Jorge Luis García Pérez (better known as “Antúnez”) was born in Placetas, Cuba in 1964. He is the leader of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front. The Front is a Cuban civil society organization named for a political prisoner who died while on a hunger strike in 2010.
As an Afro-Cuban, Antúnez experienced the regime’s discrimination against minorities in restricting both educational and career opportunities. Such treatment, along with severe political repression, contributed to his disenchantment with the regime.
Antúnez, inspired by freedom movements in Eastern Europe, became active in the Cuban opposition. In March 1990, he was arrested for publically denouncing the Castro regime and sentenced to five years in prison. Despite his incarceration, Antúnez remained defiant by refusing to wear a prisoner’s uniform and rejecting the government’s re-education programs.
Antúnez also created the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners group in honor of the famous prisoner of conscience who died during a hunger strike in 1972. Through this organization, the prisoners drew inspiration and encouragement to continue their struggle. As a result, Antúnez was subject to solitary confinement, torture, and an extension of his five year sentence. He endured 17 years of prison before being released in 2007.
Antúnez continues advocating for freedom and democracy in Cuba with his wife, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, leader of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. His work involves supporting Cuban political prisoners, and expanding political freedoms and civil liberties.
Freedom is very sacred to me. It is so basic and so important that it is difficult to explain its significance. Freedom is precisely this: a society where all people fit in. It is where jail and exile cease to be common destinations for those in the opposition. Freedom is the inclusion of all segments in a society. It is where all have full exercise of their rights. Freedom does not penalize. It is respect for the feelings that belong to us for the mere reason of having been born.
Freedom is being able to say and do what one believes, not what a system dictates to us.
Freedom is being able to live in a country where the state works for the people and not the other way around.
Freedom is no longer being objects of a regime and being treated as human beings. Freedom is when the [government] respects people and their dignity.
Jose Marti, the Cuban national hero, said something very important, “Man loves freedom even if he does not know that he loves it, and he is compelled by it and flees from where it is not found.” That says it all. Those of us who were not born into freedom and have not known it, the sole fact of wanting it and fighting for it without knowing it says a lot about what it means. Besides being a word, it is a longing, an objective, a goal, and a desire of humanity. [Jose Marti (1853 – 1895) is recognized as Cuba’s national hero. Marti was a writer and essayist who advocated for Cuban independence from Spain.]
[Freedom] has had many martyrs and it has many heroes. The enemies of freedom deserve humanity’s rejection and those who fight for freedom deserve respect and support.
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.