Authoritarianism and Dissent: 21st Century Horizons with Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina

Nestor Rodriguez Lobaina, a prominent Cuban pro-democracy activist who has been arbitrarily arrested more than 200 times, addresses the 2nd Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy by video message as he is once again under arrest – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina: Let me begin by thanking you for having been so kind as to invite me to this important summit on human rights, tolerance and democracy, at which we will work together in favor of human rights in the world. I thank you and greet you on behalf of the millions of Cubans who have suffered over a half a century of tyranny. And I greet you from the bottom of my heart. I also thank you and greet you on behalf of the hundreds of prisoners of conscience, who are suffering barbarities in government prison cells as a result of unjust convictions.

When you are listening to this recording, it is likely that I’m once again under arrest. I’ve been arbitrarily arrested over 200 times during the last 20 years, during which time I have struggled peacefully for Cuban freedom and rights. As you listen to this recording, the most likely thing is that my dear friend and compatriot, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, has passed away. He was a Cuban prisoner of conscience, sentenced to over 35 years in prison for defending the rights of the Cuban people. 

During my teenage years, I was discriminated against in school and subject to a student purge for my questions during history lessons, and later on for questioning Marxist philosophy. I didn’t like Marxism, and in official circles this meant that I wasn’t a revolutionary. Since I wasn’t a revolutionary, I had no right to go to university, because according to Mr. Castro in Cuba, the university is only for revolutionaries. I am not unique in Cuba; many victims have suffered more or similar situations. 

In 1991, totalitarianism collapsed in the nations of Eastern Europe. At that time, the army in my country was very nervous. One morning, several soldiers broke violently into my home. They accused me of enemy propaganda. They only found a few poems that I wrote, and some banned literature. They took me to one of the most terrible torture centers in communist Cuba, just a few kilometers away from the city of Guantanamo. Its name is the Centro de Operaciones Militares, the Military Operations Center. There I was beaten up, subjected to intense interrogations, and very badly fed. I spent around 90 days in punishment cells, during which time I lost a great deal of weight and became anemic. In fact, I had to have an operation on my left kneecap as a result of the beatings I suffered; and these beatings have permanently damaged one of my legs. Those who were responsible were never brought to trial in spite of a legal petition made by my family.

In 1993, I was sentenced to two years in prison for my peaceful activism in favor of human rights for Cubans. I was considered a dangerous person for society by the Cuban regime. I remember at that time how over 40 common criminals died of starvation in prison. We were only given boiled charred water to eat, and biscuits made from banana peel.

In 1997, we heard about the Pope’s visit to Cuba. In Havana, a student meeting was organized with young people from many different countries. The military authorities wanted me out of the way during these events, and the solution they found was to sentence me to 18 months in prison for no reason at all. During this time I suffered innumerable punishments: I was confined in dark punishment cells, I was brutally beaten up. For example, during one of these beatings, I defecated involuntarily due to the impact of several kicks to the abdomen.

On the 27th of December 1999, I was kidnapped during the morning by soldiers in the city of Santiago de Cuba. At midnight, I was taken to a wild area around 38 kilometers from the city. I thought I was gonna be killed. At around two in the morning, I was abandoned there, in the darkness of the night. It was extremely cold and I had no shelter. This was simply an act of torture.

In February of 2000, my first child was born. I wasn’t even allowed to hold her. In fact, I only met her when she was six months old. At her birth I was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. This was the toughest of all the sentences I had to serve. There, the political police organized one of the most brutal acts of violence I have experienced against my physical integrity. Today, two bones in my face are wired together as a result of the terrible beatings that I suffered, and these really seriously endangered my life. 

I have often been invited to events similar to this all over the world. Just twice I made formal requests to go in accordance with the procedure set out by the appropriate Cuban bodies. But the political police prevented me from leaving, and this makes me one of the more than 800 hostages held by the government regime.

Unfortunately, today Cuba is the largest prison camp in the Western world. I will continue to work in favor of human rights for the people of Cuba in spite of the death threat I received from the state security organization in Guantanamo on the 6th of January. I received this threat for demonstrating peacefully in the streets against the impunity enjoyed by the military, in spite of their violations of Cuban law.

The day is coming when the Cuban people will enjoy the freedoms and liberties which are constantly violated. The day is coming when it will awake from its nightmare. 

Thank you to all of you and God bless you. I’m Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina.

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