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Sailor on Land

At 56, Enrique Babastro Batista, a native of Guantanamo, admits having been one of those kids who joined the human tide growing up under slogans, sheltered by the “bright future” that engaged his generation from the speakers’ platforms and posters with which they redesigned the urban environment of Cuba in the sixties of last century.

Although he stumbled several times because of his frankness with school officials and with officials from the Fishing Fleet, he joined the latter in the early years to earn a living and channel his passion for the sea, never imagining he’d end up an “incorrigible” for shouting some truths and letting go of “the libertarian dream” that he’s been infected with by teachers and soldiers who influenced his military training.

Now, with half a century on his back and more frustrations than means to live, Enrique  is a member of the payroll made up of graying men who take three drinks in cheap bars of Havana and talk about their personal and collective past, surrounded by a pair of friends who are all gray.

In recent days, seeing me make some notes in an institution of Vedado, where we met in a line, Henry asked me my profession and insisted on telling his story. To put any doubts to rest he pulled from his pocket a portfolio in which preserved as an archive, several certificates and official documents that corroborate part of his truth.

“When I came in Guantanamo I settled with my mother and brothers in Campo Florido, near Guanabo, then we moved to the center of the capital. All went well until in 1983 when I was taken prisoner for the first time in the face of the eviction of my mother at Aranguren and Final.

Then I knew that Cuba was a huge cell bounded by its shores. I went through the Combinado del Este prison, the Cinco y Medio in Pinar del Rio, two prisons in Camaguey, Guantanamo, Guanajay, again Pinar del Rio and the 1580 San Miguel del Padron. I met Antunez, several prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina and others  like me who witnessed beatings, hunger strikes and untold problems. ”

“In Pinar del Rio I met Captain Orlando Rodriguez Pedraza, who shot at close range a prisoner who tried to escape. I also met Cornelius from Santiago who killed Chapman for burning the flag on July 26. In the Combinado del Este, the largest of all, better not to say. I remember, for example, the major Darius, who supported the first lieutenant who killed Rey, resident of 31st between 31 and 35 in Playa “.

“Yeah, those things don’t happen if the authorities respond to complaints but they did not think of prisoners as human beings. At Guantanamo, in March 1997, the major Yoel Casamayor and Pablo Reyes, from Internal Order, along with Vito Reyes, chief of rehabilitation, nearly killed  Nestor from Baracoa, whom I supported in his protest against bad food, a kind of animal feed.”

Enrique is free now, but he doesn’t have his own home, nor children nor wife, although there is a monthly check and he survives through work on commission that barely pays for rent and food. Perhaps that is why he tells his story and shows the documents that he was, above all, a prisoner of conscience “on Dr. Castro’s island.”

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February 23 2012

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