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, 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.