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Pablo Pacheco was born in the city of Puerto Padre in Cuba’s Las Tunas province.

He first became involved with the opposition in 1998 when he joined the Cuban Human Rights Foundation, an organization that monitors and denounces human rights violations and supports Cuban political prisoners. He became the foundation’s secretary.

In 1999, Pablo started a career as an independent journalist. He worked for several independent news agencies such as the College of Independent Journalists of Camaguey, the Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative, and the web-based Cubanet, an online compendium of independent news stories offering alternative perspectives from those of government-controlled media.

On March 19, 2003, Pablo was arrested during a massive government crackdown on activists known as the Black Spring. He was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents, human rights activists, and independent librarians arrested by security forces. In a summary judicial proceeding, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

During his incarceration, Pablo helped to establish a blog called “Voices Behind Bars” with dissident bloggers Iván García, Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo. The platform featured testimonials from political prisoners describing conditions and abuse inside Cuban jails. Their stories were recorded over the phone during the prisoners’ limited telephone privileges. In the event that guards cut off the phone lines, relatives would smuggle written testimonials out of the prison for inclusion in the blog. In 2009, “Voices Behind Bars” was recognized as the best of 187 Cuban opposition blogs in the Una Isla Virtual (A Virtual Island) competition.

After 7 years, Pablo was freed when the Catholic Church and the Spanish government negotiated the release of the 75 Black Spring prisoners. Pablo went into exile and currently lives in Miami, Florida, with his wife and son. He continues to share his experiences from his time in prison and remains active in Cuba’s freedom movement. 

On March 18, 2003, they arrested Pedro Argüelles Morán, head of the press agency for which I worked. I went to see what had happened. Some friends warned me, then I was arrested the next day. The same search as everyone, from 9 or 10 am to 4 pm. They woke my child. The incredible things that happen in Cuba… [Pedro Argüelles Morán (1948 - ) is a Cuban dissident and independent journalist. He was the director of the Avila Cooperative of Independent Journalists (CAPI) and was arrested and imprisoned in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown.

He refused exile in Spain in 2010 and remained in prison until 2011. In 2013, he received asylum in the United States] From there they took me to the State Security headquarters in the Ciego de Avila province. The process took some time ... I was arrested on March 19. I saw my lawyer twice. My trial and 20-year sentence took place on my birthday, April 4. The same for everybody. There was no due process. As a lawyer told me, "that judgment has already been made."

[I was sentenced for] “writing without dictate.” For not accepting the chain of thought. [The trial] was quick and behind closed doors. They invited five relatives who were surrounded by the police.

The evidence presented was the same submitted for everyone else: books, reports, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reports from Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, books by [Mario] Vargas Llosa, books by Raul Rivero - what they used against everybody. If it were not so sad, it would make you laugh.

[Mario Vargas Llosa (1936 - ) is a Peruvian – Spanish writer and politician. He was awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Vargas Llosa initially supported Cuba’s communist government before becoming an outspoken critic of it.

Raul Rivero Castaneda (1945 - ) is a Cuban writer and former political prisoner and dissident. He was a leading pro-communist figure known as the “Poet of the Revolution” before breaking with the Castro regime in 1989. He was among those imprisoned during the Black Spring crackdown in 2003.]

I had already been imprisoned for political reasons in 1994. Three years of restricted freedom for posting posters that read "Down with Fidel". Other acts against state security. Posting a "Down with Fidel" poster is a crime in Cuba. Imagine an American here not being able to post a "down with Obama" poster. 

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 Pablo Pacheco Ávila

Pablo Pacheco Avila: Arrest and Trial “There was no due process. The judgment had already been made.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Black Spring “The Black Spring was a warning to the free world.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Prison “The soul’s wounds never heal.”

Other videos from Pablo Pacheco Ávila

Pablo Pacheco Avila: Why I Became a Dissident “Some people are born rebellious by nature.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Message to Dissidents ”It’s worth risking everything for freedom.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Damas de Blanco “The Damas are a symbol of our struggle.” More +