Pedro Luis Boitel: The Cuban freedom fighter who fought both the Batista and Castro dictatorships

May 25th marked the 48th anniversary of the death of Cuban freedom fighter Pedro Luis Boitel, who died after a lengthy hunger strike in 1972 while imprisoned in a Castro gulag. The student leader fought both the Batista and Castro dictatorships in Cuba, an inspiring figure for all Cubans who never wavered in his opposition to tyranny.

John Suarez in Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter:

#WeRemember: 48 years ago today student leader Pedro Luis Boitel who fought against the Batista and Castro dictatorships died on hunger strike

Martyred student leader Pedro Luis Boitel fought by Fidel Castro’s side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However as Castro came to impose a communist regime the student leader became a liability.

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. He was also a poet. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement’s members like Pedro were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University were his fellow students nominated to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960. Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel’s threat to the emerging communist regime was that he refused to betray the Federation of University Students and sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy.

As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent to Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961 he served the cruel and unjust sentence but as the date of his release came and went prison officials refused to free him.

Boitel while imprisoned continued to challenge the repression and the impunity of regime prison officials. He left a powerful impression on his fellow political prisoners. In 2009 Gregorio Asorio in an interview discussed how he first met Boitel while in prison for his opposition to the Castro dictatorship in the 1960s. Prison officials condemned black Cuban political prisoners for opposing Castro, thinking that they should be grateful to the dictator ,and this thin man challenged the guards declaring that Cuban blacks were part of the Cuban nation, and had helped found the Cuban nation in the struggle for independence. This man then cited Jose Marti’s quote that anything that divides humanity is a sin against humanity. Gregorio introduced himself and asked his name, and learned that he was Pedro Luis Boitel.

In response to the years of cruelty, torture and now denial of his freedom he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died forty eight years ago on May 25, 1972 after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana in the Castillo del Principe. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

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