Home > Miguel Iturria Savón, Translator: Ricote > Martyrs of Defiance

Martyrs of Defiance

Prisons crown the dead zone of the Cuban reality, where the omission of information is an accomplice to forgetfulness. Sorting through the official defenses of Castro’s repressive stage machinery helps us discover the swamp flowers of the island prison. The letters and testimonials illuminate the names of 12 political prisoners who died between 1966 and 2010, as a consequence of hunger strikes against the impunity of the guards.

Cuba Archive has posted data on the internet about those who challenged torture, forced labor, malnutrition and lack of medical care. Among these martyrs against laziness, stubbornness, intransigence and cruelty, three died in the Castillo del Príncipe prison in Havana, one in the Isle of Pines prison, one in Pinar del Río , two in Pretesando prison and one in Manacas prison in Las Villas, one in Kilo 7 (Camagüey), 1 in Boniato (Santiago de Cuba) and two in other prisons in the capital.

The hunger strikers who were killed by starvation in the prisons of the Castro regime ranged between the ages of 25 and 45. The first was Roberto López Chávez, who died on November 12, 1966, after 70 days of protest against the beatings by guards, who denied him even water. In September 1967 Luis Alvarez Rios and Francisco Aguirre  Vidaurreta gave their lives.  The list includes Carmelo Mesa Hernandez, on July 29, 1969, Pedro Luis Boitel in 1972 and Olegario Charlot Spileta and Enrique García Cuevas, in January and May 1973.

Pedro Luis Boitel, who died on May 25, 1972 in the depths of Principe prison was the best known before Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who was transferred from Camaguey to Combinado del Este (Havana) in February 2010. The Martyrdom of Boitel lasted 53 days, the  agony of Zapata was extended for 82 days. Both are symbols of rebellion.

The torture continues with Reinaldo Cordero Izquierdo, 21 May 1975 in a prison of Pinar del Rio, where he  demanded his release after a decade of confinement.  Two years later, on September 22, 1977, the inmates of Pretensado were witnesses to the death of Pedro Jose Barrios.

On August 9, 1985, while fasting in Kilo 7, cardiac arrest ended the anguish of Santiago Roche Valle, 45, who is now reborn from oblivion, just like Nicolás González Regueiro, who died in a cell in Manacas, on the 16th of  September 1992, after four years in prison for “distributing enemy propaganda.”

The documents record hundreds of hunger strikers in half a century of dictatorship, but only 12 died of hunger due to the negligence of the guards. The silence of the press confirms the responsibility of the military government, which in the name of the revolutionary utopia justifies the disregard for life.

There is still no monument to perpetuate the memory of these martyrs of personal challenge. Hopefully, they will be the last, although Guillermo Farinas has been on a hunger strike for two months seeking the release of 26 ill prisoners of conscience.

Translated by ricote

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