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Themes Prisoners of Conscience » Bertha Antunez

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Interviewed March 2011

Bertha Antúnez Pernet was born in 1959 to a family of limited means. She began to become politically aware in 1990 when her brother, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (“Antúnez”), was unjustly charged with “enemy propaganda” for saying in a public square that Cuba should experience the same political changes that were taking place in Eastern Europe. He was incarcerated and then charged with additional political offenses during his confinement, which extended his sentence until 2007.

Antúnez Pernet became increasingly aware of the gravity of the human rights situation in Cuba through visiting her brother in prison and learning about the conditions to which he and other prisoners of conscience were subjected.

In 1997, Antúnez Pernet and other family members of political prisoners founded an organization called the National Movement of Civic Resistance Pedro Luis Boitel to fight ill-treatment in prison. By 1999, the movement had collected over 5,000 signatures for a general amnesty of political prisoners in Cuba. It has also carried out protests in front of various prisons throughout the island. 

I think they had a problem understanding if I was a very active opposition member or if there was a chance that they could intimidate me to come more the direction of government; because I think, in their opinion, I was capable; I was somebody who could help if I was in media, supporting their views or doing it very softly. At the start, they had probably this problem of “shall we break this person; shall we really put him under torture and make him unable to continue, or not?” This was the start of beginning of a wave of ours, and I was at the very beginning of that. So, they were pretty confused.

At the very same time, there was the issue of missing and slain – kidnapped and murdered – Iranian intellectuals and writers in 1998, which is now an important issue. And then later, the intelligence ministry confessed that they were kidnapping, and they apologized for that. So, it was inside the security apparatus, there was a kind of shock and awe. They didn’t know, really, what the government and security policy was going to do; they were just very cautious, and they were waiting to see, “are we going to be a bit more open; are we going to put away the torture?” And so on.

In my case, I was 30 days in a very small cell, solitary confinement, without any access to any book or anything, no phone call. I didn’t know what’s the time. I could know from the shadows, but I think I am starting now – getting back to that time – I see it was quite an uncomfortable time, if you say so, but I had really a kind of 30 days time to see it and rethink all about Iran: what we did wrong and where do we go, where do we head? I got a lot of these ideas in there, in that solitary confinement.

I got this idea that democracy in Iran and in the Middle East is kind of an engineering project. I think the capacity is there. I think these people are smart people – youth are very smart. They are sometimes, I really wonder how they’re much more American than many American cities, usually San Francisco; and you can’t compare it with Tehran. I think people, some people, at least, you know, a portion of young people, they are more Westernized and American than San Francisco.

So, the capacity is there. We just need this knowhow and engineering technology to let them make their own social networks, to know each other, to know that they are enormous – that they are the majority. One of the projects, one of the things which best can help people is to show them that you are absolute majority. If you connect the whole networks of different people in different cities, they see that actually there is no one standing for the government. It’s like fall of the Soviet Union: at the end, when the Soviet Union needed some public support, there was nobody there to protect the Soviet Union.

I do believe in the last election, Mr. Ahmadinejad really had problem to have votes, like a million. And that’s why, like in Poland, like in most of totalitarian countries, as history shows us, they did not 99 percent vote – one percent of it did, they did one percent vote – not 99 percent. That’s what the totalitarian regime did, and they will always do. They are so afraid of facing that the people are against them.

And I think here it’s our job, we have to give the Iranian public moral support and again, I insist on this word of technological and engineering support to build a public which has a challenge with the lack of any sort of free press, free media and information.

It needs some sort of engineering technical assistance to get to this whole debate of global democracy. And I think if I want to give a good example of global democracy – how things globally can change a country, particularly – I think you will not find any other nation better than Iran because Iran is a country which, if you say this for example, democracy assistance budgets; if you compare, I think, the public in Iran got nothing of that budget. The U.S. was kind of quiet about what’s going on in Iran. The concern was terrorists, nuclear issue and stuff. Nobody was imagining that there would be a mass protest; millions of people going with this protest. Nobody ever imagined that people in Tehran would come to the street and say, "We do care only about Iran; we don’t care about Gaza or Lebanon." 

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Bertha Antunez: Standing Against Torture “I started defending my brother, and I ended up defending all the political prisoners and all the people whose rights had been violated.” Bertha Antunez: Forced Cooperation How the Castro regime terrorizes the Cuban population to create the illusion of widespread support for the government. Bertha Antunez: Time to Support the Cuban People “The saddest thing is that the world knows, even the allies of the Cuban government, just how evil it is.” More +