Cuban Dissidents: Behind the Dreamed of Paradise

Fernando Ravsberg*

Meeting in Madrid with the dissidents released from Cuba, 2011. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES, April 12 — “My name is Barbara Dueñas. I’m one of the relatives of the former Cuban political prisoners who arrived in Spain in August 2010. I’m the ex-wife of Marcelo Cano, from the “Group of 75” [imprisoned in 2003]. I live in Tarragona and I’m alone with my daughter. Since February 19, I haven’t received any assistance and I don’t know what to do.”

Barbara’s letter appeared in en Periodistas en Español, where she says: “There hasn’t been one day that I haven’t cried since I came to this country. I feel like a helpless prey. I’m sick, both me and my daughter. Now, Social Services want to take my daughter away from me for not being able to maintain her.”

Almost at the same time, we learned of the suicide in Palmas de Gran Canarias [Canary Islands] of Albert Santiago Du Bouchet, who was a dissident Cuban journalist and a former political prisoner exiled in Spain since he was released in Cuba last year.

The crash could be seen coming. A year ago, walking around Madrid, I met some of those who had been released. They asked me to do a report revealing the appalling living conditions which they were suffering under the government of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE).

Months later, another colleague published an article about a group of dissidents who camped outside of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to protest the government-run shelter that had kicked them out, accusing them of rowdiness.

In the Plaza Sol, the then recently released dissident Orlando Fundora explained that they had conflicts with the PSOE because “our ally is the [conservative] People’s Party (Partido Popular or PP).” That’s why I was so surprised that the now PP government of Mariano Rajoy would cut off their financial assistance.

They didn’t expect such a position from a right-wing government and now they are truly angry. “I didn’t leave one dictatorship to get mixed up with another one,” said dissident Randol Roca who arrived in Spain a year ago.

He told a reporter, “I want freedom,” though actually he wasn’t protesting any restrictions on their ability to speak, assemble or associate. Rather, he was upset over a cut in aid of $117 (US) that they each received at the beginning of every season to buy new clothes.

According to EFE, the socialist government had created an 18-month transitional assistance plan to support the released Cubans, giving each family 700 euros a month for rent and providing each household member with 180 euros, for a total allocation that reached a considerable sum.

Authorities explain that the period of assistance simply ran out, though Roca suspects they’re stealing his check. “My Lord, where’s the money for political refugees in Spain?” he asked, but then he responded by saying, “It’s being diverted somewhere.”

“We left Cuba with nothing, and on the plane that brought us to Spain they promised us a place to live and work,” said Roca, but he claims that now nearly all of the released prisoners and their families — around 700 people — are unemployed.

Some of them left for the US, but things there aren’t much better. A recent report done in Miami showed the mother of Orlando Zapata (who died on a hunger strike) mopping floors to survive.

In addition, Washington is reluctant to grant visas to the released prisoners and their families. So far these have only been obtained by the “Group of 75.” The rest were denied political refugee status because they live in Spain, where no one is persecuting them.

For the US, political asylum doesn’t even fit the case of the dissident Carlos Martinez, who is awaiting trial in a Malaga jail cell as the result of a street brawl. Previously, he had spent 10 years in prison in Cuba, explained his wife Marcia.

She is a woman who seems desperate. She says she cries every day and is starting to suffer a nervous condition. No wonder, her government assistance has been cut, she’s unemployed, lives in a house where “there are mice and cockroaches,” and her husband is back behind bars.

Marcia is demanding a visa for the US, where she thinks that things would go better for her. However if Washington doesn’t yield, she’ll ask for authorization from Havana to return to live on the island, “We, the family members, should be able to return to Cuba.”

Ricardo Gonzalez, another dissident in exile in Spain, summed it all up saying that the frustration of those who were released is due to the gap between the expectations they had when leaving Cuba and the reality they found once they arrived in Spain.

“I dreamed I would be here, from when I was in a crowded prison. I dreamed I would see myself in a more flattering condition,” wrote the Spanish writer Calderon de la Barca, who concluded by recalling, “Every life is a dream, and dreams, are dreams.”

