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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. 

I got home late that night [on March 18, 2003]. We were able to get almost everything [evidence of pro-democracy activism] out. I went to bed at my usual bedtime of 10 or 11 p.m. At 5 a.m. I got up, turned on Radio Marti, did some things, and took my wife to work. They [security agents] were waiting for me and did not let me leave my home. My house is not in the country. It is between the countryside and a small town. They were waiting in the dark. I was arrested at about 6 a.m.

Near my house there was a baseball field where they took me and handcuffed me. Two or three officers kept me there because they had to wait for others to arrive and conduct the search. The house was surrounded so no one could enter or leave. I had to wait from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m. I wanted them to take me whereever they had in mind because I was handcuffed and seated in an uncomfortable position for several hours. Finally they made ​​some calls and received permission [to proceed].

I was taken to Sandino, the seat of the municipality, to the Department of Safety, to a rather small cell. A hole in the floor served as the toilet. I was there until 3 or 4 p.m. when they returned from their searches. Fidel [Suárez Cruz] arrived too. We rode in a patrol car and were taken to the Pinar del Rio Unit. [Fidel Suárez Cruz (1970- ) is a Cuban freedom activist. He was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents to be imprisoned for his activism during the March 2003 crackdown known as the Black Spring.]

From there they took us to a walled area, a fairly depressing place. We were placed in separate cells where mosquitoes and rats crawled on top of us at night. That was on the 19th[of March]. On the 21st they began the interrogations. When you are inside you do not know whether it is day or night. We could not tell time in these places. The interrogations were constant. Trying to get us to confess that we received money from the United States, that we were doing this to disrupt, to create change, to bring about the “savage capitalism” they say existed before [19]59 in Cuba. [Prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution that instituted a communist system, Cuba was ruled by a corrupt, anti-communist dictatorship that left many citizens disillusioned with the regime’s professed commitment toward capitalism.] [CW1]Hyperlink to Fidel Suarez Cruz interview. 

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.

More on this theme from Horacio Julio Piña Borrego

Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: The Black Spring “We were placed in separate cells where the mosquitoes and rats crawled on top of us at night.” Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: The Ladies in White “They were our voice, our representation and our light” Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: Surviving Prison “I knowingly took the risk of going to prison.”

Other videos from Horacio Julio Piña Borrego

Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: Why I Became A Dissident “Actually, my father was forced to fire me.” Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: Trial and Detention “The defense wasn’t allowed to have witnesses.” Horacio Julio Pina Borrego: Message to Dissidents “We have been denied freedom.” More +