Free the 59 prisoners of conscience
Posted on Sat, Jan. 12, 2008
By MIRIAM LEIVA
HAVANA — Miguel Valdés Tamayo died on Jan. 10, 2007. When I saw him on
Dec. 10, just one month earlier, he looked good, gracefully yet
discreetly at ease, as usual. I asked him how he felt and he answered
that he found it hard to deal with his cardiac illness. I never imagined
he was in the twilight of his life.
He spent Dec. 31 in the hospital and could not overcome the crises. Next
time I saw him, one month later, he lay in a coffin. I had taken what
may have been his last photograph on the previous Human Rights Day. The
next photos were at the funeral home, during the mass and at graveside,
where his widow and children wore poignant faces and incredulous gazes.
It seemed like the ''never could this happen'' that often afflicts only
relatives of the departed. But Miguel was immortalized by the whims of
injustice and tenacity of those who confront them.
He was one of the 75 people flung into the cells of this republic-prison
called Cuba that Black Spring of 2003. The efforts of his relatives,
close-knit Cubans inside and outside the archipelago and so many others
throughout the world still have not achieved the unconditional release
the prisoners deserve. Their only ''crimes'' have been to conquer fear
and attain freedom through the expression of their ideas — ideas that
in many instances have been imprisoned since birth.
They are truly free because nobody can order them what to think and what
to say. They are peaceable people who love their homeland and want it to
advance, for the benefit of their children and the children of all
Cubans, today and tomorrow. Most of the prisoners are seriously ill from
inhospitable conditions, bad food and psychological torture. But they
don't lose their dignity.
Now, when possibilities arise for Cuba to emerge from stagnation and
people begin to acknowledge the problems that many of the 75 warned
about, it makes no sense for 59 of them to still remain in their cells.
It is not enough for the government to sign international accords and
welcome representatives of the United Nations to discuss matters
relative to human rights. Those rights must be exercised effectively,
first by being fair and liberating prisoners of conscience. Illustrious
visitors could well contribute to that purpose and, in addition, would
help the government to free itself of that burden.
The fifth anniversary of March 2003 should not be commemorated with
those 59 men still in prison. Even less should there be the possibility
that others would suffer the same fate as Miguel Valdés Tamayo.
Miriam Leiva is an independent journalist in Cuba.