Horacio Julio Piña Borrego, the son of an ardent communist, was born in Las Martinas, Cuba in 1966. Horacio first became active in the democratic opposition as a member of the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party Affiliated with the Sakharov Foundation; in 1999, he became a provincial delegate for the organization in his hometown of Pinar del Rio. Through his activism, he also collected signatures for the Varela Project, an initiative that petitioned the regime to hold open elections and expand civil liberties.
In March 2003, Horacio was detained along with 74 other nonviolent dissidents in a massive government crackdown known as the Black Spring. He received a summary trial in which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Horacio was placed in solitary confinement until August 2004, and was subjected to physical and psychological torture throughout his time in prison. In October 2010, the Catholic Church and the Spanish government negotiated the release of the 75 and Horacio went into exile with his family. He lived in Spain as a political refugee until 2011, before settling in the United States.
Horacio is active in the fight for Cuban freedom and democracy; he serves as the Managing Director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press in Florida.
My name is Horacio Julio Piña.
I was born in a village called Las Martinas, a town in the far west, in the province of Pinar del Rio, in the Sandino municipality.
In 61 my father joined the militia, when the [Cuban] revolution triumphed. My family wanted to leave but was unable. My father believed in the process and stayed in Cuba. My maternal grandfather was a political prisoner. There were two inclinations [pro and anti-revolution] within the family but there was no conflict. [In 1959, Fidel Castro (1926 - ) led the Cuban Revolution that overthrew the military government of Fulgencio Batista, seized power, and established a communist dictatorship.]
I was born there. My father took a leadership position in 62. While I was growing up, everything within the family was fine.
I attended secondary and pre-university schools. There I met Pablo [Pérez Izquierdo] and Cundo [Secundino Péres Izquierdo] and we became great friends. They have nothing to do with my village but that’s where we met. [Pablo Pérez Izquierdo and Secundino Péres Izquierdo are Cuban human rights activists.]
In 90, 91 or 92 the Human Rights Party of Cuba, Affiliated with the Sakharov Foundation was formed. Pablo and Cundo joined while I stayed on the sidelines. I collaborated for a while. In 93 they went to prison- Pablo on charges of enemy propaganda. I continued collaborating until 96 when I joined the movement and became an activist. [The Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party, Affiliated with the Sakharov Foundation is a civil society organization working to monitor human rights violations in Cuba. Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was a Russian physicist who was instrumental in the development of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. However, he became one of the regime's foremost critics and an iconic defender of human rights and democracy around the world. He received the Nobel Peace prize in 1975.]
I worked at the company where my father was deputy director, in the economic department. I worked there until they fired me. Actually, my father was forced to fire me.
Because I was an activist in the movement, I was fired like many others who were within the ranks of the opposition, who are unable to find work [because of their political beliefs].
During my school days, I considered myself apolitical. Politics did not interest me. Like many Cubans, I wanted to live and escape. I would go with Pablo [Pérez Izquierdo], who had been a political prisoner, to their activities. I was not an activist but I participated in [opposition] activities. I began to witness [human rights] violations and so I got more involved.
To tell the truth, at the beginning, I joined [the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party, Affiliated with the Sakharov Foundation] because I wanted leave the country, to do something, to be arrested and leave. Then I had the opportunity to leave but I stayed because I thought it was the best thing I could do for our country.
As the name says – the Party of Human Rights. Mostly it monitored Human Rights violations. There was no political party agenda. It only monitored violations and made them known to the people. That was what our party did specifically.
In Cuba there are many movements. All have the same goal: change and democracy in Cuba, although there are different perspectives.
Not that there's division. Some are farther right, others are more to the center [of the political spectrum]. But everyone is focused on the same thing: change.
I do not think there is division, although the strategies may be different. In fact, there have been many councils and ways to project one goal.
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.