A Cuban Dissident’s Tragic Story
By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
October 31, 2016
Nieper de la Pena’s situation is quite common among former dissidents. They have dreams, go against the system and believe that they can bring about change; then the frustration comes followed by their impotence because the struggle is extremely hard, because of shortages, discrimination, social exclusion; which joins the lack of unity among opposition groups, sincerity a lot of the time and trust because of undercover State agents.
He came to me asking for help, believing that I might have greater “influences” than him, because he was desperate to emigrate. He’s been waiting ten long years for a phone call from what was formerly the SINA, today the US Embassy. He even has a case number in the Refugee Program and they’ve been promising to call him since 2006. I don’t have the connections that he thought I did, but I did help him write a new letter, which he wants to take in person. Moreover, because his story interested me, I proposed that I write this interview about his personal situation and he accepted.
HT: Why do you want to emigrate?
Nieper: I was always a dissident in secret against this system but then in the ‘90s, I came out from hiding and openly protested. Of course I thought that the system would collapse because out of inertia, however I was surprised by the “skill” these people have. They managed to remain in power. That’s why I decided to join the Eastern Democratic Alliance which only had a small group in Mayari and I also signed the Varela Project. However, our group didn’t make much progress and it ended up falling apart due to mutual mistrust; the time came when nobody could trust anybody because, from time to time, there would be signs that one or two of them could be undercover agents. I think this was a strategy employed by State Security. After this, I was blacklisted and the consequences have been horrible.
HT: Yes, but there are still some political groups, why do you want to emigrate instead of continuing to fight, if you’ve already done this in the past?
Nieper: Since then, there haven’t been any organized dissident groups here in Mayari, Holguin. Our movement was engulfed by the UNPACU however this hasn’t reached here yet. I remain firm in my beliefs but I’ve been through a lot and I’ve suffered great needs. The worst thing is seeing your children without things they need and feeling completely helpless because all the doors are shut to you when you’re blacklisted as the enemy of an authoritarian government. Life has passed me by and I haven’t even lived it. The CDR “Revolutionary Defense Committee” where I live even got me put in jail for alleged antisocial behavior. Look here what my charge was (he showed me a document): “antisocial behavior, verbal violence, public insults, reselling bread on the street, doesn’t vote in the elections.” I was locked up for a year and a half and now I have a criminal record.
HT: But, how did this happen? Were you an ordinary prisoner or a political prisoner?
Nieper: I couldn’t find anything to make a living so, because I know how to solder and work with iron, I set up a small workshop behind the apartment building on a bit of land that I had, like many others have done. I couldn’t get a license, but I started. It didn’t last very long though; they immediately shut it down and fined me. Next to my workshop, other people used to raise pigs, which is banned in urban areas because of public health issues, but nothing happened to them, it was just my workshop that bothered them.
One day, three neighbors, CDR leaders, were looking to pick a political fight with me and they brought up the subject of my workshop, which they knew was my sore point, so that I would get angry. I gave them a piece of my mind, already in a rage, and the local police chief “casually” happened to be nearby and arrested me. It was clearly a trap and it worked. I couldn’t get out of jail and I was locked up as an ordinary prisoner, which was shortly after the movement had dissolved. However, even an innocent child realized that I was a political prisoner, not an ordinary one; that was my punishment for having dared to struggle against the Revolution.
HT: With everything that they did to you, how did you react?
Nieper: They haven’t frightened me, I continue to be the same public opponent to the regime, but I haven’t joined any other group, I just want to emigrate and leave this country which is dominated by evil and very powerful forces. They crush those who rise up to them; if they aren’t well “vaccinated” they drive them down into the ground, like they did with me. I have children and a wife and I don’t want to sacrifice them anymore, the pain and scarcity we’ve experienced have been great. I want them to be able to breathe, to have a new, different life. From abroad, I’ll look for a way to continue on fighting and supporting change.
HT: Why do you think they still haven’t approved you, after ten years waiting for the Refugee Program?
Nieper: There are sincere people in the opposition, but there are also a lot of opportunists who are looking for funding and a way to emigrate. I signed up out of altruism, patriotism and a hope for change. These were the circumstances that made me see this option, which I didn’t want to before, as the only chance for my family to have a future. I’m sure they receive a lot of requests and they come across a lot of opportunist cases, which makes them too cautious and delays the approval of requests which are real, like mine. I understand this but I’m also suffering as a result. I hope that now, with this new letter, I’ll have a bit more luck.
It didn’t seem like Mr Nieper was an opportunist, or a liar. His story seemed coherent enough to me. These cases are just one more example of the sad reality of this system which is based ideologically on opposing and contradictory doctrines, because they strive for social justice by wiping out the most basic rights of the beneficiaries themselves: the Cuban people. It’s a project which goes against human nature, against any logic and principles, creating these kinds of injustices. It’s not in vain that so many Cuban people choose emigration.