Lic. Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

* 1945  

  • “My awakening occurred after the death of General Ochoa, after his execution [General Arnaldo Ochoa Sánchez, sentenced to capital punishment for high treason against the fatherland and executed in 1989 – ed.]. I think that this time was a time of transition, when people started to see the problems and the blemishes that even the Sun has. Things that I had not seen before, things I had not considered, that were not the fault of the dictatorship, etc. But the death of Ochoa caused a change. I can tell you that it was a moment when the balance tilted towards what in general had not come to the surface before. And it began to surface with all this spectacle of General Arnaldo Ochoa.”

  • “I think that at this moment, it is very difficult to unify the opposition. First, there is no opposition, there are just opponents. Because that wave of people who were linked to the opponents, in one way or another, within the organization or not, but had a link with the opposition and formed a great opposition, that does not exist at the moment in this country. There are opponents, who are currently working on documents. One makes a document, another makes another document, but they cannot find the magic formula to be followed by the the people. And the people, why don’t they follow them? Well, that’s very simple. In the first place, they are not examples. That is very important. They are not examples. For the people to follow you, you have to be an example to them. And secondly, the slogans and the things they ask for are not in the interest of the people. If you go out and say: ‘out with Fidel, out with Raúl, out with the dictatorship’, the people around will leave because they are afraid. Because this would lead to only one thing – that all these people would be arrested by the police. And nobody wants that. So, it is not a popular interest, it does not call for the reflection of the people. There is no mention of ‘we are going to increase the wages, there is no food, there is no transport’, [no mention] of the social problems, which are the ones that affect the population. We maintain a discourse of political prisoners, of the freedom of political prisoners. I am not against the freedom of political prisoners, on the contrary, I would like everyone to be free. But that is not what the people of Cuba are interested in. The people are not interested in saying ‘we are going to defend human rights’. People do not know what human rights are, people are ignorant of what the Universal Charter of Human Rights is, of its thirty articles. People do not know that. And then, what human rights are we going to defend? Well, simply, what the people see on television, as the human rights that Cuba says it is defending, children with Down syndrome, deaf children, children with cancer, those are human rights. Because it has not even been possible to explain to the population what human rights are. So, that link between opponents and the population does not exist.”

  • “[In the seventies or eighties] people were more interested in reading, people were used to reading, but there came a time when there was nothing to read because whatever you bought in a bookstore, it was simple Bolshevik literature or had to do with the Soviet Union, or with Socialist countries, or with Marxist philosophy etc. It was a breaking point that cut off the desire of people to read, as people here had also read ancient literature... There was a general culture for all these types of people, the general culture with which my generation came into opposition, which means, the group of opponents that have been in opposition since 1989 or 1990, this group, which unfortunately people have passed away from, was a group of intellectuals, we were all university graduates, and we all had various extra knowledge because we cultivated this habit of reading, we cultivated the exploration of the history of Cuba etc. And that has separated us a lot from the opponents today. Because the opponents in these times do not have this interest – it is a product of their generation, as it is natural, it is another generation, it is not our generation. They do not have this interest in reading, they do not have this interest in knowledge. Nothing in the world would stop me from reading Granma [the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba – ed.] and all the other newspapers that I can read. Nothing in the world would stop me from watching the television news, from listening to a speech by Raúl Castro, from watching the so-called National Assembly of Popular Power. All those things are important, because all those things connect you to the political line of the dictatorship and let you understand how the dictatorship acts. However, this new part of the opposition does not have this culture of reading, and it does not practice the culture of listening to what the dictatorship says.”

  • “Look, Fidel Castro was a stubborn guy, and so he decided to put an end to all the opposition, he thought he was going to end all opposition, and he chose the moment of what was happening in Iraq [in 2003], when everyone was focused on the problem of Iraq, and then he said: ‘This is my chance. If I do this now, people will not be interested, because it’s more important to know where the president [Saddam Hussein] is hiding, what is happening, where the troops are, and everyone is going to be interested in this problem and nobody is going to worry about what we are going to do with the dissidents...’ Something that went very wrong... Well, within these brilliant ideas, this idea was very bad. As he said in a speech: among those he chose, ‘there [in prison], not all who are there, are them [dissidents], nor all of them [dissidents] are there [in prison]‘. So, he chose a group of people, including the infiltrated ones within this Group of the 75. Unfortunately, we have lost some of the original members of the Group of 75, among them my brother Arnaldo Ramos Lauzerique, who was very close to me for many years. The Group was very heterogeneous, I can tell you that some of us did not even know each other personally. We knew each other by name, but we did not know each other in person. It seems that he [Fidel Castro] wanted to give me a second punishment because I had said that I would continue doing the same thing and I had kept to this promise... So, I got out of prison, [I elaborated the document of] the Homeland Belongs to Everyone, I worked in the Assembly to promote civil society, I worked on that agenda, and they thought: ‘No, this woman is going to continue doing the same thing, like she already said. Let’s keep her locked up.’ And they sent me to prison for 20 years. Twenty years of deprivation of liberty. Besides being the only woman, I was the only person with whom Cardinal Jaime Ortega did not speak about going to exile. It would have been just one question… But the government was fully convinced that I was not going to go anywhere, and did not even want to waste time.”

