There were tens of thousands of political prisoners in Cuban prisons in the sixties and seventies, and this is something that is confirmed by Fidel Castro personally in a book that I read recently, where Fidel talks about what he was up to release around four thousand political prisoners in the year 1978, and Fidel Castro refers to this number of four thousand as only 20 percent of the prisoners that they [the regime] had come to have in prisons in Cuba at a certain time, which shows that the amount became enormous. In those years, the prisons in Cuba were terrible. The beatings were daily, the prisoners lived crowded, one on top of the other, in terrible hygienic conditions. Huber Matos, another of the historical prisoners, narrates how his cell was in a place where there was an open sewage pipe, so he had to live every day with that plague, the rot, and the rats. Many prisoners were killed in these conditions.
The Lenin Vocational School had almost 5000 students who lived in that school from Sunday to Saturday. I grew the six years of my high school and pre-university studies out of my home six days a week, while I shared with my parents, with my family, barely 24 hours a week during those six years. That was part of the indoctrination of the state. To separate the children from the families so that the children could be indoctrinated regardless of how the family thought. I was already a little older and I could see more clearly the way indoctrination worked. For example, the school record was an important issue, as we discovered already at the Lenin Vocational School, and there, everything that was related to student’s life was carefully recorded, and personal interviews were being made with the students. They were being asked, for example, the following questions: Is there someone in your house who prays to God? Or is there someone at your home who goes to church, or in your house, are there religious images on the walls? Or do you have relatives residing abroad? Who are they? Do you receive phone calls or correspondence from these relatives who are living abroad? And of course, one is a child, one does not understand why these questions are being asked, but as we got older, we realized that the intention was to control each family through the children who were being educated and indoctrinated by the Cuban revolution, by the regime.
It is very interesting and it is worth remembering for example, that most of my old neighborhood friends, my old childhood friends, they did not speak to me. In the case of some of them they changed the sidewalk when they had to cross with me precisely to avoid the need to exchange a few words with me. I lived practically as a hermit, by myself, my grandmother, my books, and a few friends who were the exception to the rule and who are worth remembering, who never let themselves to be intimidated by the regime and continued being my friends, and continued talking to me, although they logically avoided, and that is something that I understood perfectly well, they avoided visiting me at home, because that was perhaps too much risk for them. It happened also with members of my family. Several of my cousins, cousins with whom I had grown up, simply stopped communicating with me and at a couple of occasions we met on the street by chance, they simply ignored me, as if I were a stranger. I also learned from other friends that some of my relatives had made public statements in their workplaces or schools that we were traitors and that they did not have a family relationship with me or my sister, for example, before my sister left. That was the daily life that I had to face when I got out of jail. I could not find a job. I could not return to the University of Havana because I had been dishonorably expelled from there because of being a counterrevolutionary person and therefore could not return. I had to maintain myself somehow and I had no choice but to sell piece by piece all the furniture left by my grandparents and my parents... by my mother, when she left Cuba. And step by step, I was selling almost all the pieces of furniture in my house.
On December 31, 1981, the whole family, my father, my mother, my sister and I, and my uncle Gustavo tried to leave the country illegally through the area of Celimar, north from Havana. A state security operative was waiting for us because, afterwards, we discovered that both my father's former prison partner who had contact with the fisherman as the fisherman himself were simply working for the state security, so they had interest in arresting my uncle Gustavo and my father. You should remember that both of them had been active fighters against the Batista dictatorship and both had held important positions in the government in the early years of the revolution. From the symbolic point of view, it was apparently important for the Cuban regime to put these two men into jail. My mother and sister, as they were women, and my sister was even a minor, were released a week after the arrest. In my personal case, I was 20 years old, I was not yet adult, but the decision of the political police was to leave me with my father and my uncle. We spent almost three months in the headquarters of the political police, of the state security in Havana, known as Villa Marista, and from there we were sent to the Combinado del Este in Havana, a high security prison. We were tried several months later, our defense lawyer, who was an ex-offo lawyer that the family had managed to get, went on vacation precisely the week we were tried, coincidentally, so we had to use a lawyer who was present at the court at the time we arrived. The trial was obviously a pantomime organized by the political police. My uncle Gustavo was sentenced to seven years in prison, my father was sentenced to six years in prison and I was sentenced to one year in prison for an attempt to illegally leave the country.
He [the security officer] told me then about all the things that had been confiscated from my house on the day when they arrested my father, on the night of January 15, 1992, and I specifically asked him for a typewriter, as in my house, there was an old Olympus typewriting machine which was the one we used to make the metallographic reports of Human Rights violations, and this man told me that the machine was under investigation and that they were not going to return the machine for that moment and I said: Is the typewriter under investigation because you want to know if that is the machine that is used to make Human Rights reports? And he said: Yes, indeed. I said: Well, do not do any research. I am confirming that this is the machine that is effectively used to make Human Rights reports. Everything we do is absolutely open. There is nothing secret here. We oppose your form of government openly because we believe it is the best way to do it. And there is nothing illegal in what we do.
In that year, in March, on March 8, 1990, the Cuban government organized a so-called act of mass repudiation in my house at the Havana suburbs. Meanwhile, a group of leaders of the emerging Human Rights movement was meeting in my house with the intention of coordinating and unifying the work of the different groups that at that time were four different organizations. The idea was to coordinate the actions of these four organizations. The Cuban government organized an act of mass repudiation, thousands of people went to this act, they were forced to attend this act of repudiation. Students from neighboring schools were brought in, members of construction brigades who were in the neighborhoods were brought in buses, they attacked my house, they broke windows, they broke the entrance door, they destroyed the garden in front of the house. That act of repudiation lasted more than twelve hours.
I will not return to Cuba until I can do it as a free man
Sebastián Arcos Cazabón was born in 1961 in Havana in a very revolutionary-convinced family. Many of his relatives participated at the struggle against the Batista regime, his father and uncle were some of the most prominent fighters. After the victory of Fidel Castro’s revolution, both his father and uncle occupied important positions in the administration, however, they very quickly recognized the totalitarian and Communist course that Fidel Castro was introducing, and they opposed to this tendency. Therefore, the family had to abandon their position and stay on the periphery of society. Sebastian studied at the famous Vladimir Ilich Lenin Vocational School in the suburbs of Havana, a school where learning was based on the model of the new revolutionary concept of education. Sebastian’s results were very good, however, he was quite apathetic to revolutionary affairs. He started studying Biology at the University of Havana, until in the early 80’s, his family decided to leave Cuba. During the attempt to escape by the sea, they were arrested, and Sebastian together with his father and uncle first spent almost three months in the prison at Villa Marista, and they were later sentenced. Sebastian’s sentence was one year and he was imprisoned in the prison of Combinado del Este. After being released, Sebastián could not continue his university studies, and he found very difficult to find a job, and many friends distanced themselves from him. Sebastián began to work in the opposition, denouncing the violations of Human Rights, bringing these complaints to the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva. Due to this, he suffered a lot of oppression from the Cuban state security, acts of repudiation, etc. However, he was able to leave Cuba and currently resides in Florida, where he works at the International University of Florida and continues to support the Cuban opposition by denouncing the regime’s crimes.