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Themes Messages to Dissidents » Pablo Pacheco Ávila

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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. 

The message that I would convey to people living in closed totalitarian, anachronistic systems is that there is no better way of life than freedom. We are no longer living in a time of savage capitalism or diabolical communism. We are no longer living in times of left or right.

What is most important right now is democracy. Democracy is the most generous, most kind way of life for the human being that exists. There is no longer a problem of capitalism or communism. I believe that democracy brings prosperity, respect; all the good things that this country [the United States] has given me.

I will not be completely happy until that future arrives at my country. I think that man, by nature, feels free. Because it's worth risking everything for freedom. An individual without freedom is a void. It is better to risk everything, despite everything. 

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: Message to Dissidents ”It’s worth risking everything for freedom.”