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Pablo Pacheco was born in the city of Puerto Padre in Cuba’s Las Tunas province.

He first became involved with the opposition in 1998 when he joined the Cuban Human Rights Foundation, an organization that monitors and denounces human rights violations and supports Cuban political prisoners. He became the foundation’s secretary.

In 1999, Pablo started a career as an independent journalist. He worked for several independent news agencies such as the College of Independent Journalists of Camaguey, the Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative, and the web-based Cubanet, an online compendium of independent news stories offering alternative perspectives from those of government-controlled media.

On March 19, 2003, Pablo was arrested during a massive government crackdown on activists known as the Black Spring. He was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents, human rights activists, and independent librarians arrested by security forces. In a summary judicial proceeding, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

During his incarceration, Pablo helped to establish a blog called “Voices Behind Bars” with dissident bloggers Iván García, Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo. The platform featured testimonials from political prisoners describing conditions and abuse inside Cuban jails. Their stories were recorded over the phone during the prisoners’ limited telephone privileges. In the event that guards cut off the phone lines, relatives would smuggle written testimonials out of the prison for inclusion in the blog. In 2009, “Voices Behind Bars” was recognized as the best of 187 Cuban opposition blogs in the Una Isla Virtual (A Virtual Island) competition.

After 7 years, Pablo was freed when the Catholic Church and the Spanish government negotiated the release of the 75 Black Spring prisoners. Pablo went into exile and currently lives in Miami, Florida, with his wife and son. He continues to share his experiences from his time in prison and remains active in Cuba’s freedom movement. 

I was born in Puerto Padre de las Tunas, a municipality in the eastern provinces. When I was very young my parents moved to Ceballos, a small town in the province of Ciego De Avila, where I spent my childhood.

[I had] the usual education of a child raised in the communist system — first elementary school, then secondary, then pre-university [high school], and then college.

Some people are born rebellious by nature and I was one of them. In '88, when Fidel Castro did not allow athletes to go to the Olympic Games in Seoul, it marked me. [In solidarity with its North Korean ally, Cuba boycotted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.] I started asking questions. I wondered about the revolutionary process. Why I could not do this or that? That greatly influenced me. I liked to search for information.

Then came my obligatory military conscription. That was the last straw. I started to see things differently. I was a young, rebellious man; I liked to think. I started to listen to Radio Marti and the BBC. I began to hear the true reality of Cuba, which I knew, but the official Cuban press neglected in a way beyond belief. I took baby steps and started looking.

I found the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights. [I met] Normando [Hernandez], and later Pedro Argüelles Morán, working in independent journalism in Cuba. [Normando Hernandez (1969 - ) is a Cuban independent journalist and human rights advocate.

From 2003 to 2010, he was a prisoner of conscience after his arrest in the Black Spring crackdown. He has lived in the United States since 2011. Pedro Argüelles Morán (1948 - ) is a Cuban dissident and independent journalist. He was the director of the Avila Cooperative of Independent Journalists (CAPI) and was arrested and imprisoned in the 2003 Black Spring crackdown.

He refused exile in Spain in 2010 and remained in prison until 2011. In 2013, he received asylum in the United States.] The Cuban Foundation for Human Rights is an organization that was responsible for monitoring and defending the rights of citizens throughout the island.

It was a job that I liked. I was organizing secretary of the organization. We monitored and informed the world of the human rights violations of the Cuban regime. In Cuba the regime does not allow dissident movements. All are banned. They are tolerated up to a point. When they no longer tolerate you, then you inevitably go to prison. 

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.

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Pablo Pacheco Avila: Why I Became a Dissident “Some people are born rebellious by nature.”

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