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Interviews : Ana Lazara Rodriguez

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Interviewed March 2011

Ana Lazara Rodriguez began her career as a dissident as a teenager in the 1950s, opposing the Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. She continued her protest activities after Fidel Castro, who overthrew Batista in 1958, began to establish a Communist dictatorship. Rodriguez was a young medical student in 1961 when she was imprisoned for her anti-government views and activities. She and a group of her fellow female prisoners of conscience became known as the “Plantadas” (those who will not bend) because they refused to co-operate with their jailers, resisting with methods ranging from insults to hunger strikes. Rodriguez was released in 1979 and traveled to the United States via Costa Rica. In May 1995, she published ‘‘Diary of a Survivor” about her experiences in prison. 

Well, they charge me for everything in this world, you know. And I explain them since the beginning that if they were blaming me for what I want to do, I deserve these charges. But not for what I have done. Because what I have done was almost nothing. And they charged me with 30 years in prison – 30 years in house confinement.

And later on because of my two escapes, they do another trial by themselves. They went to prison and they want me to sign the trial saying that they have erased my 30 years of at-home confinement. And I say, no, I don’t want that. Why don’t you want that? Because, well, you will have then put it against the home confinement when I go out, because you don’t have any other way to punish me. And I have escaped twice. And I will try to continue escaping. So I don’t go into sign anything that I didn’t sign. But this day, they don’t continue putting the 30 years in house confinement.

Well, it’s when you come from a home where you were treated well all the time, where you eat well, and have a good bed and parents that love you; it’s very strange to enter a place where since the beginning, they put the food so you realize that it’s dirty food. For example, in a state security department, they only have those plates, big plates, metal ones that were dirty, haven’t been clean, you know, perhaps for months.

So when you see the food, even though the food don’t look bad, it is very hard for you to eat that. So at the beginning, you eat nothing. And until you realize that if you want to live, you have to eat it. So it’s the first training that you do to yourself. Eat whatever comes. Don’t think about it, and try to survive. That is what I learned in the state security department.

Second, I learn that if you attack them and risk your life – so if you disregard your life, you are going to survive. If you try to keep it, they are going to hit you to death, you know. So when they thought that you don’t care about your own life, they don’t know what to do to you. Because the only thing that can menace you is with your life.

So what, "I’m going to kill you, you do – " "Well, kill me. I have 30 years in front of me and then 30 years in my home, without going out. So I’m going to be so miserable life that if you kill me, well you are going to spare me from all those things that are going to happen to me. But as you don’t have orders to kill me, you have to behave. So back up."

When you say that to people that thought that they have all the power of the world, and they know that if they kill you without permission, they are going to jail, then you have all the power and they have nothing. When you realize that, you start playing the game. And you always win because you have only your life. But they have nothing else to menace you.

That is why I always explain the state security department, that communist is a big punishment with small rewards. If you don’t want the rewards, they cannot punish you. That is what I demonstrate them – that even though I was in a solitary confinement, I was more powerful than them. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.

More from Ana Lazara Rodriguez

Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Prison and Survival Recalls her trial and her years in prison. Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Truth and Freedom "Truth is so powerful and freedom is so powerful that in the worst of prisons, you are free if you want to be." Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Dissent in Cuban Prisons Tells how Cuban prison guards punished hunger strikers by denying them water. More + Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Start of Dissent Describes how her resistance to the Batista dictatorship led her to oppose the Castro regime. Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Embargo Policy "The embargo is only, 'We are not going to give you money [for] free.'" Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Effect of Persecution Discusses the arrest and imprisonment of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for expressing concerns about abortion.