Interviewed March 2011
Roberto de Miranda is a former teacher, educational freedom advocate, and prisoner of conscience in Cuba.
Born in the province of Camaguey in 1946, Miranda worked as a mathematics teacher in the 1980s. He was fired from his teaching position by school administrators for his refusal to participate in public political acts and for refusing to pass students who did not earn passing grades. He then co-founded and became the first president of the College of Teachers of Cuba (Colegio de Pedagogos de Cuba), a non-governmental organization that seeks “the de-ideologization of education in Cuba and denounces violations against students and professors who do not share the political ideals of the system.”
Miranda also founded the Félix Varela Independent Library in July 2000 and supported the Varela Project, a nonviolent citizens’ legislative initiative for democratic reforms in Cuba.
In 2003, Miranda was arrested, tried and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment under Article 91 of the Cuban Penal Code, which penalizes “an act with the objective of causing detrimental suffering to the independence of the Cuban state or to the integrity of its territory, in the interest of a foreign state.”
While in prison, Miranda was given the 2003 Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Award, which is given annually to a Cuban who has displayed courage in nonviolent resistence to the Cuban government. Bulgarian Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov said during the ceremony, “Roberto de Miranda has been dedicated for many years to the promotion of free thought and has made important progress. The Castro regime abhors these types of people because they represent an independent civil society, which is one of the largest threats facing the government.”
Miranda was released from prison in 2010 and immigrated to the United States where he lives in Miami. He continues his work on behalf of freedom and democracy in Cuba.
All their propaganda is false. They are going to take you where they want to take you, but why don’t they let the reporters inside Cuban jails? Why don’t they take people who visit Cuba to the slums? This has been really hard on us, and the Cuban people feel the same way. Sometimes we meet people on the streets who ask us why a French minister didn’t meet with us but did meet with the government and also with the “five prisoners of the Empire,” as they’re known in Cuba.
A lot of the times it’s hard for us to give a convincing answer. And because of an ethical issue, we just say because they’re trying to reach out to the Cuban government in order to achieve democracy in our country. Providing an answer to the Cuban people on this situation is very difficult, because in our country a lot of people know who “the five” are, due to the nationwide distribution of literature explaining what they really were: Cuban security agents. I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that around 30 percent of Cubans believe in the facts, despite the censorship and propaganda coming from the Cuban government, which, I must stress, spends millions and millions of Cuba’s resources on false media campaigns regarding these five people.
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.