me I could get out of prison on parole I refused, making my point that Raul Castro had announced months ago that we would all be released. I left prison against my will. In September 2014 I made a complaint to the People’s Power Provincial Court in the section for crimes against the security of the State and the Council of State for them to release me unconditionally. They responded that the court had determined that I would have to remain under control. I have no interest in leaving the country, this is my decision and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.
Some changes have occurred in our country, but I continue to insist that they are not fundamental. The government of Raul Castro maintains very rigid positions. The fact that relations with the United States are being reestablished is perhaps the most notable change, but behind this are the economic interests of the Cuban and American governments. In the case of Raul Castro, what he wants is to extend his dynasty in power, but I can’t see what the benefits are for the Cuban people.
Just under five years ago I decided not to accept the offer to go into exile in Spain. I received a lot of criticism, but my closest friends, my wife and my family supported me in my decision. At one time I desired to leave Cuba, but one has a right to change and today I have no regrets. In the most difficult moment of the dilemma I chose to stay for many reasons, one of them is the trajectory of the independent press, where I worked with Habana Press since 1995, and also my convictions. After thinking about all aspects, I considered it better to stay here trying to open spaces for independent journalism, to bring our experience to the young people. I am here, happy, although it seems a contradiction in terms, because I am doing what I love and contributing with my modest efforts to a better country.
Life is dialectical and everything changes. Sometimes we do not notice because we are in the forest, but the world has changed and Cuba as well. The Cuba of 12 years ago was very different. Now, for example, events that no one expected have occurred, like the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. They have opened spaces that were unthinkable back then, there are people who don’t see it that way, people who think it is very little, others say nothing has changed. The country has changed and will change, perhaps not with the speed those of us on the pro-democratic route would like, but there have been changes. Our work is made visible with the existence of new technologies, Internet and cellphones; discreet but important spaces have opened up that have contributed in a greater or lesser way to improving our work, both in the political opposition and in the alternative civil society.
When I had been in prison for about a year and a half in Combinado del Este in Havana, some officials from State Security interviewed me to find out my willingness to leave Cuba as a way to be released from prison. I told them flat out no, and their leader assured me I would serve the 20 years without any benefit. I decided to stay because of the commitment I have to the development of a dynamic of change that will do away with the Castros’ totalitarianism and produce a transition to democracy. On the other hand, I greatly identify with and have a great sense of belonging to Cuban culture, with its values, the people in the neighborhood, the climate, with las parrandas de Camajuaní. I can’t find this in any other country.
Some experts in the areas of transition have said that there are four types of non-democratic regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian, sultanistic and totalitarian, but in the ‘90s a process of “de-totalitarian-ization” began and this has happened because of the pressure from the internal opposition and internationally and because of other reasons, including biological. The regime has been evolving toward post-totalitarianism and perhaps intends to move towards an authoritarian military regime.
They want to stay in power and that has led to allowing certain improvements in freedom of movement, they have facilitated aspects of the issue of ownership and non-state management of the economy, such as land leases and non-farm cooperatives. Despite the enormous repression, the opposition has been gaining spaces. We are more plural, less monolithic. People are forgetting their fear, breaking their chains and learning to speak up in public and to demand their rights.