Jorge Luis García Pérez (better known as “Antúnez”) was born in Placetas, Cuba in 1964. He is the leader of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front. The Front is a Cuban civil society organization named for a political prisoner who died while on a hunger strike in 2010.
As an Afro-Cuban, Antúnez experienced the regime’s discrimination against minorities in restricting both educational and career opportunities. Such treatment, along with severe political repression, contributed to his disenchantment with the regime.
Antúnez, inspired by freedom movements in Eastern Europe, became active in the Cuban opposition. In March 1990, he was arrested for publically denouncing the Castro regime and sentenced to five years in prison. Despite his incarceration, Antúnez remained defiant by refusing to wear a prisoner’s uniform and rejecting the government’s re-education programs.
Antúnez also created the Pedro Luis Boitel political prisoners group in honor of the famous prisoner of conscience who died during a hunger strike in 1972. Through this organization, the prisoners drew inspiration and encouragement to continue their struggle. As a result, Antúnez was subject to solitary confinement, torture, and an extension of his five year sentence. He endured 17 years of prison before being released in 2007.
Antúnez continues advocating for freedom and democracy in Cuba with his wife, Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, leader of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. His work involves supporting Cuban political prisoners, and expanding political freedoms and civil liberties.
Like the majority of the youth in my country, I was born, raised and taught the most absurd stories about the totalitarian system. As a small child I grew up hearing that blacks are only considered people within socialist societies and that imperialism is responsible for all the evils that Cuba faces. I was an indoctrinated youth.
On Thursday, March 15, 1990, I was at the “20th Anniversary” Square in the city of Placetas where they were transmitting General Raul Castro’s radio address live in an appeal to the party’s fourth Congress. There I decided to openly declare myself a political opponent, calling and advocating for reforms like in Eastern Europe. I was arrested and punished for the “crime” of vocalizing enemy propaganda.
[Raul Castro (1931 - ) is the younger brother of Fidel Castro who established Cuba’s communist dictatorship. Raul assumed leadership of the Communist Party and the country in 2008.]
I was a youth like many in my generation. I was one of those restless young people who were enthusiastic about the changes that were taking place in Eastern Europe and with Mikhail Gorbachev: glasnost and perestroika. I participated in social gatherings of young people until the early hours of the morning talking about those changes, anticipating the possibility that Cuba might take a similar path.
[Mikhail Gorbachev (1931 – ) was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He served from 1985 to 1991. In 1990, the new Congress of People’s Deputies elected him the first and only president of the Soviet Union. Perestroika is a Russian word meaning restructuring; Glasnost means openness. Both were key elements in Gorbachev’s unsuccessful attempt to reform and preserve the Soviet Union’s communist system.]
That [hope] and my own understanding [of the political situation] obligated me to openly declare myself a member of the opposition. For doing so, I was punished, serving nearly 20 years in the most difficult and remote prisons where I experienced torture first hand and witnessed assassinations and abuses.
As a child, I grew up hearing that in the United States and other democratic countries, “capitalist” as they are called, blacks are attacked by dogs. However, on October 14, 1992, Eduardo Castellon and other high ranking officials of the Cuban Political Police were the ones who set dogs on me; that [attack] came close to destroying my legs. I was tortured and brutally beaten in prison. I will always hold the Castro dictatorship responsible for the death of my mother who was tortured.
It was 17 years and 38 days. I was in various Cuban prisons. There I had the honor of, with other brothers, founding the Luis Boitel Political Prisoner group. [Pedro] Luis Boitel was a model of struggle and resistance in prison. As a result of my civil resistance against the dictatorship and denouncing their violations I received many beatings for which I still bear the scars, including those from the Political Police’s dogs that attacked me.
[Pedro Luis Boitel (1931 – 1971) was a Cuban poet and dissident who opposed the regimes of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro. He was a political prisoner under Castro and died during a hunger strike. Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner groups are attached to the National Civic Resistance Movement of Pedro Luis Boitel, a Cuban civil society organization that advocates for political prisoners and their families in Cuba. In the summer of 1995, Antúnez created the first Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoners group in Kilo 8 prison.]
Despite having suffered through a Cuban political prison, despite the terrible memory of not attending my mother’s funeral because the Political Police wouldn’t allow it, despite having to wear a common prisoner’s uniform, and despite having to participate in what they call “prison re-education” activities, I consider prison to be like a school or a workshop where I had the opportunity to mature politically and ideologically and where I learned about the horrors of the Castro government.
If there is anything for which I can thank the communist Castro regime, it was for the opportunity to witness first-hand as a victim the torture, excesses, and abuse of that authoritarian system. Political prison is a difficult chapter to forget but it was an education and a workshop for those “lucky” enough, one could say, to experience it.
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.