Authoritarianism and Political Dissidents with José Gabriel Ramón Castillo

José Gabriel Ramón CastilloCuban human rights activist, who was expelled from the University of the Orient in 1993 after founding the first human rights organization in the Eastern region of the island, and was arrested and tortured in the 1990s, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


First of all I would like to thank all those who have made it possible for me to come to this summit. I represent the dissident movement of Cuba and the many dissidents and prisoners of conscience, which are in the prisons of Cuba. This shows the intolerance in my country, where people are being imprisoned simply because of what they think. I prepared a statement bearing in mind the kind of meeting this is. I am going to actually refer very specifically to my personal experience that I had as a dissident, my experience of the Castro system. I think this can help to visualize what is happening in Cuba and how a dissident lives in a country like Cuba, where people have no tolerance, where people are being persecuted and imprisoned. So I am going to tell you how I became a dissident and also how I am now today here with you talking and speaking for all these dissidents who are not only in Cuba but also in the world.

Well I have had my quarrels with the dictatorship in Cuba because I sympathized with [inaudible] and the Solidarity Union. But it was only when Perestroika and Soviet Glasnost came that I decided to break my inescapable contract with a regime. In 1993, I was put into prison because I supposedly left illegally the national territory. And when I came out, I decided to become an alternative journalist and to set up the Independent Institute Cultura Y Democracia.This institute was the combination of many ideas which I had not been able to implement in previous years. This was promoted throughout the whole of the island through different plans and programs.There was also a final proof of the civil resistance to the Castro dictatorship and I became finally a non-violent exponent of the civil struggle in Cuba. 

The study group “Salir Al-Mundo,” to go out into the world, and the study center Juan Clemente Samora Lopez Silvero. We created this study circle and we called it “Salir al-mundo,” go out into the world. One of us had the idea of this name because people could not go out of the country and people did not know what was happening inside Cuba. So what we wanted to do is to get to know one another and also to disseminate knowledge about this. So we have this study circle, we met every week and we decided to publish essays and to exchange views, exchange our ideas, our experiences and then tell our stories. So we also created various initiatives and so on and we also set up the study center. In this study center we organized courses, various artistic events as well. We organized various activities and we even managed to organize a seminar, a big symposium, which was called “Democracy and Democratization: The Historical Process in Cuba.”  And this of course led to very great repression by the Castrist police. But we continued working, we were not subdued and we simply refused to be controlled. Of course this is still happening in Cuba. The dissidents cannot speak out because they’re constantly persecuted, they’re constantly silenced and so on. These are terrible situations of harassment. But nevertheless, we continued despite all this because we got more confidence as we managed to do more things

So one day that was one of the early initiatives of the institute, namely a human rights course and we called it right in Cuba. There was a terrible situation. We had the political police. The political police were there and the people who were invited to the course were people who had already graduated from high school and people were prevented from getting to the venue for the course. Nevertheless, we tried to find alternative ways of organizing the course. Not necessarily in that venue, but to do it in different ways. So we organized the course in a non-centralized fashion, in a more decentralized fashion. And we did have a graduation day. But again, on the graduation day there was a huge number of police because they wanted to prevent this graduation. 

Quite a similar situation occurred in 2001. We called it the Visual Arts exhibition and we called it Open Art 2001. Again there was to be a jury. There were going to be winning entries that were judged. There was to be the announcement of the winning entries and at the time we inaugurated this prize giving again [the police arrived]. The sculptors never received their works of art back. They were not returned to them. This had never happened in Cuban society before. We called it the Black Tuesday. This was the 15th of September, 2001 and that is why we decided to send a letter, an open letter, to the Minister of Culture. 

Now in Spring 2003, this was called the Black Spring of Cuba. At that time I was sentenced to 20 years in prison. There was a law in Cuba, which is the Law for the Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba. And we called it the mordassa law because it does not allow people to object in any way to any of the policies of the government. This legislation was created so that dissidents had no way of expressing themselves. Now this law still exists in Cuba and there are still 55 prisoners of conscience under this law in prisons in Cuba.

I’m going to shorten my statement a little bit and I would like to speak of other things, for example the fact in which people suffer. The family suffers very much. My wife was sacked from her job. Each time she visited me in prison she experienced innumerable acts of humiliation and vexation just because she was my life partner. My daughter for example was a minor and she was expelled from school. She was admitted to a hospital alleging that she was suffering from a rare illness and this was something which had never happened before. I always say that I don’t consider myself to be a victim because I very consciously decided to oppose the dictatorship. But my family was victimized and they continue being victimized because they’ve suffered physical and psychological effects. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose country is represented here byone of the speakers, wrote a book called Freedom From Fear and this helped me to overcome fear and panic. I said on the 10th of September last year on the human rights day to Mrs. Marta Frida, who’s also a Cuban dissident, and who’s been exiled for many years, that her example, and the example of all the founders of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, helped me to believe in what I’m doing. I told her how much the committee’s newsletter influenced us in our political work and how I used it to campaign amongst common law prisoners when I was in jail. 

Now I would like to conclude with a very important question, which is in relation to the Durban Review Conference which is going to start tomorrow. But, what I’d like to say is that when people no longer denounce injustice, you don’t actually prevent dissidents from being sent to prison. What we’re doing is like giving an oxygen boost to dictatorships so they can continue to trample on people’s rights. So far no exceptions have been mentioned, or exclusions have been mentioned, to the Human Rights Council, which is going to be re-elected a few days from now. And what I’m saying is that irrationality must not be allowed to overrun every corner of our nation. We have to say enough is enough. Thank you.

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