The release of the remaining Group of 75 prisoners of conscience from the "black spring" crackdown of 2003 provides an opportunity to refocus on the plight of other political prisoners in the Castro gulag.
Attention on their suffering is as vital as it was for the Group of 75, so that they — and their captors — know that they are not alone and that they are not forgotten.
One of the longest imprisoned political prisoners is Rafael Ibarra Roque, who has been jailed since 1994. The co-founder of the Frank País November 30 Democratic Movement, he is currently being held in the Combinado del Este prison.
Recently, human rights activists around the world have drawn new attention to Ibarra's case, noting that under Cuban law he should be paroled because he has served 17 years of a 20-year sentence.
Of course, in Castro's Cuba, the law doesn't mean anything.
Men like Rafael Ibarra Roque, imprisoned in Fidel Castro's gulag since 1994, will one day lead a free Cuba. Whether in or out of prison, their vision for the country is surpassed only by their virtue.
Ibarra, now 48, was in 1991 a co-founder of the Frank País November 30 Democratic Movement, and in 1992, was elected president of the group. On June 17, 1994, he was arrested and accused of "sabatoge." Despite no evidence being presented, eight months later Ibarra was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
A few years ago, Cuban scholar and human rights activist Onilda A. Jimenez wrote about Ibarra in an article for the Committee to Aid Human Rights Activists:
Ibarra was born at the time of the revolution, in June 1959. He was destined, because of his age, to be a product of the “new man,” whom the Communists tried to form, a type of robot who would respond to all their commands. The ambience in which he was immersed, along with his schooling, books, the press, television, were geared toward indoctrination. Nevertheless, he was impenetrable to deceptive messages. At a young age, he showed signs of thinking for himself and of his love for liberty, like something inherent in a human being, and his love of democracy as a political system. This is a trait of Cuban country folk, who have a glorious history in the wars of independence and who were the first to rebel against Castro. Suffice to say that it took thousands of men and huge quantities of resources for the tyrant to wipe out the guerrillas of Escambray.
Ibarra helped found the Democratic Party 30 of November in the 1990s and became its president. The organization of political parties and independent organizations on the margin of the law, under persecution and terror like that which has existed and still exists in Cuba, is extremely risky and merits the recognition and sympathy of everyone.
His new position as head of the Party placed him under the scrutiny of the authorities, who quickly found a pretext for jailing him. They accused him of sabotage, which they were never able to prove, and of which he declared his innocence. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1994. Apparently the sentencing of an innocent person is but a game or something similar to counting sheep before going to sleep.
The calvary of this sincere married man, who worked on his farm in San Miguel del Padron, began from the time he was detained at Villa Marista for several months for interrogation. While there, he was tortured so he would declare himself guilty of sabotage, which he did not commit, given that the party he represents is pacifist and is against terrorism. He lost 50 pounds because of this.
From Villa Marista, he was transferred to Combinado del Este Prison. Do you know why he was condemned to solitary confinement? For having wounded a guard? For having a concealed weaponor attempting to escape? No, even though these are valid reasons when one has an unjust sentence. He was condemned for having kept in his cell a copy of information from the Special Investigator of the United Nations!
In December 2005, Ibarra, who has repeatedly been tortured while in jail, was able to smuggle out a letter in which he called on the world to hold Cuba accountable for how it treats its prisoners. In part, it read:
The Cuban government should openly come clean with the number of citizens incarcerated without probable cause, or due to fictitious charges and sanctioned to long prison terms. Also, they should publicly acknowledge, the number of cases presently under revision after years of unjust imprisonment because most of the arguments and proofs simply point to the individual's innocence.
All Cuban prisons are plagued with cases of innocent individuals who bare witness to the fact that in Cuba, prison sentences are handed down by police instructors prior to trial. Incredible as it may seem, the most innocent of all individuals in this Country can be sent to jail for no apparent reason.
No apparent reason, that is, except for that they want to be free.
One day, perhaps very soon, they will know their suffering was not in vain.