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My first “visit” to Boniato Prison in Santiago de Cuba happened eleven years ago when I was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents arrested in the Black Spring crackdown of 2003. Thus began my seven year journey through Cuba’s prison network and those memories never fade. You feel the darkness of the punishment cells. You breathe the foul air of the prisoner barracks. You wilt from the intense heat of summer and shiver from lying on a concrete bed in winter. You hear the cries of the tortured. Above all, you never forget the sadistic gaze of a guard and the despair of a helpless prisoner of conscience.



Today, Cuba’s Black Spring continues unabated. Many people believe that in 2010, following negotiations between the Catholic Church and the governments of Cuba and Spain, that all the Black Spring prisoners were freed and the story ended happily.  But that’s not true. First, four of the 75 either died in prison or as a result of their treatment while incarcerated: Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Miguel Valdez Tamayo, Oscar Espinosa Chepe and Antonio Villarreal. Second, those like me who accepted exile as a condition of release cannot return to their country. Third, those who decided to stay in Cuba live in constant fear of being sent back to prison and none of them are permitted to travel abroad.


As we mark the 11th anniversary of the Black Spring, pay attention to the repression that’s still being committed against the citizens of my homeland. In the past two months, the regime cracked down on nonviolent activists like Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and his wife Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera. The government feared any attention these freedom advocates and others might attract during the January Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Havana. Subsequently, the government didn’t appreciate a February hunger strike by Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and intensified their persecution against him.


Also pay attention to what’s happening in Venezuela, where demonstrators are protesting government corruption and mismanagement of the economy.  Reports on imprisoned opposition leaders, incidents of police brutality and the use of lethal force have been streaming out of the country.  It should come as no surprise that Cuban advisers support Venezuela’s state security infrastructure. Evidently, the Castro regime isn’t content limiting the Black Spring to its own borders.  Why should it be?  It’s been going strong, virtually unchallenged, for eleven years and counting. And the communist regime itself for more than five decades.


Normando Hernandez is a Freedom Advocate Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. He is also a Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience.