For more than six decades, the Castro dictatorship has jailed dissidents and held them as prisoners of conscience with practically total impunity. Where is the outrage from the international community? Where have they been for the past 64 years as the Cuban regime brutally oppresses the Cuban people and imprisons, tortures, and even murders dissidents for simply speaking out?
64 years of prisoners of conscience in communist Cuba: Where is the outrage?
“Never allow the government – or anyone else – to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do or not do.” – Armando Valladares, former Cuban prisoner of conscience and Ambassador to the UNHRC.. Spent 22 years in Castro’s prisons.
October 30th is the International Day of Political Prisoners. 49 years ago on October 30, 1974 initiated the idea of marking a day of political prisoners in the Soviet Union with a 24-hour fast. Freedom House in recognition of this day highlighted the cases of several current political prisoners, including two Cubans, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel ‘Osorbo’ Castillo.
There are currently over a thousand prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Most were jailed for taking part in nationwide protests in July 2021 demanding freedom, human rights, and an end to dictatorship. Cuban prisoners of conscience have been a reality in Cuba since 1959. Some of them had participated in the struggle against Batista, and made Fidel Castro’s rise to power possible.
Huber Matos, a school teacher, declared himself in opposition to Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952 the day that Cuban democracy came under attack. Following the extrajudicial killing of some of his former students he joined the armed struggle and ended up being one of the leaders of the revolutionary insurrection that drove Batista from power early on New Year’s Day 1959.
Less than a year later he would be on trial for his life. What was his crime? Warning Fidel Castro in several private letters, where he tendered his resignation only to have it refused, that communists were infiltrating the revolutionary government. In these letters he plainly stated:
“I did not want to become an obstacle to the revolution and I believe that if I am forced to choose between falling into line or withdrawing from the world so as not to do harm, the most honorable and revolutionary action is to leave.”
Fidel Castro made the letters public generating the crisis and denouncing the charge that communists were infiltrating the government. He ordered Camilo Cienfuegos, another popular revolutionary leader, to arrest Matos. The Castro brothers began to prepare a show trial and the execution by firing squad of Huber Matos for treason.
The revolutionary tribunal was prepared. Fidel Castro spoke to Matos promising that if he confessed to everything that he would not face any prison time and could go home. Matos refused, and as the show trial began and they tried to shut him up – he refused. He went on to speak for more that three hours and concluded his testimony stating:
“I consider myself neither a traitor nor a deserter. My conscience is clear. If the court should find me guilty, I shall accept its decision – even though I may be shot. I would consider it one more service for the revolution.”
Revolutionary officers that had been convened at the trial to chant “to the execution wall” instead, moved by his testimony, rose up and applauded Matos. Instead of the firing squad the revolutionary tribunal sentenced him to 22 years in prison in December 1959.
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