washingtonpost.com  > Print Edition > Inside the A Section > Opinion Columns

Standing Up to a Dictator

By Berta Soler Fernandez
Saturday, March 5, 2005; Page A19

HAVANA -- After Cuban authorities released seven political prisoners recently, some of us, wives of imprisoned Cuban dissidents, received calls from abroad rejoicing over these "liberations" and over the improved human rights situation in Cuba. But these were not liberations; the regime simply released a few sick men on parole. And in any event, all 75 dissidents detained in the spring crackdown of 2003 are prisoners of conscience, recognized by Amnesty International. All should be freed.

Foreigners tend to attribute these releases to pressures from outside (the United States or the European Union) or as a nice gesture by Fidel Castro toward the Spanish prime minister. Here in Cuba we think that it simply would not look good if political inmates died in prison, so seven sick prisoners (and seven others before) were allowed to serve the rest of their sentences at home.

_____Today's Op-Eds_____

_____What's Your Opinion?_____
Message Boards Share Your Views About Editorials and Opinion Pieces on Our Message Boards
About Message Boards

We wives of prisoners would like to think that we've helped publicize their cause. Every Sunday after Mass, all dressed in white, we peacefully march in a group up and down Fifth Avenue in Havana. We sometimes get signs of solidarity from the passing drivers who know us as the "ladies in white," and we always get intimidation from the state security agents.

Before police invaded our households and deprived us of our men, few of the wives had any interest in politics. With the relentless persecution of any dissent in Cuba, we are learning to defend ourselves and our loved ones.

My husband, Angel Moya Acosta, is enduring his fourth detention since 1999, when he openly declared his dissent -- a not-so-frequent attitude among black people in Cuba. Until then, he was a simple technician earning his 135 pesos ($5) a month, although I must say that after fighting for a year and a half in Angola he was less convinced of the rightness of everything the Cuban regime was doing.

Moya was jailed twice for celebrating the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, once for distributing copies of the declaration itself (a declaration, incidentally, that the Cuban government has signed) and, most recently, for possessing texts about the declaration (as well as a portable radio and a battery charger).

In December 2000 Moya was sentenced to one year in prison and 10 years of banishment from Havana, where I and our two children (Luis Angel, 9, and his older sister, Lienys, 13) live. While Moya was serving his sentence, I protested the banishment. I tried to find a lawyer to help me. When none was available, I read the penal code and wrote to every authority I could think of until, finally, the "banishment" was overturned. In October 2002, after distributing copies of the human rights declaration, Moya was fined 1,500 pesos (a year's salary). I argued that this was unjust, and the fine was canceled.

Since Moya was sentenced in the March 2003 crackdown to 20 years in prison, I have joined other wives in carrying out protests, but I continued my own battle for justice.

My first confrontation was private: I refused to take off my clothes and squat in front of a prison guard before my visit to the Holguin jail. I was denied the twice-yearly marital visit, but in a smuggled message Moya let me know later that he was proud of my attitude.

My second confrontation was public: Moya was suffering from a discal hernia; he needed an operation and in spite of having promised to get him to a hospital, the regime kept him in jail. I waited patiently for two months and then complained to Castro. After depositing the complaint I stayed in the square outside Castro's office to wait for an answer. Moya's sister, a few other wives of political prisoners and some dissidents joined me. I think that the authorities were taken by surprise, because we in Cuba have little tradition of civil disobedience. We camped out for 41 hours in Revolution Square. At 3 a.m., three dozen police officers in plainclothes arrived and forced us into cars that took us away. But I obtained my objective: Moya was taken to a hospital. When I saw him after his operation he told me again that he was proud of my attitude.

Recently, when these supposed liberations happened, many wives of political prisoners hoped that their husbands would be considered sick and be released. Not me. Moya told me that he does not want to be released "for health reasons" since he should not be in the prison in the first place. This may mean that Luis Angel and Lienys will not have a father for many more years to come, but I am proud of Moya's attitude.

The writer is a microbiology technician in Cuba.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company