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Themes Why I Became a Dissident » Ana Lazara Rodriguez

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Interviewed March 2011

Ana Lazara Rodriguez began her career as a dissident as a teenager in the 1950s, opposing the Cuban dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. She continued her protest activities after Fidel Castro, who overthrew Batista in 1958, began to establish a Communist dictatorship. Rodriguez was a young medical student in 1961 when she was imprisoned for her anti-government views and activities. She and a group of her fellow female prisoners of conscience became known as the “Plantadas” (those who will not bend) because they refused to co-operate with their jailers, resisting with methods ranging from insults to hunger strikes. Rodriguez was released in 1979 and traveled to the United States via Costa Rica. In May 1995, she published ‘‘Diary of a Survivor” about her experiences in prison. 

Well, I will start my story in 1956. I was a campesina [i.e., peasant], what we call, you know, in Cuba. Because my small town, it’s like 30 miles from Havana. I was fighting against [former Cuban President] Batista at those times. Then I have a friend of mine that was a communist. And he didn’t know I knew he was a communist.

So one day he start talking to me and says – and I ask him why he was so sad. Then he said, "Well, because I don’t want to be a pilot, and I’m going to be a pilot." And I said, "Well, if you don’t want to be a pilot, how can you be a pilot?" He say, "Well, I’m going to go to Mexico when this revolution succeeds. Then I will be six months there studying – those are small planes, you know.”

And I said, "Well, these for agriculture purpose. Those are for seeding or fumigating or those things." And he said, "Yeah. But later on, I’m going to Czechoslovakia. And I will be a jet pilot. I will return to Cuba as a commandante. Then I will teach others what they teach me." It was the saddest night of my life. Because I realize that we didn’t know that we were fighting a dictator so another dictator will take power.

I start having – I measure a lot at those moments. Because I say, well, if I continue fighting against Batista, then [Fidel] Castro is going to come. Well, I didn’t know it was Castro. I thought a communist is going to come. But if I don’t fight, I am meeting a dictatorship in my country. Because I knew what was coming.

Even I realized that people that loved democracy were fighting at the side of Castro because they didn’t know what was going on. And besides that, they contribute without knowing that to the things that come to Cuba. Almost, it was so quick that it couldn’t be done unless you have a program.

The first thing they do was silence the press. They confiscated all the newspaper; all the newsman have to fly away or go to prison. Because they knew they were going to try to talk against Castro.

So things were so quick that I knew that the only reason that they have succeed was because Batista was part of the plot. That Batista was part of the communist country, the Communist Party, and he help. And if you realize that Castro have done enter any country in this world and do killings, even here in Miami, and nothing happens. It’s very strange that Batista, they never tried to do anything against him except blame him for the crumbling of the economy, for the disruption of supplies, for everything.

That is what my story start. And that is why I went to prison. Because I even received a beca, a scholarship, from this country. Meanwhile I was here studying in the university here in Miami, in the University of Miami, receive English classes by free. I decide not to come because I knew what was going on. And I decide from those moments to stand up until the end. And I stand up until the end. 

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 Ana Lazara Rodriguez

Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Start of Dissent Describes how her resistance to the Batista dictatorship led her to oppose the Castro regime.

Other videos from Ana Lazara Rodriguez

Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Prison and Survival Recalls her trial and her years in prison. Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Truth and Freedom "Truth is so powerful and freedom is so powerful that in the worst of prisons, you are free if you want to be." Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Dissent in Cuban Prisons Tells how Cuban prison guards punished hunger strikers by denying them water. More + Ana Lazara Rodriguez: Effect of Persecution Discusses the arrest and imprisonment of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet for expressing concerns about abortion. More +