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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. 

[The Damas de Blanco are] a symbol of our struggle. For me, the Damas de Blanco have marked a milestone in the history of Cuba and they have all my appreciation. In fact, were it not for them, I would not be here.

Presently, it is the best-known movement within Cuba. They have even been on Cuban television and Cubans are curious. Who are the Damas de Blanco? Who are these women that march every Sunday with gladioli in their hands? I believe that within Cuba they are the best-known dissident movement.

It is strange because the regime does it to attack and to denigrate them. That's a mistake they made because when you do not know them, but you see them on television, you say, “How courageous those women are!” When [the regime] does everything it does to criticize, attack, or denigrate them it does not minimize them, rather it helps the movement. They magnify them, I would say, because not everyone has the courage to do what they do.

[The Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) is a civil society organization founded by the mothers, spouses and daughters of dissidents who were imprisoned by Cuban authorities during the “Black Spring” crackdown in March 2003. They practice non-violent resistance against the repression of civil liberties on the island of Cuba.] 

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 Pablo Pacheco Ávila

Pablo Pacheco Avila: Damas de Blanco “The Damas are a symbol of our struggle.”

Other videos from Pablo Pacheco Ávila

Pablo Pacheco Avila: Why I Became a Dissident “Some people are born rebellious by nature.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Arrest and Trial “There was no due process. The judgment had already been made.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Message to Dissidents ”It’s worth risking everything for freedom.” More + Pablo Pacheco Avila: Black Spring “The Black Spring was a warning to the free world.” Pablo Pacheco Avila: Prison “The soul’s wounds never heal.” More +