  • “The working group of internal separation, which was the one that made the document of La Patria es de Todos [The Homeland Belongs to Everyone], of which the visible faces were the four of us [Vladimiro Roca, Félix Bonne, René Gómez and Martha Beatriz Roque – ed.], but there were also other people who worked and cooperated with the group, such as Arnaldo Ramos Lauzerique and Manuel Sánchez Herrero, who were economists and who have both passed away already. We were what was left of Concilio Cubano [Cuban Council]. You know that the Cuban Council ended without any victory, and had a support group, which included the late Gustavo Arcos Vernes, the late Waldo Payas Sardiñas, and also Raúl Rivero. There was also the late Jesús Yañes Pelletier. So, it was a group of intellectuals who formed this committee in support of the Cuban Council. When the Council concluded in this way, we were the remnant, the four of us who were part of that group, and decided to write about what was happening in Cuba. Because at that time the conditions were nothing like they are now. There was no internet, there was no Texa service with instant cell phones, and very little was known about Cuba. This meant that the knowledge that the whole world has now of what happens here, which is something that can be described as vox populi, so everyone knows that there is no public transport in Cuba, that there is no housing in Cuba, that there is no food, there is no medical service. All of that is known to everyone. But before, that was pretty unknown. And we decided to make this document, which was shocking in the sense that it gave the idea to people internationally of what was really happening in Cuba. To such a degree that this document, which was written in June 1997, around the same part of the month as now [recording the interview], so it is 21 years old, it is still valid because most of the things that we propose in this document have not been solved.”

  • “Many years have passed since them, many years have passed even since this event that I am telling you about, the refrigerator... What happened was that a person who I trusted at that time, as much as to even let him stay in my house, allowed State Security to enter my house and record my refrigerator. That was a shock for the people in the sense that they [State Security] presented it as a bad thing to have food in the refrigerator. And instead of making positive propaganda, this caused negative propaganda. Everyone said, ‘Well, why shouldn’t this woman have any food in her fridge? Is it a crime or something like that, to have food in the refrigerator?’ So to be a revolutionary, you have to have an empty fridge. That was the concept, the criterion that was handled. So, if you have food, you are not a revolutionary.”

  • “It was a period of total silence. And besides that, those who thought something against the dictatorship, kept it to themselves. There were no dissenters, in the sense in which there were later in the eighties. And I personally trusted the Revolution at that time. Back then I really thought it was a social thing, that we were going to have many advances, many good things. And, like all Cubans, I constantly heard the speeches of Fidel Castro. Those long speeches. He has the record of an eight-hour speech. And I heard the speeches and the promises... About the milk that they were going to leave us at the door of the house each morning, about the intellectual level and access to all types of developmental programs... Well, those seventies were a time when I lived to work convinced that the work that I was doing at that moment was going to help the development of the country.”

  • “Well, they wanted to make an example. They wanted it to be broadcast as an example of what not to do, of the counterrevolution, etc. But that was a big mistake because we, instead of being a bad example, we were an example of dignity. Because everyone saw the way we faced that judgement. Everyone could see that we were not sad, we were not crying, and we did not show any concern about it. I can tell you that there were difficult moments in the trial because the prosecutor turned out to be a despotic person and also, within her role, she considered herself a person defending the Revolution and not within her role as defender of the laws. And she was wrong with us on several occasions. She had her issues with René Gómez Manzano, she tried to talk to Vladimiro Roca about his father until the president of the court had to intervene and say: ‘No, you can not talk about his father because here we are judging him and not to his dad.’ And all these things culminated when she pushed me to make a declaration. I told her: ‘I have nothing to declare, I just want the court to know that after I comply with my punishment, I will continue to do the same. So, for me it is only and exclusively to receive the punishment, to go to prison and when I am released, I will continue to do the same. And that annoyed her a lot because she had already prepared an entire show, using some recordings of conversations that I had had with some people in exile, and like this she did not have the chance.”

  • “I think there is no need to tell the people anything. The people know perfectly well that they live in a dictatorship. The people know perfectly well that they have been shedding their fear little by little. Because the things you hear said in the street today, could not have been heard even remotely five years ago.”

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There is no opposition in Cuba, there are just opponents

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, 2018
Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, 2018
photo: archivo de Post Bellum, autor Rolando Lobaina

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello was born in 1945 into a family that supported the Castro regime in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. At first, Martha believed in the Revolution, but the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa provided a crude awakening to her revolutionary ideals. In 1990 she joined the Cuban opposition, and since then she has risen to international fame as the “Iron Lady of the Cuban opposition”. In 1997 together with Vladimiro Roca, Félix Bonne and René Gómez, she worked out the document “La Patria Es de Todos” (The Homeland Belongs to Everyone), which caused the four authors to be imprisoned. In 2000 she was released, only to be interned again in the Black Spring of Cuba in 2003, this time with a sentence of 20 years of deprivation of liberty, of which she served 7 years. She resides in Havana under the meticulous surveillance of State Security.