José Caballero Blanco

* 1947

  • “You know, Cuba is actually a prison itself since it is surrounded by sea from every angle. The border that separates us from the outside world is immense, such as its narrowest point is 90 miles. Although in Haiti it is about 77 miles, but no one would ever think to run this way. Another boundary is created from a real fence. Around the camps were fences eleven feet high, really giant constructions. From a photo taken by a Canadian journalist, we could see that the fences were oddly lopsided inward the camps and made of fourteen barbed wires tangled together. In addition, a warden was standing at every corner, so another prison was barbed wire. But that is still not everything. The greatest obstacle was the one in our heads. For instance, if I managed to escape, I would definitely lose my parents as they would try to protect me. I could have never get them involved in such a situation. So how could I run away when there was no one to help me? And that's what I call a concept of triple prison. The prison in our head is the worst one though. Because we can't be free, even when we're standing outside on the street. We are possessed by the anger and grudge they have built in us. We are the prisoners of hatred.“

  • "Our lives had no value whatsoever. Yet they did not want to kill us right away, but little by little, trying to be discreet. There were no mass executions, except for the one in a forced labour camp where they killed a person. However, 97 people committed suicide under the pressure of circumstances.”

  • "One day, we decided that none of us is going to complete the required amount of work on behalf of one guy who had suffered from leptospirosis. I met him about three days after my arrival. Now he struggled with a disease carried by animals, such as rats. And the rats were all around us, they were literally falling from the ceiling during our sleep. The man was grievously sick. He had a cold with such a high fever that even a thermometer would not be able to measure it. His hammock was completely soaked by sweat. Yet a warden said he is bluffing and simulating. We knew the guy was certainly on the brink of death, so we decided to strike. The working hours were always from sunrise to sunset. But that day, we were in the fields until the very late evening, yet no one met the required amount of work. When it got dark, the officials yelled and ordered to drop the machetes. While doing so, we quickly realized we were surrounded by armed guards. I remember the rifles were made in Czechoslovakia. As we stood there, the chief supervisor came to see us. He said: 'So you're going to play rough here. Unlike you, even that stupid unit of homosexuals was able to meet the requirements. ' One of us took the floor. 'Sir, could I speak? - 'Speak!' - 'As long as you'll keep killing us here one by one, we will not work. All we ask is to take our friend to the hospital.‘ He answered: 'Take him to the hospital, then.' So we took him, pulled him out of the hammock, and put him into the truck bed full of mud. We, together with a man who previously worked in a pharmacy, drove him to see a doctor from Havana. When we got there, the doctor simply announced: 'You brought me a lifeless body. You have to get him to the hospital immediately.' They took him to Camagüey. He endured for another four hours, then he died.”

  • "Staying in the camp and avoiding the hard labour in the field was only possible if one got injured by a machete. I myself, saw people cut themselves because of it. There was a guy we called a ‘surgeon’ for he had a perfectly sharpened machete blade. People came to him in order to get cut. They confessed: 'I want to rest, I can no longer bear the labour, I just can't stand it.' So they cut off a piece of pants, set their leg and got wounded. I once heard one of them saying: ‘Dude, they won't even give me one day off with this scar. You have to cut in deep to damage me much more so they leave me alone for three days at least.”

  • "The UMAP camps were in reality completely different than how they seemed to be from afar. They were concentration camps in which I saw things I could have never imagined until then. Coercion, humiliation, people were treated very poorly or not treated at all. I saw the officials not let a man go to the hospital. He died. All that just because they felt powerful. It changed me. I feel like a piece of paper that is crumpled. You can try to smooth it again, but the scars will stay there forever.”

  • "Back then, Havana struggled with large numbers of explosions. Various groups organized raids against each other and civilians as well. Once my mother and I felt an explosion just when we were near a harbour. They fired a cannon. It has been a tradition since the time of the Colony. In Havana, it served as a signal. Cannon was fired at exactly nine o'clock every single night so that the gates of the fort were closed and no one, including the pirates, could get inside. I completely forgot about it then, so when I heard the explosion I took to my heels. My mother shouted out at me to stop running. But no wonder I was scared I wasn't the only one, anything could have happened at the time.”

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    Miami, USA, 07.06.2021

    duration: 01:19:41
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Grudge is a powerhouse of the Cuban politics

Caballero Blanco José, 2021
Caballero Blanco José, 2021
photo: Post Bellum

José Caballero Blanco was born on June 15, 1947, in Cojímar, today one of the districts of La Habana del Este and back then a small fishing village near the capital Havana. The fate of his family was for several generations bouned up with the port of Havana, where worked his grandfather, father, and even an uncle. His mother and the headmistress of a private school were closely tied, so although José was a man of humble beginnings, he studied at the private school. After the victory of the Cuban Revolution, he briefly participated in the Cuban literacy campaign. However, his family soon comprehended the nascent communist and totalitarian nature of the new revolutionary government. Therefore José’s father immediately began to prepare all the necessities for his son’s emigration. Eventually, though, José could not leave. His departure had been scheduled for a time when the Caribbean crisis erupted and the US President J. F. Kennedy decided to suspend aviation relations with Cuba. The nineteen-years old José was then labeled by the military counterintelligence as inappropriate for military training due to his Christian faith and the attempt to emigrate. So instead, the authorities sent him to re-educate to forced labor camps, commonly known by the acronym UMAP. There has José spent eight months, during which he experienced at first hand the oppression of the guards and had to endure very poor living conditions. The time in the camps has taken its toll on him. He witnessed a withholding of healthcare that resulted in many deaths. He suffered from acute food deprivation. He was disabled for another six months after his release from the camps as a result of the hard work in the fields. In 1980, he and his family managed to emigrate through the Mariel port to the United States. Ever since then, he has lived in Miami, where he also raised his two daughters.