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

17 thoughts on “Cuban Dissidents: Behind the Dreamed of Paradise

  • I don’t see any hate in recommending castro to incorporate those independent minded and clever Cubans to the work for a better Cuba instead to kill them, jail them or set pressure and harassment on their families to make them accept to be expelled of their own country…… where I see a lot of hate is in castro attitude……. dissidents and opponents never killed no one in fire squad, never sunk rafts of people escaping bombarding them with sand bags, never sunk no boats full with escaping men, woman and children, never jailed no one , never beat no one, never, repress no one…,…..It has been castro who historically committed all those crimes………. so, the hater is castro………Hubert just makes recommendations and remember some of castro’s crimes…….. where’s hate?????

  • From “I ultimately blame Fidel Castro (…)” an on.

  • I don’t see hate in Hubert’s comment……. can you point where you see it, please?????

  • Yes, we could, but I think you haven’t got the subtext of my irony – I don’t believe there are such things like “good” or “evil”…

  • I can spend months agreeing with you about how evil Bush was….. but we are talking here about Cuba and to try to justify a wrong doing with another wrong doing does not make castros’s evil and crimes disappear.

  • “Cuba is and has been the lowest-ranked country in terms of worker productivity in the western hemishere for many years.”

    Hey Moses could you please show me your data? An historical curve or whatever?

  • “castro regime is just acting as it always acts, with no moral, with hate, with planned evil (…)”

    “Planned evil? Boo-ho-ho. I just love bush-like morale.

  • Easy. Such hatred will get you nowhere.

  • They were simple expelled from their homeland……. their wives and children suffered all kind immoral pressures, regime put on them all it power to make their life so miserable they preferred to convince their parents and husbands in jail to accept regimes and its accomplices in Spanish gov treacherous offer ……. most of them accepted the offer to “finish” in such way their children, mothers, and wives suffering without knowing it was a trap ………. only desperate people can accept to emigrate to a place where no friend or family network is waiting for them to give a helping hand………. I don’t blame castro regime for the fate of those desperate people, castro regime is just acting as it always acts, with no moral, with hate, with planned evil………. I blame the relatives of those men that could not hold the criminal regime pressure, now they are suffering the consequences of their weakness………… the few that rejected regime’s offer are in better condition today, they still inside Cuba fighting for freedom and democracy, they still are under relatives, friends and comrades shelter.

  • This is an extremely important debate.
    I think it is far too easy to make sniping remarks at the Cuban dissidents and their families now in Spain. If their attitude is the result of anything, it is the result of their upbringing and socialisation in their home country.
    At a just slightly less extreme level we saw the same during the German unification process with higher levels of xenophobic attitudes and violence in the former pseudo-socialist East emerging now.

    As a left-wing critic of the Cuban nomenclatura I have no illusions about Western governments, especially those of the right, to give a toss about anyone other than themselves.

    There is a nasty degree of Schadenfreude, which is an attitude of taking pleasure in other peoples sufferings and downfalls, prevalent in the Western Left towards disappointed Cuban oppositionals stranded in the West. The cause of their disappointment is ultimately not the West but the blockade by the Cuban government on the free exchange of ideas and information between Cubans and non-Cubans which could have prevented them being stranded where they are now.

    Yes, these Cubans in Spain are learning a hard lesson. They were pawns in a game when they were seen as useful. Now they no longer are, so they will be dumped in the dustbin of history when instead they could be making a positive contribution to the future of Cuba.

    While I feel nothing but disgust and contempt for the PP government in Spain, I ultimately blame Fidel Castro who should have involved those Cubans who had a brain to think for themselves in the political process. But that would have meant obviously being allowed to question publicly and in a spirit of debate those policies of his that he wishes to sweep under the carpet knowing full well that history will not excuse him. I refer to his depriving the Cuban working class of an independent voice since the 1959 and 1961 CTC congresses, his criminal idea of a nuclear first strike against US cities, the insults hurled by him against those Cubans who wanted to escape his paradise, the entirely unjustifiable executions by firing squad in 2003 and the economic privileges enjoyed by his own sons.
    Therefore it will not not happen in his lifetime.

    The way forward is more freedom in Cuba.

  • It was the US government with its generous funding that got them into trouble in the first place. Isn’t it only fair that the US Taxpayer fund them in retirement as well?

  • These unfortunate people made the mistake of jumping from the frying pan into the fire .

    Many received funding from the United States to make Cuba look bad and probably thought they’d be handsomely rewarded once they got outside of Cuba , having done their job of embarrassing the Cuban government .

