Ever wondered what it must be like to be a young university student in Cuba who has decided to publicly oppose the dictatorship? I recommend reading the following chronicle, published in ‘Diario de Cuba’, written by the young dissident Rafael Alejandro Hernández Real, one of the students who publicly questioned the communist functionary Ricardo Alarcon in 2008. Find out what it means to young and a dissident under a totalitarian system in the very own words and exepriences of 24 year old Hernandez Real:
A month and a day in the opposition
It’s ten thirty at night. My wife sleeps on a bench in the terminal. A book-bag serves as her pillow and one of my t-shirts covers her face, forcing me to think that with just 17 years of age she’d rather not see, or perhaps not wake up.
As an excuse to not fall asleep I cling onto a phrase by Jose Marti: “Sleep is something we do when we have nothing else to do“. But we are exhausted. Barely 8 hours have passed since our last arrest, and it’s been one month and a day since we started as activists from the Eastern Democratic Alliance.
As a youth in love who wishes to remember the important dates he has lived with his significant other, I use a notebook to jot down some notes, and in that fashion, I keep chronological order of what has happened since I began as an activist, with the help of Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, whom I know since 2009.
A couple of interviews on the radio programs “Barrio Adentro” (Radio Republica) and “Contacto Cuba” (Radio Marti) were my official baptism. They wanted to interview me because I was one of the students who, in 2008, publicly questioned the president of the Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, in the University of Information Technology when he finished a conference about the importance of the unified vote. In a country with a single-party political system, where the State has historically carried out an oppressive mechanism against those who wish to materialize the concept of revolution, nothing could surprise me.
Barely just a month after the radio interviews I was definitively expelled from the Ministry of Public Health, as I worked in the Octavio de la Concepcion y Pedraja GeneralHospital, in the municipality of Baracoa. During a period of three years and seven months I worked as Chief of the Information Department, without ever being questioned or punished for any indiscipline. The reason for the expulsion? Two unjustified absences to work which appeared just three days after my interviews on the radio.
On the path to Guantanamo and Santiago
A few days later, a friend, my wife and I carried out a march from HatueyPark, in the city of Baracoa, to Guantanamo. Our motivation was to demand freedom of expression.
We head out at 2:30 in the morning, with no money or food. We walked more than 153 kilometers, eating just fruits like guava, green mangos, and drinking water from natural springs. We carried a piece of carton hanging from our necks by a string which read: “We want freedom of expression”.
Very near Imias, at around 10:30 in the morning, we were intercepted by a First Lieutenant and Captain of State Security in a community known as La Chivera. Along with other officials they detained us and took us on a police vehicle all the way to the Municipal Police Unit where they snatched our signs. They read a warning to each of us for altering public order and at 9:00 PM they released us very near the park where we initiated the march, but not before interrogating us.
We were once again in Baracoa. At least we didn’t have to worry about the money for the return ticket.
But on the following day we set out again, this time on bus. Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, among other human rights activists, awaited us in Guantanamo. We spent a couple of days traveling the city with the fear of being deported and under the pressure of certain neighbors who have been hired by State Security to keep vigilance over us and inform about our activities. On some occasions we played a couple of games of dominoes and exchanged ideas about our struggle and some obstacles of democracy. Time passed, and we enjoyed a privilege which they cannot snatch from us- being able to chose our friends.
After a few weeks we head out to Santiago de Cuba, but our Jeep was detained by State Security while exiting Guantanamo, in the police control point known as Rio Frio. Without a single explanation, we were taken to the Operations Unit and we were refused the possibility of knowing what would happen with us.
I came to know, firsthand, the Operations Unit just like they had described it to me, a perfect center of torture. I was kept there until the following day, locked in a sealed-off cell from which I was only taken out when they wanted to subject me to interrogations, as they do to all detainees.
They would take me to a freezing room, to try and crack my spirit, and a graduate of the school of Counter-Intellgience (G2) who was covered in the dialectic materialism of Marx and Engels (if you ask me, Fidel-ism more than anything else), was in charge of questioning me to find out up to what point I was willing to fight and if I would accept being recruited as a spy. On the following day we were deported back to our city of Baracoa.
A few days after these incidents, my wife fell sick and had to go to the hospital where I used to work before I was expelled. The security guards did not allow me to go in because that was what was established by the direction of the center. I kept asking but there was no way that they would let me in.
On this occasion I was not arrested, though I was a few days after when I participated in a march in honor of the first anniversary of the Cuban Resistance. Guided by the General Coordinator of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, we started our march from the town known as La Laguna along with another eight members of the opposition, shouting anti-government slogans and demanding total freedom for all Cubans. We were able to walk various blocks until we were intercepted by various forces of the National Police and State Security. They took us to the police unit located on La Punta, in the same city. I remained there with other activists until the next afternoon. I later found out that the others were sent to Guantanamo.
In addition to these repressive actions, I have had to live the most cruel form of repression, that of my own family. I am the son of people who are integrated to the Castro-ite process. My parents are members of the Communist Party, my sister belongs to the Union of Young Communists. My inclinations in favor of democratic change in Cuba have created strong contradictions within my family, to the point that I have had to sleep over at the homes of friends, transportation stations, or even out on the street.
The same has happened to my wife. Her parents quickly kicked her out because they did not want any problems with the government. Her mother is a doctor and she doesn’t want them to suspend her foreign missions. With those same missions, she could fix and sustain some things in the house.
I’m not sure if I am going too fast in this process of forming part of the peaceful resistance, but what I have lived during this month provides an idea of the countless things faced by those who get up every morning, like me, to fix the mess in which they have forced us to live.
For more testimonies of young Cubans who have decided to publicly oppose the dictatorship, I recommend watching ‘A pesar de todo: Jovenes de Baracoa’ (“Despite everything: The Youth of Baracoa”), a documentary produced by “PalenqueVision”: