Cuban journalist survives ‘hell’ and emerges ready to fight

By Hector Maseda Gutierrez on CPJ:

Cuban journalist survives ‘hell’ and emerges ready to fight
Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez walks free with his wife (right), while followed by government supporters jeering his release. (Reuters/Desmond Boylan)
Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez walks free with his wife (right), while followed by government supporters jeering his release. (Reuters/Desmond Boylan)

On March 18, 2003, our people endured one of the worst episodes in Cuba’s history. The peaceable political dissident community, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and independent journalists, along with representatives of the emergent and democratic civil society–74 men and one woman–were the victims of the most absolute, merciless, and cruel government power.

Massive arrests took place: Our property was searched and seized, including technical and literary texts that were needed to do the job of circulating information. We were taken to political police detention centers in the capital and in provincial cities.

Next were the hellish political police interrogations in Villa Marista, state security headquarters. Later on came the summary trials without the slightest semblance of due process. Then we had the absurd judicial requests and the exaggerated sentences based on the alleged offenses. Finally, the convicted innocents were locked up in prisons, far from their home provinces. We were subjected to the worst possible living conditions: isolated in punishment cells, without lighting in the hallways, and kept under the highest possible security within the prison system.

And so began the martyrdom of the victims of the so-called Black Spring of 2003. Seventy-five Cuban freedom fighters began a period of their life that would be overrun with bitter experiences. Eventually, we would be declared political prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.

On March 30, 2003, the wives of the 75 prisoners of conscience started their walks through the streets of Havana. Two months later, on May 22, they were baptized the “Ladies in White.” Since then, they have endured numerous humiliations, beatings, threats, detentions lasting hours or days, public harassment, and other cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment orchestrated by the Cuban political police.

Sometime later came the prolonged hunger strike ending in the death of our brother in the fight, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who demanded that the Cuban government grant immediate and unconditional release to all political prisoners. Guillermo Fariñas, with similar demands, would continue in this line of sacrifice and martyrdom begun on February 24, 2010.

Following our release, the Black Spring journalists, inside and outside of Cuba, have stayed active, organized, and practicing our profession. We are committed only to our duty to be faithful to the information we transmit and follow the dictates of conscience and those of our suffering homeland.

Despite the numerous efforts and resources employed by the authorities to neutralize us, it’s clear they won’t succeed. We will not allow them to wipe out independent journalism, so efficient a weapon to fight their campaigns of disinformation, aimed at deceiving the Cuban people and confusing international public opinion.

New generations of communicators, (independent journalists, bloggers, web editors) in growing numbers and with growing professionalism are growing into a sweeping wave. The Cuban government has failed in its repeated efforts to eliminate us. The methods they used in March 2003 will no longer apply because those using ideas to battle obscurantism and stagnation now number more than just a few dozen.

Today there are hundreds, and there will soon be thousands, boldly using pens and computers to clear away the fields of nettles, and forging a truth-lit path towards a luminous new dawn filled with songs of life.

(Translated by Karen Phillips)