    Others who may have been quite sincere were perhaps used to having the “brutal, dictatorial, undemocratic Castro brothers” provide them with a life that they cannot maintain on their own in the wonderful free market in Spain where unemployment is massive, the economy worsening and even the Spanish can’t find adequate work.

    Almost every capitalist country is in trouble and did these Cubans think they were going to find the streets paved with gold ?

    Maybe Cuba is not all that bad after all and I suspect as Europe and the United States continue to slide downhill economically that Cuba , with all its faults , will look much better as time goes by .

    At least Cuba is making some changes and reforms in areas where its homegrown systems have failed .
    Troubled capitalist countries like Spain, Greece , the US are staying with a sinking ship and not changing anything..

  • Let me get this straight….You left Cuba like you wanted…Spain gave you aid, now what …”GET A JOB!!!!” Or you can go back to Cuba…unfortunately not being accustomed to work or having an education is a problem anywhere in the world. Where are the people in south Florida who sent you money to Cuba and helped you protest $$$$…I also wish I could live for free but things don’t work that way.

  • Good article. I’m rather surprised! I would have thought that these “dissidents” would have been coddled and used further by the capitalists for propaganda purposes against the Cuban government.

    I’d like to address one part of Moses’ comment. He says that Cuba has been “the lowest-ranked country in terms of worker productivity in the western hemishere for many years.” This fact merely shows that full state ownership of the instruments of production, the core principle of Marxist social economy since 1848, was and is completely contrary to the idea of a socialist republic.

    Workers traditionally were expected to be much more productive under socialism because now they would own the means of production. Every increase in productivity therefore was thought to mean an increase in their take-home pay, or other direct benefit.

    Marxian state monopoly theory however made them into wage and salary labor serfs, employed by the socialist state, with all their surplus value going into state coffers. Rather than this model of socialism making workers more productive that under capitalism however, it made them less. This was and is the direct result of the Marxian sabotage of socialism, and it’s time the Left woke up and smelled the coffee.

  • They wanted freedom from socialism. Now they want freedom from capitalism. Maybe some people will be “dissidents” no matter what.

  • During my years in Cuba, I observed over and over again many seemingly normal Cubans I believed unfit to survive outside of Cuba. Keep in mind that Cubans are now third-generation “Castrated”. That is to say, many Cubans have no idea what it means to truly work hard, save your money, rent a small home, buy food and little by little, improve your life. Countless recent Cuban emigres in Miami spend all their money as soon as it hits their hands and only manage to survive because of family support. Of course this is not always the case but it happens enough that it points to the environment from which they came. In Cuba, Fidel has created a paternalistic society where individual initiatve is discouraged. Raul, in a speech in 2010, acknowlegded that Cuban is the only country where you do not have to have a job to live. Indeed, economic conditions in Spain are at the moment bleak but Spaniards by and large are working and getting by. They should not be blamed, nor should the US with regards to our cuban dissidents, for Cubans lack of productivity. Cuba is and has been the lowest-ranked country in terms of worker productivity in the western hemishere for many years. Cubans learn how NOT to work in Cuba. Is it any surprise some of these bad habits follow them abroad?

  • Nice ending–the quote from Calderon de la Barca! I guess it all depends on the individual’s resilliance. I’m reminded of a retired Cuban expat who demonstrates food samples at a nearby supermarket. Even though a lowly job, he has a certain joie de vivre that is infectious, and always gets me smiling–even laughing. Another example: Recently, on my way to work, I saw a man pulling some sort of wheeled contraption containing all his worldly possessions. (This was on a blue highway, a few miles from my home, in rural Vermont.) Later that same morning, my wife also saw him, and stopped to chat. While talking with her, he related that he was Cuban, and walking all the way to Canada(!). He appeared to be one of the psychological “walking wounded” who has fallen through the cracks of our increasingly socially Darwinistic system. In any event, since he was hungry, she returned home, cooked up some breakfast, returned and gave it to him. Apparently he has been walking and pulling his wheeled contraption all the way up the Connecticut Valley on Route #10 from near N.Y.C. Later, I tried to find him, but with no success. He told my wife he camps out each night in the forest, and never stays in shelters. Hope he has made it to Canada by now, and that he receives a better reception there!

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