My name is Arturo Pérez de Alejo Rodríguez. The son of a humble family, I was born in a town in the center of the Escambray Mountains called Manicaragua. There I did my early studies, and spent my childhood.
Later, I was admitted and studied at the National School of Geology graduating as a topographer. And well…just being young and enjoying normal life in my country. Later, already working in a sugarcane company as a topographer, I was called to serve in an “international mission” [military campaign] and left for the war in Angola in 1976.
[In 1975, Angola became a Cold War battleground. Different rebel groups were supported by the United States [the National Front for Liberation of Angola (FNLA)] and the Soviet Union [the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) as they vied for control of the country. Communist Cuba sent special forces to aid the MPLA.]
Angola is where I really began to witness the reality of the regime. They made us perform acts that they had always criticized the United States for committing throughout the world, but then they forced us to do them as well. We wiped out villages completely with the 1021 [a Cuban military aircraft], strikes which lasted from 7 am to 7 pm.
I myself organized an attack where we utilized a battery of M21 artillery guns. We attacked a famous base known as “La Base del Ceremo,” where Jonas Savimbi was supposedly stationed. Later at 10 pm, we performed an aerial attack where we unloaded 160 rockets against the base. The base was 4 square kilometers, two in front and two in the back.
[Jonas Savimbi (1934 – 2002) was an Angolan military and political leader who led the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). UNITA engaged in guerilla warfare against Portuguese colonial rule and later against the MPLA during the Angolan Civil War.]
Can you imagine the number of people who were stationed there? There they formed bases that they called “Bases de la Agüita,” and it was our task to practically eradicate them from the face of the earth. I began questioning all of these things a little, and I began to notice the large differences that existed between soldiers and officers which helped me discover the true nature of this regime.
I returned to Cuba after 30 months of participating in this useless war, a war that we never should have entered into, and I began running a floriculture business. And when the situation at the Embassy of Peru occurred, and the Cuban government said that all those who wished to leave [Cuba] could leave; they began hitting people, throwing eggs, and massacring those who presented themselves to leave. The people being attacked weren’t only the people who stormed the embassy of Peru seeking asylum but also regular citizens who were exhausted by the country’s dire situation.
[In April 1980, thousands of Cubans seeking asylum stormed the Peruvian embassy. The incident attracted international attention and put pressure on the regime to relax its emigration restrictions; the port of Mariel became the primary exit point for Cubans fleeing the country.]
Well at least with me, since I was a manager of a company, they tried convincing me to participate in throwing eggs, and fighting and I said no; that I did not agree with that, and I wouldn’t throw eggs at anyone, and that whomever wants to leave the country, can leave.
That led to me breaking with the government and I went to the Party office, resigned my position [as manager of a company] and I went to the fields, uprooting my home from the city to the countryside where I spent 22 years growing tobacco. Of course throughout these years, I educated myself, reading books, gaining knowledge in order to discover the true face of the regime.
And in 1996, more or less, is when I became involved in the fight for human rights in Cuba, and I began in Havana with Mrs. Alda Valdes Santana. In this manner, I represented my province of Villa Clara and subsequently in 2001, I created my own organization called the Escambray Independent Organization for Human Rights, which was responsible for monitoring all the violations that occurred in the area. In this way I also collaborated with other Cuban organizations of dissidents, who were all united. [Alda Valdes Santana is a Cuban human rights activist.]
That’s why I broke with the Cuban government and I left to grow tobacco. And struggled like you would not believe, let me tell you. I struggled like no one could imagine because in the early days, I was not accustomed to the fields. I had to take my dad there to help me, so I could move forward in my situation, so
I could survive because somehow we had to survive. Imagine you leave a house in your town, with the grocery store and the butcher shop in front of your house, to go to the fields; and by foot. That happened to me, and sitting here today, I do not regret breaking with the government. I feel happy.
Although I have had all the struggles one could imagine, although I struggled in prison, I have no regrets. I have no regrets; I am proud of having broken with that; and to have discovered the true face of this regime. That is it.