Against All Hope: My 22 Years In Castro’s Gulags
I am old enough to remember when there was no Amnesty International. I am also old enough to remember a Cuba before Fidel Castro. Indeed, my seemingly simple life trajectory dramatically changed course right as the two were coming into existence. In 1960, at the age of 23, I was taken away at gunpoint in the night for refusing to place a sign on my desk that read, “I’m with Fidel.” One year later, Amnesty International was founded, and I became one of their first prisoners of conscience.
I left Castro’s gulags 22 years later, in a wheelchair. The decades of starvation, torture, labor camps, and physical abuse at the hands of Castro’s thugs left me hardly able to walk. And yet I was one of the lucky ones, because I lived to tell about it. Each night the sound of gunfire at the execution wall and the muffled noises of my friends, gagged and struggling to make their final cries for freedom, was an all-too-familiar refrain.
The executioners eventually had to gag the dissidents, because their shouts of “Viva Cristo Rey” moments before death only stirred others to greater passion for freedom. But Castro’s jails were not just stacked with Christians. I suffered and starved alongside Cubans of all stripes, be they homosexuals or Jews, who for one reason or another, did not conform to the regime’s acceptable mold.
But religious believers were a particular threat because they believed in a power higher than Fidel. That faith sustained a man like me through seemingly endless stretches of darkness and abuse, when faith in everything else faltered. Faith in God stopped my heart from hardening over with the same hate of my abusers; it kept my heart and my mind free from their ultimate torture and full of hope.
And yet 34 years after my release, the Castro regime remains in power and hard at work in trying to beat faith out of Cuban society. Contrary to any notions that warming relations with Cuba have improved religious liberty, conditions have only deteriorated. As The Washington Post noted earlier this year, political arrests surged in 2015 to the highest numbers seen in decades, with 8,616 documented arrests last year, up from 2,074 in 2010. One NGO documented over two thousand distinct religious liberty violations in 2015, as opposed to 220 the year prior. And the past two Sundays, members of the Damas de Blanco, women who wear white to protest the suspicious arrest and detention of male relatives or spouses, were detained on their way to their usual Sunday Mass, including on Mother’s Day.
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