RECENT EVENTS INVOLVING POLITICAL PRISONERS
A. The dialogue concerning the release of political prisoners
1. On December 8, 1978, representatives of the Cuban community in exile (the Committee of 75) and representatives of the Cuban Government concluded and signed an agreement on the problems of the political prisoners, reunification of families and the possibility of individuals of Cuban origin or nationality, who live in other countries, visiting the island.
2. That part of the Final Act of the agreement concerning release of the political prisoners provided the following:
The Government of the Republic of Cuba announced that it will take steps to release, under a pardon, three thousand prisoners sentenced for crimes against the security of the State or the integrity of the country and six hundred sentenced for violations of legal provisions on emigration. The Government of the Republic of Cuba shall authorize the departure from national territory and transfer to the United States of America or other countries, in accordance with the wishes of the individuals released, of all those confined for crimes against the security of the State and the integrity of the country, and members of their immediate family who express a desire to go abroad. A minimum of four hundred of such individuals will be released each month. The Government stated that the only individuals who will not be included in these benefits will be individuals responsible for extremely serious crimes during the period of tyranny or members of terrorist groups.
All condemned women without exception, will be released.
The Government of the Republic of Cuba stated that, pursuing a policy it has followed for some years now in an effort to resolve the personal, social and family situation of numerous individuals who were led into counterrevolution by the Government of the United, it shall allow those individuals once confined for crimes against the security of the State but now free and who wish to go abroad, to leave the country along with any members of their immediate family who so desire. These individuals and their families may travel to the United States or any other country as soon as they receive the corresponding permits from the competent authorities of those countries.
The representatives of the Cuban Community abroad pledged to conduct the necessary negotiations with the authorities of the United States Government to obtain entry visas for the United States for those former prisoners and their family members and for those individuals now in prison and members of their family who wish to do so.
3. One hundred thirty-eight of the jailed political prisoners, supposedly affected by the “dialogue,” have rejected it through a statement to the “People of Cuba, those in exile and the world.” The statement contains four provisions:
We, the undersigned, political prisoners who without compromising our principles have withstood for almost twenty years the most disgraceful and abusive prison system in the history of the Americas, in an unyielding posture of rebellion, consolidated by a chain of martyrs and a large measure of blood, sacrifice and humiliation, informed and convinced that the question of our possible release is being used as a deceitful manipulation that seriously compromise those in exile and affects us very directly, use this means, on this memorable date in our country's history, to explain our position in clear and precise terms.
ONE: We argue for the freedom of all political prisoners, without exception, and for the reunification of Cuban families. For this, all that need be done is the following: a) order that the doors of all Cuban prisons be opened so that women and men, from each and every prison, who have suffered so much, may be reunited with their families, and b) authorize Cubans living within the national territory or abroad, to enter and to leave the country, as they have been requesting or as they may request in future, in order to join their respective families either temporarily or permanently. However, none of these measures should require dialogue of any kind. The Government must speak with concrete acts if it wishes to correct, in any way, its policy of breaking apart the Cuban family. He who has been the cause of sorrow and hatred in Cuban homes and has divided and arbitrarily kept Cuban families apart has little moral strength with which to call for dialogue.
TWO: We repudiate the dialogue between the Castro Government and the supposed representatives of the Cuban exile; a dialogue which our experience with the horror, torture and chicanery characteristic of the regime has shown us to be nothing more than a farce mounted by Mr. Castro in order to deceive the Cuban people and the world in general. In a very special way, it is an attempt to deceive and divide the Cubans in exile, with empty words of peace and conciliation; in fact, it is a subtle effort to create hostilities among the Cubans who, unable to live under despotic conditions in the fatherland, sought refuge and built homes in other lands.
THREE: We also repudiate any type of dialogue or compromise that represents freedom at the price of backing down; no one, absolutely no one, no individual or members of the Cuban emigration, is authorized to negotiate our release with the Cuban government in exchange for concessions on our part. Our release must be unconditional, in keeping with our historic position, upheld with singular stoicism. Correspondingly, none of those individuals may claim responsibility for our release on the day it occurs.
FOUR: If Castro and his Government believe that the price paid by the political prisoners is small, with the martyrs, disabled, insane, mutilated, entombed, those who have served their sentence only to be resentenced, the heroic women, who have grown old from the beatings and being behind bars, but are still proud; in other words, if they believe that this is a small price, paid with so much sacrifice and human pain, they may do whatever they wish. We are certain that we still have enough moral reserves to remain firm and determined in the face of oppression, as we have stood for almost twenty years.
WE WILL NOT NEGOTIATE OUR FREEDOM, BECAUSE WE WILL NOT NEGOTIATE OUR PRINCIPLES.
