Regis Iglesias Ramirez is a Cuban political and civil society activist and a former prisoner of conscience. He was born in Havana in 1969.
He became a member of a dissident group, the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), in 1989. The MCL was founded by the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who died under mysterious circumstances in a car accident in 2012. Regis Iglesias Ramirez became the MCL’s spokesman and a member of its Coordination Council in 1996. He was nominated as a candidate to the Cuban Parliament in 1997, but his candidacy, along with those of colleagues from the MCL, was rejected by the regime’s electoral authorities.
He is a member of the National Executive of the Citizens Committee of the Varela Project, a civil society initiative advocating for free elections and improved human rights in Cuba. The Varela Project gathered signatures from Cuban citizens in favor of a plebiscite, as permitted by the Cuban constitution. The communist government refused to call the plebiscite.
In 2003, Regis Iglesias Ramirez was among 75 nonviolent dissidents and activists arrested by the Cuban regime in what became known as the Black Spring. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison for crimes against the state. In 2010, he was released in a deal brokered by the Roman Catholic Church and was sent into exile in Spain, where he remains as a political refugee.
Regis Iglesias Ramirez has published several books of poetry and contributed to various literary anthologies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Spain and elsewhere. Since the mid-1990s, he has been associated with the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba, the New Cuban Press Agency and the Manuel Marquez Sterling Society of Independent Journalists in Cuba.
Since the eighties, when we were young and rebellious and had no other cause than our own rebellion for the right to feel free amongst a generation that had been crushed by a totalitarian process, our first idols were rock icons like Mick Jagger, Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or ZZ Top, but around that time we started to identify ourselves with the messages of John Paul II, Lech Walesa, most of all of Václav Havel, of Mkhuseli Jack, [Mkhuseli Jack was a young, charismatic leader of the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. In the 1980s, he organized economic boycotts and other non-violent methods of protest against the government] the Dalai Lama, and all those people who were creating change throughout the world during a moment that would forever leave its mark on humanity.
It was very revealing to us when we discovered that in our own motherland, in our own neighborhoods and cities, there existed people like Oswaldo Payá and the youth group in El Cerro, one of the neighborhoods in Havana. [Oswaldo Paya was a Cuban dissident and democracy activist. He founded the Christian Liberation Movement and established the Varela Project to advocate for democracy and human rights. He died in a mysterious car crash in 2012.]
We immediately related to them not only because of their message, but because of the integrity they had shown throughout their lives since the dictatorship took power, and I think that it wasn’t only their liberating message that was very revealing to us, but also that the hope they were proposing for a new Cuba was done with a speech that was free of hate and free of ill-feelings, despite the fact that they had always been very confrontational towards the dictatorship from day one.
They were, however, very determined and very brave in working and fighting for freedom and changes for Cuba and all Cubans. Especially Oswaldo Payá, he was my main inspiration during the late eighties, and he continues to be my leader, my friend, and my brother after all these years.
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.