Raul C. Garcia was born on March 3rd, 1946 and was raised in a humble village of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, alongside his parents and ten siblings. He was incarcerated on August 15th, 1963, with only 17 years of age, because he took up arms against Castro’s totalitarian government. He is one of the many who took part in one of the strongest offensives against Castro’s government- known as “El Escambray”.
Although he sacrificed much of his youth in the Cuban jails, Raul never gave up on his ideas. When he finally was released from prison, Raul immigrated to Miami. There, with more work and sacrifice, he made and raised his family and started up his own Air Conditioning business. Raul C. Garcia never forgot about his homeland.
Tell us, where, and how, did you live in Cuba?
I lived on a farm in Guasimal, in Sancti Spiritus, out in the countryside. We worked the land. It was a very large family, one which consisted of 10 siblings, and including my parents, we were 12 in total. We were a poor family.
Please explain how you became involved with the resistance against the Castro-communist totalitarian regime. Why did you decide to take up arms? Were you the only one in your family who did so?
When the guerrilla struggles movements began near our neighborhood, my dad was first to make contact with them. He had, thank God, instilled a mentality in us against communism. My dad was never a communist, or political for that matter, and from the very beginning they [the castro-communists] wanted to rid my grandfather of his farm. They were just an envious bunch who only rode the victory wagon in order to take away properties from others who had more than they did. Upon seeing how lands and properties were being confiscated from many people, I started growing very upset. That’s how we started making contact with the resistance movement. First, we conspired with them, and then we helped the fighters and all those who were involved. We would collect goods and send them out to them. We used my grandfather’s farm to help them train, and we provided food and all the supplies we were able to. That’s how it began. The movement started gaining strength and then I joined them.
I was the only one from my family who joined the fighters. Many of my brothers were still very young at the time. My dad was also jailed, but I was the only one who actually joined the movement. I was 17 years old.
How did you get jailed?
Well, we were in a circle, which came under attack, right on my grandfather’s farm. A combat broke out. The chief of my unit was Maro Borges. According to the communists that fight was one of the toughest ones in the zone. There were 21 of us in total and we practically were destroyed. Eleven of our men were killed, three (including me) were captured and injured, and the rest were injured but managed to escape. They shot me in the leg a couple of times, my femur was fractured. From there, they took me to the hospital, where they covered my leg with a plaster without healing my wounds first. That’s how my leg and foot began getting infected. I really don’t know how I didn’t lose my leg, I guess it was my ripe 17 years of age. During that time, I was being detained in State Security, known as the G-2. Another one of the wounded men that was with me had 19 gunshots on him. And that’s how our lives would go on.
After my stay at the G-2, they moved me to an actual jail. Since I was a minor, they waited a year until I turned 18, and then they sentenced me (just to make it seem legal). I was sentenced to 30 years of age. That is how my stay in prison began.
How many jails were you in? What were they like? How were the prisoners treated?
First, I was in the provincial prison of Santa Clara, the “old jail” was what it was called. I was there on three different occasions. I was also in the jail of Remedios, Sagua la Grande, Nieves Morejon, Manaca, the Cabaña, and in the hospital of “El Principe” where they mixed me in with common prisoners. La Cabaña was a very vicious place. It was a colonial Havana prison. I took part in a 35 day hunger strike there. And there were many people there, it was very violent, and all of the prisoners were political prisoners. They [the prisoners] were very good men.
I have lots of bad memories from La Cabaña. They operated me there, but only halfway. Then, from there, they moved me to Las Villas, to the prison known as Manacas. I was in Manacas for 5 years. It was also very violent there, but the only good thing about it was that we at least got some sun. But everything else was solved with gunshots. Many fellow prisoners were injured, and I remember that they killed one, Oriol Acosta, right next to me. Ironically, he was about to complete his full sentence, when suddenly a fight broke out amongst prisoners, of which he was a part of, and then the guards just shot him in the head.