4. Huber Matos was part of that group. From exile, he commented on the situation, in particular on the situation of one of these political prisoners, Silvino Rodríguez Barrientos; he said the following:
I was part of that group along with other comrades who have already left that group. But some still remain, approximately over one hundred and twenty from a group of one hundred and thirty-eight. These are comrades who are in a tight situation, closed-in, let us say, as regards prospects for freedom, because in a public statement, they opposed the entire dialogue farce. That was comical. If Castro is the one who has the jails, by being the owner of the jail, once he says they are free they can leave; they can go abroad; he does not have to call upon anyone to act as the prodding stick, in order to act out this face. Because these comrades opposed the dialogue, they opposed Castro's policy with regard to the release of the political prisoners; hence, they have angered Castro. As for the specific matter of one colleague, Silvino Rodríguez Barrientos, he is a prisoner at Boniato. He is one of the most outstanding of the group of one hundred thirty-eight and is in a difficult situation for that reason. Moreover, he is a prisoner who has been on the verge of being murdered on several occasions; he has been threatened more than once. The guard said “we have orders to shoot you if you maintain an attitude of resistance or speak with them; so there are orders to shoot you.” We had to counsel Rodríguez Barrientos because we were in the same group; we advised him on how to get through those days when there were instructions to shoot him. In the final analysis, the days passed and he survived the momentary danger. But he was always singled out as one of the elements to be kept down, as in my case. The backing that I had from many people abroad, congressmen, governors, saved my life. But Rodríguez Barrientos has remained anonymous until now, totally anonymous, and they could take reprisals against him tomorrow. There is more: the Communists regard him as my brother because we spent many years together working; we faced all manner of problems together, harassment and beatings. Now I have left and here I am talking, and they cannot take immediate reprisals against me, unless Castro is preparing to murder me on some street corner; that does not worry me. But they can take reprisals against him as he remained there, he remained in the jail and I would not be surprised if by this point they had beaten him to a pulp or had committed some atrocity against him.
Furthermore, that comrade, brother, and friend is one of the leading personalities in the group of Catholic activists. He is one of the leaders, and he had problems. He has been beaten because the fanatical Castroites at one time snatched a crucifix from him and he fought with them; the incident ended badly for him. Every time there is a fight with the guard, the prisoner loses, because if you mix with two of them, and generally there are two, four come, eight come, sixteen come. The truth is I do not have his faith; I am not a man who believes in much. I believe that if God has the power he should have, Castro would not be there doing so much harm to Cubans.
5. Obviously there is no single uniform position on the matter of the dialogue within the exile community.
The intense disagreement among the various positions has caused the deaths of two members of the Committee of 75, the first in Puerto Rico and the second in New Jersey. The first was Carlos Muñiz Varela, 26 years old, a Cuban exile and president of the Varadero Tours Company, which organizes visits to Cuba for the Cuban Community in Puerto Rico. The second is Eulalio Negrin, 37, Director of the New Jersey Cuban Social Club, the purpose of which was to reunify Cuban families. Last March a bomb exploded in that club and on November 25, 1979, Negrin was murdered as he stepped from his car. The Omega Seven, an anti-Castro Group, claimed responsibility for the assassination.
6. The Commission received a denunciation concerning coercion of political prisoners with respect to the “dialogue.” That denunciation states the following:
Despite the ordered releases and despite the so-called “dialogue,” the Cuban Government continues to coerce political prisoners, forcing them to make statements in favor of its political plans for reconciliation with the United States, under penalty of refusing to release them. For this, members of the Department of State Security visit prisons and concentration camps, where they threaten those confined, dictate the contents of letters or oversee interviews with foreign journalists, set up for that purpose. Other forms of coercion are as follows: a) to require them to reply on a form if they have received medical attention; a negative response, although no such attention may have been received, constitutes an obstacle to freedom; b) to force them to wear the uniform of common prisoners; in Combinado del Este alone, more than 150 have refused to do this, including the Spanish prisoner Odilio Alonso Fernández, condemned to 30 years, 17 of which he has served. He has tumors on the head as a result of blows received. His release, as well as that of former Commander Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, has been requested by the Spanish Government although not granted.
When forming the small groups that have been released to date, Castro's Government decides who will be released and the order of preference, without taking into consideration the prisoner's state of health, age, or the physical breakdown of women and men who have served or are about to have completed serving, 20 years of imprisonment.
B. The pardons that resulted from the “dialogue”
The Commission has received information to the effect that 3,600 political prisoners have been pardoned, the majority during 1979, in keeping with the “dialogue” between the Government of the Republic of Cuba and representatives of the Cuban community in exile.
2. The Commission takes note of the efforts made by the Cuban Government to improve the situation of human rights, especially the release of 3,600 political prisoners. Notwithstanding this, the Commission will continue to try to obtain the release of approximately 1,000 political prisoners, many of whom continue to serve thirty-year sentences.