Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía

* 1956

  • “I was in prison for 20 years and 10 days, but they never made me give me up there. I always say that if I, a mere mortal, could do it, other people can do it too. What helped me? First, help from God, this is undeniable. Second, my love for the freedom of Cuba. My patriotic sentiment, my conviction, my honor and my decorum. They never let me down.”

  • “The hunger was such that I saw this in the prison in Boniato: prisoners taking an aluminum jug, taking a blade and cut their vein from here to here and put the aluminum jug to drip the blood. And when the jug was around here of blood, they took salted water and poured their own blood into it. And they put it on some bonfire that they made there with polyfoam. And they made blood sausage with their own blood and ate it. That’s what the prisoners did in the Boniato jail.”

  • “It impressed me that when I got there [to Boniatico], there was like a bureau made of concrete, it was more or less about 40 high by 2.5 meters long, and about 50 centimeters wide. There, I managed to see it from the back, on one occasion that they sent me to the Political Police office to interview me. I see a piece of wood more or less of this width and this thickness, that was there. About 20 or 25 nails were put into the wood at some distance. Suppose as my arm was wood, the nails were put like that. And from each nail hangs a device to make the prisoners suffer. For example, hanging there, there was a black jack, as they called it here, in another nail, there was a twisted electricity cable, in another there was an oxtail, a dull machete, things rolled into tape, guava sticks, rubber batons, electric batons... There were some batons that were recently arrived from the Soviet Union, that the handle was a device and the baton had a hole that shot the prisoners pepper spray. And when the prisoner began to stop breathing, they hit him on the head. An electric baton had a resistance on the tip and they touched the prisoners with it and gave them an electric shock, and then they beat them with the baton. Each of these sticks, and each of these devices, had a name on a little sign. There was the paper tape piece at each of the devices, and a tape said: aspirin, dipyrone, amitriptiline, drops, and so on, with drug names. When a prisoner called a guard and told him: ‘Guard, my head hurts, my stomach hurts, my foot hurts, I need to get medicine or take me to the doctor,’ the guard said: ‘Ah, I give you medicine, what do you need? To go to pick it up at the hospital.’ [The prisoner] said to him: ‘Give me two aspirins, or medicine for the stomach.’ The guard said: ‘How many do you want? One? Two?’ ‘Well, two, or how many can.’ And the guard went there, to that place. For example, if it was amitriptiline because the prisoner could not sleep, he went for the baton or the cable that symbolized the amitriptiline, and he handcuffed the prisoner in the cell: ‘So, you wanted two of amitriptiline?’ And with the baton, they hit the prisoner twice at the head, leaving him passed out there. Or if it was like: ‘I need a dipyrone for my toothache.’ So, with the device, or the machete, which was dipyrone, he hit the prisoner. That was the prisoner’s medicine – punches and more punches. They did that in Cuba.”

  • “Boniatico is itself a prison within another prison. It’s a special punishment regime, known for the crimes that have been committed there, for the murders, and for the police brutality there. The guards who have entered there are a special kind of guards. These are guards who have criminal psychosis, who don’t think twice if they have to kill someone.”

  • “When the Soviet Union [fell in 1989], I was already in prison. And the staff [of the Soviet Embassy] left. And my wife also had to leave, I have never heard from her anymore. If she ever listens to this interview, I would like to let her know that I still remember her. I have not died. They tried to assassinate me several times, but they did not succeed, I am still here, giving my testimony.”

  • “Well, as an arrogant man, headstrong, suspicious, intelligent for evil. If evil is intelligence. More or less.”

  • “The UMAP [Military Production Assistance Units] were production units, a type of forced labor camp copied from the Russian gulags. There they sent the outcasts and antisocials, as they called them, also the homosexuals, they sent all those people there to do forced labor, without having committed any crime, just because someone thought to say that someone was an outcast and antisocial because the way he dressed. In those difficult times for the Cuban people, even more difficult than now, you could be arrested and imprisoned because you were caught speaking English in the middle of the street, or for wearing a pullover with the American flag, or for being seen with an English-speaking foreigner. Or for listening to the short waves of foreign radios. You could wear a pullover that says Viva Fidel in English and if anyone saw you, they put you in prison, as nobody was interested in what that pullover actually said, just for that.”

  • “Here with all the plans, with the cutting of sugarcane, the 10 million were not achieved. It was an economic, political and all-kinds’ setback for the dictatorship. First, they said that they would reach it in any possible way. And after that disaster they said: ‘We will turn the setback into victory.’ I don't know what victory, because there was ever any kind of victory. We had neither sugar nor anything. The economic damage was immense. The country fell into monoculture. You didn’t see anything anywhere. Even the wood was imported from Russia, there was no longer mahogany, there was no jiquí, there was no more ebony, there was no cedar, there was nothing. Because they destroyed all the forests in Cuba to plant sugarcane.”

  • “The courts belong to the political police. And even more the military courts. Here, we don’t have, as it’s used to be called, the rule of law, here the powers are not divided. Here, the judges, prosecutors and lawyers follow the guidelines of the political police, otherwise they cannot practice. It is a circle and this is what happens. No political opponent who wants to file a lawsuit, even if he is right, ever wins. In Cuba, the Cuban courts are not to do justice, they are to punish the dictatorship’s opponents with their own justice, as it occurs in our case.”

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    Santiago de Cuba, 25.03.2020

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“It is much faster to overthrow communism through armed struggle, although it is a bloody method. However, there are many who wish to die for the homeland.”

Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía
Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía
photo: witness archive

Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía was born on September 16, 1956 in Santiago de Cuba. He grew up with his siblings - communist militants - until 1982. From the age of 13, he began to have political questions concerning Castro’s regime, but he did not know how to express them. In his youth, he was rebellious. He liked to dress in American fashion and became a hippie. In 1972 he went to Havana to study electroplating. He liked weapons from a young age, so during his military service, he was willing to fight in the Angolan War. However, after being injected with sodium pentobarbital, he became violent and was put in an underground cell. Later, he wanted to enroll in a school in Czechoslovakia, but his brother withdrew the invitation; this marked the beginning of Francisco’s strong disagreement with the regime. In 1978 he finished his degree at the Faculty of Physics and began teaching at a special school in Santiago de Cuba, where he won the appreciation of his students. In 1982 he was imprisoned for trying to buy his children shoes with foreign currency. He served approximately 13 months of deprivation of liberty. He met several political prisoners who helped to form his anti-communist ideas in more detail. By 1984 he had felt his most explicit political concerns and decided to express them by disseminating prohibited books on the streets of Cuba. He married a worker from the Soviet Embassy and had relations with Soviet diplomatic personnel. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, he founded a cell and began collecting weapons for armed actions against the communist government of Cuba. For this, he was sentenced to 20 years of deprivation of liberty. In the years 1990 to 2010, he was imprisoned in the Boniato and Guantánamo prisons, of which 7 consecutive years he was not allowed even one visit. He experienced numerous beatings and extreme violence by the guards, especially in the prison department called “Boniatico.” Francisco is a living witness to some of the greatest Cuban political prisoners, with whom he shared cells and Cuban prison courtyards. Francisco’s father died in 2004 while Francisco was in prison. He was allowed to see him at the funeral home for only eight minutes. He was released on February 15, 2010, after serving 20 years and 10 days in prison. During his incarceration, he always maintained his anti-communist conviction. He never saw his Soviet wife again, nor his former wife, nor his children, of whom he knows only that she is a jazz musician and resides in the Netherlands. He currently lives in Santiago de Cuba.