Did you see many of your fellow fighters die?
Yes. Since there was no form of international media that was in favor of defending our rights, the guards did whatever they wanted with us. The prisons were very closed off from the rest of the world- people in other places did not know about what was happening to us. However, here [in Miami] in the early exile, there were many people who knew of our situation, and they denounced it in the United Nations, but that didn’t really go anywhere.
The revolutionaries executed whoever, and whenever, they wished to. What they intended to do was to try and stop the resistance. Too many people were taking part in it now. Some prisoners were even executed on the pretext of having killed people who had already been dead way before those people even took up arms. I was in the headquarters of State Security, and there, they really executed anybody they felt like. Many of those who were killed were young men, and I would see all of this occur. Some were killed with many gunshots. Others were not even fighters who took up arms, yet they were still accused as such. That’s how it was. With the new law that they created, Law 988, even the farmers and peasants who simply conspired or helped us were considered to be part of the guerrillas. Now, they had an excuse to execute them, so they did. It was all very brutal and they wanted to implant fear in the population. They achieved it.
In the Cabaña you could clearly hear the whole execution process, all of which took place without a trial. First, you would hear the guard’s voice, “Aim your rifle!” and then, “Fire!” The prisoners being executed almost always shouted out, “Long Live Christ the King!” and “Down with Communism!” right before the shots tore into them. Those phrases resonated throughout the entire prison, and we, the prisoners, would be overtaken with an immense sadness. It is very difficult when you live in a galley with so many people and then, suddenly, a guard comes and takes one of your partners to be executed. Many of those killed would help me with my wound- they would clean it for me. It’s not easy seeing good people die, under an unjust law which the communists created in order to kill for no reason.
Another thing that must be said is that in those prisons and throughout the revolution overall, the communists are very racist towards black people. It’s possible to say that the prisoners among us who were black were treated even worse. For example, when we were hurt and captured in combat, the militias would drag those men who were black. “Chichi” Rojas, a comrade of mine who was black and also from Guasimal, would constantly be beaten by the guards. They would strike him with the butts of the rifles. And they know he was asthmatic so they shot him in the lunges. Eventually, he was executed.
What happened to your family? When did you see them again?
Solely for being a mother, father, uncle, or any other relative of the guerrilla fighters, there were consequences. That was one of the biggest crimes. You know, when you take up arms you prepare yourself to be hurt, or even killed. But you don’t expect the same for your family. Although I was captured right by my house, my family did not know anything about my condition or where I was, and I did not know anything about them. They did not tell them if I was dead or alive for a long time. Eventually, one of the government soldiers went to where my dad was being detained and showed him a pair of boots and hat that he found out in the fields. He told him that those objects were the last things left of his son.
They then commenced to relocate all the family members of the fighters, as well as all the farmers and peasants who had helped. In the case of my family, everyone in the area who had the same last name of Garcia was first detained in cattle pens. Then my mother and 7 of my brothers and sisters, among them the youngest of 11 months, were all thrown aboard a cramped truck and were taken to the neighborhood of Miramar in Havana. They were not allowed to take anything with them at all from their house; they were just taken like that on the spot. It was horrible because they did not know where I was or where my father was. All the children were screaming and crying. In Miramar, they relocated my mother and my siblings to one of the mansions that belonged to the millionaires who were now exiled or imprisoned. This was common practice for the peasant relatives of all those who were involved with the counter-revolution. Each family, and most of them were very large, were put to live all together in one of the rooms of the houses. While my mother was in Miramar, my dad was taken to Pinar del Rio, to a city which was constructed by, and for, prisoners- Sandino.
