Interviewed March 2011
Carlos Alberto Montaner is an exiled Cuban author and journalist. He was born in Havana in 1943. Soon after the revolution of 1959, he was imprisoned by the Castro regime on charges of participating in terrorist attacks and working with the CIA. Montaner, who was 16 years old at the time, emphatically denied the charges. He later escaped from prison and from Cuba.
In the 1960s, Montaner began writing a weekly column that was soon appearing in almost every Latin American country. In 1970, he moved to Madrid and began writing works of fiction and nonfiction. In 1972 he established a publishing house, Editorial Playor. His most widely acclaimed books include “Informe Secreto Sobre la Revolución Cubana,” published in 1975; “200 Años de Gringos,” published in 1976 on the occasion of the bicentennial of the United States and analyzing the reasons the United States has developed differently than Latin American countries; and “Fidel Castro y la Revolución Cubana” (1984).
It has been estimated that 6 million people now read his weekly columns, and he has lectured frequently throughout the hemisphere about the defense of liberty, economic development, and the important role of culture in the evolution of societies. He is also a regular commentator on CNN’s Spanish-language broadcasts.
In December 1960, the political police captured four young students. I was the youngest one, at age 17. They arrested us and took us to a ridiculous trial that resulted in sentencing us to 20 years in jail. First they interrogated us for about a week, threatening to send us to the firing squad. Then they tried us and in 24 hours they gave us the 20-year sentence. Because I was 17, they put me in a political jail for minors.
In that political jail, the youngest kid was 11 years old and the older ones were 17, because from 18 on, we were considered adults. I escaped from that juvenile political prison within a few weeks along with another kid, a 17-year-old peasant who had been involved with the guerillas against the Cuban government. He had once fought with the guerrillas against Batista, and then against the Cuban government. An embassy protected us. With the embassy’s protection, we left Cuba 8 months later.
Jail back then was like it had always been in Cuba, very tough. In my case there were two short periods, they were just a few weeks because I had the luck of escaping. In the La Cabaña prison, which was the prison for adults where I was during the trial, the treatment was very harsh. There were constant firing squad executions; they executed friends of mine. I remember as something terrible and unforgettable the farewell of the students that were going to face the firing squad.
Generally they were executed at dawn and the guards’ treatment was very rough. They used to remove prisoners naked from their cells to carry out inspections; that treatment was really terrible and there was a lot of contempt towards human life. For example, I remember a pregnant woman who went to visit her husband in jail and he had been shot the day before. No one told her or the family and I was behind bars watching her talk to the guards. The way in which they told her was: We killed your husband last night so now you have to find yourself another man. That was how they told her.
The woman logically fainted and they took her away. I insist, there was a tremendous contempt towards human life. That’s all part of a system that begins with the dehumanization of your adversaries. Your adversaries aren’t humans, they’re worms, like they say in Cuban political slang, the adversary is a worm, and a worm can be crushed with minimal difficulty, so starting off from that obscene language a brutal repression begins with no kind of moral consequence to the person that carries out that repression, because he’s killing a worm, someone whose life isn’t worth anything.
Cuba, a country of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean, is governed by a totalitarian state led by Raul Castro who serves as chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. Fidel Castro, who ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his brother in 2008, remains the 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.”
The Cuban government denies or severely constrains 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 for human rights. Government action against dissidents often takes the form of “spontaneous” 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.