I think we survive for various reasons, but in particular for the principles we embrace - justice, conviction, fairness - and the ideas for which we fight. They are enough because we know we are there for a so-called “crime” that our conscience does not condemn. We were condemned by courts, but not by our conscience.
I can tell you, there are prisoners who feel free and there are free people who feel imprisoned.
We political prisoners felt free behind bars. Despite the risk of death, the beatings, the hunger, and the torture we received; we behaved according to what we believed. We embraced freedom of expression and unity, even though it might cost us our lives; it certainly led to many beatings. However, we looked at our jailers and they were not free because they had to follow orders that perhaps many of them did not accept. That is very important.
The prison experience was something wonderful. It was hard and difficult but wonderful. I would always share this anecdote with my sister that summarizes it: How did I survive? I would say, “My sister, for me the biggest priority is to look my adversaries, or whatever you wish to call them, in the face.
When there is someone who tries to destroy you, a beast that boasts of and revels in your suffering; that enjoys your deterioration; that is gratified when it separates you from family... When they took me to Guantanamo prison in 1998, 1997 they said, “We brought you here because it is the furthest from your home province. If Fidel [Castro] builds one further away tomorrow, we will take you there.”
[Fidel Castro (1926 - ) led the Cuban Revolution and seized power in 1959. He established a communist dictatorship in Cuba and led the country until 2008.]
When Eduardo Castellon, a State Security official, threw a rope to me so that I would hang myself in the cell he said, “Hang yourself, black man…” When they set the dogs on me and when I was viciously beaten, my consciousness and humanity told me, “You have two options: give up or resist.
I chose the second option: resist. If I had chosen the first I would have died, I would have stopped being myself, and I would have betrayed myself as well as the ideals for which I was fighting. Since I was born a man and a Cuban, the steps I took on March 15, 1990 [in protesting the government]… I was not pressured by anyone but my own conscience. I had to resist. I don’t think I did anything better than other Cubans have done in the Castros’ prisons.
One of the dictatorship’s greatest defeats has been the dignity and the fortitude demonstrated by political prisoners.
In the presence of hate, repression, and brutality, there is only room for dignity and resistance. I have not done anything else. I’m not a hero nor have I done anything remarkable. I have simply done what many before me would have done in much more difficult situations. Political prisoners, without fear of exaggeration, have been responsible for the biggest, most essential, and most unforgettable defeat that the communist Castro regime has suffered.
They have used every type of torture: beatings, assassinations, everything, and we have resisted. For me it has been a terrifying experience, but it has also been very beautiful and fruitful. Some speak of forgetting. I cannot forget those years because they gave me many opportunities to understand things, because it’s not the same to hear about such terror as to experience it.
How could I have imagined that those who declared a hunger strike could be placed in a cell, completely naked, deprived of water, and be denied medical attention? I never could have imagined that.
If there is anything for which I can be thankful, it’s that I’ve had the opportunity of knowing those horrors and of knowing my brave brothers who provided inspiration, encouragement, and examples of heroism and resistance. Because of them and those I left behind in prison I remain inspired.