It was prohibited for them to return to their native towns. Guasimal, my town, was completely altered. My house was torn down. My family was never allowed to return, the same way they never were able to recuperate all that they lost. The government kept everything. And I never got to see my mother until a whole year passed. We were able to see each other again because she constantly nagged at the guard stationed outside their room in Miramar, asking about my whereabouts and demanding that she be able to see me. After so much insistence, it seems like the guard gave in a bit and took my mom to where I was being detained in the G-2 unit. When I saw her, I could barely speak. She started touching me everywhere, trying to find my wounds. My mother is a very strong woman. During our entire encounter, an officer from State Security watched over our every word and action.
What were the methods of protests carried out by the prisoners?
A popular method was the hunger strike. It was a peaceful method with a purpose of not giving in. We would only drink water. I was part of a hunger strike which lasted 35 days. Sometimes, we got what we demanded for, and other times didn’t go so well. Another thing we would do was to come out in support for any of our partners that were being beaten. We would try to intervene physically. Many other times we would scream out in support from our cells. We always protested. There was a lot of brotherhood. We would always come together.
While you were in prison, what would you say it was that kept your ideals, and those of all your partners, firm?
First, we kept ourselves firm by knowing that we were right in what we were fighting for. Every single time we kept proving that to ourselves whenever we would see how they would treat us and what they were capable of doing to other human beings. They seemed like they were not Cuban. They looked like something else that wasn’t human- as if they were from some other planet. They were abusers, and didn’t have any morals. Perhaps that would give us even more strength to continue the struggle, and that way we held on even tighter to our positions. It gave us more energy. In fact, I think that what I did was not enough. The group of prisoners was a good group. We had a very strong morale. I never believed I did the wrong thing. In fact, I think that what I did was not enough. And that’s why, to this day, I continue paying attention to what is happening in Cuba. You can’t stop caring because those in power have done much damage to the country.
How long were you in prison altogether, and when did you get out?
In total, I was jailed for 16 years. I was released in 1979 after some accords between Jimmy Carter and Castro. I think about 4,000 prisoners were released at the time. After my release, I arrived in Miami on that same year.
What’s the most difficult aspect of being exiled?
Well, I’m happy here. But while the years continue passing, your homeland pulls you in even more, and you grow even more attached to her. I could go to Cuba, but I do not want to see her like that, I want to see her free. That irritates you, and you find yourself suffering. I would really like to see my land, my nation, my family. It hurts that so many years have passed and every time the country is worse than before. I’m content here; I don’t have any problems in Miami. I have raised my family here. But it’s still not easy, knowing that you are away from your own land without wanting it to be that way. Like I said, I’m happy here, but I’d like to see Cuba free from that plague which has infested it. I think a lot about it.
What do you think about the dissidents currently in Cuba?
I sympathize with them. I think they have a tremendous amount of merit and that they are doing lots of good things. I hope that more and more people join their movement. We will always help them from over here. The majority of the dissidents are doing a great job, like the Ladies in White, whom are all doing very positive things. I really hope they do not divide them or break them up. I sympathize a lot with the dissidents.
Are you optimistic about the future of Cuba?
Yes. Although sometimes I consider that the international community does not mobilize enough in favor of Cuba. With everything that has happened recently, like the death of Zapata, the Ladies in White, and the strike by Fariñas, I think that more international pressure and opinion should have acted stronger. But either way, those who are in power in Cuba will not last much longer. Someday soon, they will have to die. And I think the people of Cuba are very capable and that they will achieve to construct a new Cuba. I really do think so.
What is the future that you would like to see for Cuba?
I would like to see a Cuba where each Cuban can speak up freely and give his or her opinion, where they can chose their own leaders, where they can travel, and that there would be no political prisoners. I wish for Cuba to have a normal and democratic system. That is why we sacrificed ourselves, so people would not be oppressed. For a Cuba where all that you have earned, through sacrifice and hard labor, will not be taken away from you. I’d like to see democratic elections, and through these, their president may be chosen. And I think the future of Cuba lies within Cuba. That’s what I want for Cuba- the same thing which we fought for, that one could enter and exit their own country as they wish, that respectable laws would exist, and so that there could be freedom.