Two former Castro prisoners hopeful for change in Cuba
By Anthony Hall
Posted: Nov 27, 2016 12:54 AM Updated: Nov 27, 2016 5:57 AM
LUBBOCK, Texas -
Two Cuban-Americans were political prisoners for nearly four years each
after they were caught discussing change in Cuba during perestroika and
Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership in the late '80s.
Arquimedes Ruiz and Luis Grave de Peralta were university professors and
physicists at Cuba's National Academy of Science at the time, and were
arrested for their dissident ideas.
They were among thousands of Cuban critics of then-President Fidel
Castro that were dismissed as traitors, imprisoned, or exiles. With the
numbers piling up, Castro became the target of international
condemnation -- but like so many times before, he remained defiant,
proudly defending his record on human rights.
"Here there isn't a single case of death squads here," Castro said in a
2001 conference in Havana, "never has a person disappeared in Cuba,
which has been common practice all over Latin America. So, we feel
proud of our clean record with relation to this problem."
Ruiz said he was released about six months before Grave de Peralta, but
the latter was the first to reach America. Grave de Peralta was one of
many political prisoners that were released during the Clinton
administration, and Ruiz was forced out of prison onto the street to
request asylum in the US.
Grave de Peralta said he lost eight years of his son's life to Castro's
imprisonment -- four behind bars, and four more in America where he
wasn't able to see his family.
That wasn't all.
"In jail, I acquired hepatitis B," Grave de Peralta said. "See, they
force everybody to shave with the same machine. For this reason, I have
liver cancer. Five years ago, I had a liver transplant.
"I am a survivor," he continued. "I am a survivor of this guy."
Both men said, in their minds, there were very, very few good things to
say about Castro or his rule. Ruiz begrudgingly acknowledged that, under
Castro, he and his colleague were able to get a much better education
than most in Cuba were afforded -- but it came at a price: his family.
"They were taking us away from our family and putting us in camps to
work agriculture," he described. "They were trying to take us -- what
they called 'the new man' -- out of the home to have this education that
was very scientific. We took advantage of that, and we did well there
and here, but at the same time they were so negative about that because
they were trying to take all the young people out of the cities, out of
the homes, to manipulate-- to change our mind."
That led Ruiz to tell us a "joke" among Cubans.
"They say the three good things about the Revolution were healthcare,
education, and sports -- because Cuba was able to go to Olympic games,"
"But the three main failures of the Cuban Revolution were breakfast,
lunch, and dinner," he finished, laughing. "We were starving to death!"
After Ruiz finished laughing -- and Grave de Peralta chuckling -- he
"This is true, this is true," he emphasized. "He impoverished the
country completely. He destroyed the number 29 economy in the world. He
destroyed that in the Revolution."
20 years later, Grave de Peralta and Ruiz are both, once again, physics
professors and scientists -- now, at Texas Tech. Both said they are
happy and excited for the future since Castro died Friday night. Ruiz
noted both men's wives still have family in Cuba.
"If somebody asked me what happened [Friday]," Grave de Peralta said, "I
will say 'Fidel Castro went to Hell.' This is what happened yesterday. I
am just happy."
"It's a celebration, but not a celebration because somebody died," Ruiz
said. "It is because a symbol died. It's more a symbolic victory.
Something is going to change now -- we have a better opportunity than
before because the symbol, the super-ego, that was giving it power is gone.
"It's something that is more psychological than physical," he explained.
"It will be physical later, it will be real later. The opportunity is
open now, but it is more in the mind of the people that are still
Ruiz and Grave de Peralta both said the Obama administration's work to
normalize relations with the island nation was timed poorly.
"President Obama was in a rush. He should have waited until tomorrow
[Sunday] to try and start what he did," Grave de Peralta said. "We'd be
much better. Now, I think the real change in Cuba begins now. We still
have to wait for the brother to follow the same path of Fidel Castro.
"But, everything is ready now for trying to produce a real change," he
continued. "I hope that the next President will help so the Cuban
transition really can happen -- a transition to freedom, not a
transition to a new dictatorship."
Ruiz said Castro's brother and the current Cuban president, Raúl, is
trying to avoid legal trouble from his involvement in the Cuban
Revolution, so he said he is skeptical that changes will come soon. He
said the change will stay in the minds of the people.
"People now will realize, 'OK, there is no more charismatic guy here
that is the glue of the whole maniac thing that is there,'" he
explained. "Now, you will see this thing fragmenting slowly."
Ruiz said he is hopeful because President-Elect Trump isn't as "pinkie"
-- referring to a pejorative term for socialists, or "pinkos" -- as
President Obama was. He said Trump's more conservative views will help
continue to fragment Cuba's dictatorship.
Both Ruiz and Grave de Peralta said they are happy with their lives in
the US, and are thankful that they get to watch what is going on in Cuba
from a distance. They urge Americans to not take democracy for granted
-- because they have lived without it.
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