Barbara Farrat: A Cuban Fighter & the Collapse of Her Home

All photos by Maria Lucia Exposito

By Lisbeth Moya Gonzalez and Maria Lucia Exposito (Joven Cuba)

HAVANA TIMES – Barbara Farrat gave birth to a boy on July 11, 2004. She raised him within those four walls, shoring them up as best she could time and again. She also put her grandson’s crib within those same walls and roasted the peanuts she sold on the street to feed her family.

Barbara saw her son leave for a police interrogation from which he never returned. Then she hung a photo of him on the wall. For almost a year, she shouted her wish at the State, at God, and at the universe. Finally, her son returned, and as if by a curse, as if she were the main pillar of her house, it was enough for her to sit and rest with all her family inside for the roof to come crashing down.

The Collapse

April 11, 2023, dawned cloudy. It was a humid day when Barbara would have liked to wake up with her coffee and watch her grandson sleep soundly, but no. Since August 13, 2021, the day Jonathan Torres Farrat was arrested for protesting on July 11, 2021, she wakes up at five in the morning.

For a while, she woke up thinking about how to get her son out of jail. On May 25, 2022, after countless social media posts demanding his release, after many interrogations and pressures from State Security to stop her complaints, Barbara saw her boy, who had been arrested at 17, come through the door.

“I got him out of jail, and now I have to get him out of the ruin. Here was my little kitchen. It was never in good condition, but it was mine. I knew that at any moment the house would collapse on me. That day we felt the walls crack and ran out. Here I went through thick and thin, raised that boy since he was a little baby. All I have left here is my son’s photo on the wall. I look at it and know I will keep moving forward, for him and my grandson.”

Since the age of fourteen, Barbara has lived within the nonexistent walls she shows us today. We walk with her amid the rubble, interrupted by her mother offering coffee. Below the collapsed room, she sleeps with her husband, son, mother, daughter-in-law, and grandson. When dawn breaks, she has to lean the mattress against the wall. In that poorly ventilated space, no one can sleep in, as everyone’s rhythms must sync to exist. The mattress stands between the bathroom and the kitchen. If one wakes up, the rest must too.

“If I’ve gotten through worse, how won’t I get through this? I don’t ask for a concrete house. I don’t ask for help to get something I’ve never had, just to raise these walls and put a roof over my head. The other day, some friends of my son brought some blocks. I am eternally grateful because every brick of this house will cost me a lot of sweat. My family made me leave to clean up the hidden debris. I don’t want them to throw anything away because my little room was my world. If I’ve gone up there three times, it’s a lot. I don’t want to see how it is.”

Sometimes she fears going up to what was her space. Sometimes she manages to forget that her house exists, but life comes between her and her attempts to avoid it. “This is the true ‘special period’. When I was a girl, things were tough, but you could find money under a stone. Now, where’s the stone? A liter of oil costs over a thousand pesos. What will I eat? Oil? Imagine having to take a bag of necessities to prison. That’s how all the mothers of prisoners in Cuba are today.”

When the roof collapsed, Barbara made a Facebook live, not for her usual followers but for those who say the CIA pays her. It’s a constant rhetoric in state media that those who dissent in Cuba are paid by the US government. However, Barbara barely survives, and social media complaints have become a form of release and justice for her.

A state that claims to be socialist has given Barbara little more than political persecution capable of breaking anyone. Barbara’s neighborhood was one of the focal points of violence on both sides on July 11, 2021, and it’s no coincidence. Just look along the 10 de Octubre avenue: its houses on the verge of collapse, its faded face, the abandonment by a State that imprisoned Barbara’s son and many others who ran out of patience on that July 11th.

“They took away my son and my fear. I never cared about repression or reprisals, not even now when they decide to besiege me,” she comments.

Barbara feels she started to feel alone when her son was imprisoned. “People from the block who saw him born didn’t even ask. Everyone became very revolutionary (pro-government), it seems. But after that, thanks to those they call ‘worms,’ I haven’t lacked medicine for my grandson. I had a lot of help while Jonathan was in prison.”

