Friday, November 14, 2014

Old dissidents in Cuba - Between homelessness and forgetting

Old dissidents in Cuba: Between homelessness and forgetting / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 13, 2014

The elderly are the big losers in the timid economic reforms of Cuba's
General-President. Thousands who once applauded Fidel Castro's long
speeches in the Plaza of the Revolution, or fought in the civil wars in
Africa, today survive however they can.

There they are. Selling newspapers, peanuts, or single cigarettes.
Others have it worse. Senile dementia has overtaken them and they beg
for alms or dig through the dumpsters.

But even harder is life for an old dissident. Do the names Vladimiro
Roca Antunez, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello and Felix Bonne Carcassés
mean nothing today? In the 90s they were the most active opponents
betting on democracy and political and economic freedoms. In the summer
of 1997 they drafted a lucid document titled "The Nation Belongs to

For this coherent and inclusive legacy they received verbal and physical
violence on the part of the regime and its secret police. And they went
to jail. Seventeen years after the launch of "The Nation Belongs to
Everyone," already old and with a litany of ailments, they are barely

Vladimiro, son of the Communist leader Blas Roca, had to sell his house
in Neuvo Vedado. With the money he bought a crappy apartment and with
the rest he survives. He's about to turn 72, has never received the
pension that he has a right to because he flew MIGs and worked in State

Fidel Castro was implacable with the first waves of dissent. In addition
to jailing them, he expelled them from the dignified and well-paid jobs
And refused them a check on retirement. Others were forced to live in exile.

Bonne, the only black person in the group, was a university professor
and prominent intellectual. He is almost blind and between the memory
loss and shortages, waits for God to take him in his house in the Rio
Verde neighborhood.

Martha Beatriz, a distinguished economist, is trying to weather the
storm at the front of a network of social communicators, for which she
receives insults and violence from State Security.

If the autocratic state doesn't care about historical dissidents, who
should watch over them? The younger dissidents? The current opponents
should find ways to help the elderly dissidents.

It is just and humane. And is not acting like the government with the
hundreds of thousands of men and women who, in their youth, didn't
hesitate to offer their energies and even their lived to his Revolution,
and when they get old they are abandoned to their fate, with few exceptions.

To repair the unjust reality in the ranks of the dissidents, independent
journalists Jose A. Fornaris and Odelin Alfonso are trying to do
something. "We are working on how to create a support fund destined to
the older opponents so they will receive at least 50 convertible pesos a
month. Also this fund would cover a stipend for colleagues who are
incapacitated by accident or illness," said Fornaris, head of an
association of free Cuban journalists.

For his part, Alfonso thinks that a kind of pension fund, "Every
journalist who publishes his works and is paid, will voluntarily donate
a portion. It's sad how older dissidents are living."

Implementing the project would allow dozens of opponents in their
seventies to squeak by with dignity. Tania Diaz Castro, poet and
journalist, was in the front lines in the hard years of the 1980s, when
few dared to dissent against Castroism.

Their names should not be forgotten. Ricardo Bofill, Reinaldo Bragado,
Rolando Cartaya and Marta Frayde, among others, gave birth to a party in
favor of human rights.

Díaz Castro, a member of that party, never imagined that many years
later Cuba would remain a totalitarian country. She lives in Santa Fe,
to the west of Havana, surrounded by books and dogs. She survives
writing reports for digital sites and with the dollars her children are
able to send her from abroad.

And she is not the worst off. A few blocks from her home lives Manuel
Gutierrez, in the opposition since the 1980s and founder of a dissident
party. Now over 70, he earns a living working the land and tending goats.

He lives in a miserable hut of tiles and rough cement. But he does not
complain. "That's what happened to me. Worse off than me are the less
known dissidents. It was my choice, to stay in Cuba and fight for
change," he said, trying to hide the tremor in his hands, due to
unaddressed Alzheimer's.

The current dissidence cannot and must not forget the past. When the
current dissidents were afraid and silently accepted the regime's public
verbal lynchings of those brave opponents, they were speaking for all

Now, we dissidents and independent journalists who don't yet have grey
hair, should concern ourselves with those who came before and opened the
way for us. If the present is less repressive on the island, it's
precisely because of the old dissidents.

Iván García

Source: Old dissidents in Cuba: Between homelessness and forgetting /
Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba -

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