When her son got out of jail, many people came to her house to learn all the details of his release. Barbara pulled Jonathan inside, as if fearing they would take him away again, closed the door, and from the window asked the neighbors: “How many of you came to ask if I needed anything? How many believed I would really get him out of prison? How many of you didn’t come to tell me, ‘Barbara, shut up, protesting will only harm him in there’?” Then she opened the door and invited those who truly supported her. Everyone stepped back.

“In prison, my son realized what I was doing for him. One day even the warden stopped calling him Torres, and everyone called him Farrat. I didn’t tell him I was doing activism outside, and during a visit, he hugged me and said, ‘I don’t trust lawyers or anyone, but I know you’ll get me out of here.’ And I did.”

Jonathan Torres Farrat was sentenced to four years of restricted freedom. Before July 11, he was studying. He was in the eleventh grade and had graduated as a welder. He spent ten months in the Jovenes de Occidente prison and continues with restricted freedom.

For Barbara, July 11 will always be historic, not just for the protest but because her son was born that day in 2004. “As poor Cubans, we always try to make July 11 special. We try to buy him a new outfit and celebrate, but after that July 11, 2021, his birthday will never be the same.”

Being Poor and Dissident

Political parties or organizations have an economy that supports them. Their representatives take on that work as a job and receive a salary for it; the same goes for collectives or NGOs. But in Cuba, funding dissenters is considered a crime and is persecuted. The CIA doesn’t pay Barbara, but for the government, money from Cubans helping from abroad is equivalent to that of the intelligence agency.

Dissenting isn’t a job. When you declare yourself a dissident in Cuba, you’re left out in the cold. You can’t work for the State (by far the country’s main employer), and even in some private economic circles, you won’t have many opportunities because your presence becomes a form of blackmail for your employer. Civil society’s solidarity networks can sustain you for a while, at least while the excitement envelops you. But once the storm passes, once things are relatively calm, the priority will be others crushed more forcefully by the power at that moment, or whose story is more attractive to the media.

“When my son was in prison, many people visited me, constantly asking for interviews. Now that the roof collapsed, and Jonathan is free, very few have called. Not everything in life is money. Sometimes you need to tell someone how lonely you are, how hard this is. I’m grateful to those who’ve shown interest. Every word of encouragement feels like the placing of a brick on these walls.”

Barbara says that in 2021, when she started doing live streams about her son’s situation, a social worker visited, interested in her housing condition. “She was worried about my grandson being born in these conditions. When Agent Denis started summoning me, he said they’d give me materials to fix the house, but I didn’t want help because I knew it was a way to compromise me to keep quiet. Besides, I found out they’d spoken to the family doctor to sign a paper stating I didn’t have conditions for a newborn at home. Before that, no one cared about my house, and now they don’t either.”

In the hypothetical case that the State gave Barbara a house, it would almost be an attempt at dialogue, a sign of a possible Cuba where everyone fits, beyond political identity; but that country doesn’t exist.

Barbara is one of the many Cubans the State hasn’t provided with adequate housing. Her dissident status puts her at a greater disadvantage, as state aid — if it ever happened — would likely come with conditions to cease her political activism. She also lacks the means to address her situation alone.

Havana is falling apart. Many Barbaras are there. Women who get no attention from the State or the media. Families for whom no one will lift a finger: neither the government nor the opposition. It would be an act of justice for Barbara to rest with a roof over her head.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

One thought on “Barbara Farrat: A Cuban Fighter & the Collapse of Her Home

  • The communist regime of Cuba, which supposedly practices that which Fidel Castro Ruz described as “socialismo”, ought to hang its head in shame. It’s failure and rank incompetence demonstrates the lie, that “socialismo” will look after those who are under its rule, “from the cradle to the grave.” Barbara and her son Jonathan are far from unique, in a country where poverty and repression are not a problem, but a purpose! The purpose is total power and control from the aforementioned cradle to the inevitable grave. As I wrote in Cuba Lifting The Veil over eight years ago about the behavioural pattern which Cubans seeking a quiet life must follow:

    “Don’t challenge the system, accept it, stay mute and exist.”

    “No desafies al sistema, aceptalo, quedate mudo y existe.”

    Barbara and Jonathan illustrate the consequences of questioning the system.

    In Cuba, however, the clock is ticking! Time is the enemy of tyranny.

Comments are closed.