Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ex-political prisoner sends Cubans word of freedom, one book at a time

Posted on Friday, 10.10.08
Ex-political prisoner sends Cubans word of freedom, one book at a time

In his tiny Miami apartment, Nelson Rodríguez Dieguez collects books for
Cuba's underground network of democratic independent libraries. A former
political prisoner, Rodríguez has made it his mission now to set history
straight until Cuba is free.

His latest project is a book lauding the hundreds of women -- he
estimates as many as 13,000 -- imprisoned in the early years of Castro's
communist power grab.

Like so many of the freed prisoners I've met over the years, Rodríguez
recounts his decade in Cuban prisons calmly and methodically, picking
apart Castro's proclamations that the regime never practiced torture.

Having spent 124 days naked and hooded during brutal interrogations at
Las Cabañitas, a country home converted into a torture chamber of sorts
outside Havana, Rodríguez learned the hard way about speaking truth to
power at age 22.


Working to foment uprisings in Castro's home province of Oriente,
Rodríguez was caught Nov. 3, 1961, and after three days of
interrogations by state security in Havana was taken to Las Cabañitas.
''One-hundred-and-twenty-four days without clothes, without bathing,
your hair's all pasty, your skin is full of welts,'' he told me. ``They
throw buckets of ice water on you. They put you into an interrogation
with chunks of ice on your back. You're so cold, you pass out.''

''First, they sentenced me to the firing squad,'' he said. The guards
would line up a handful of men and go through the drill, pointing their
rifles, and -- bang, bang! -- there were no bullets, only blanks.

Then came the ``hanging.''

A state security goon offered to lead an ''Our Father'' but a weak
Rodríguez -- still nude, hooded and with a knotted rope tied around his
neck -- jumped off the chair only to land on the cement floor with a
busted big toe.

Even after those 124 hellish days, when he was sent to work camps at the
Isle of Pines prison, Rodríguez said there were firing squads assigned
to kill at least one man each weekend until 1967. ``The stress of living
all those years without knowing if they were going to kill you on Friday
or Saturday. . . .''


After 10 years in prison and several more hounded by Cuban state
security, Rodríguez left in 1978 for Venezuela, and eventually started
an auto-parts business with family. When Hugo Chávez took up with
Castro, Rodríguez headed to Miami.

He still has family and friends in Cuba, some of them former prisoners.
Despite two hurricanes devastating much of the island, he's committed to
getting ''democracy-building'' books to the independent libraries,
though the Cuban regime keeps cracking down. At the movement's height
there were about 200 libraries -- today 48 remain in the group Rodríguez

On Saturday, the Grupo de Apoyo a Bibliotecas Democráticas, which
supports independent libraries and helps the families of former
political prisoners in Cuba, will commemorate the 12th anniversary of
the library movement. For details, call Rodríguez at 786-306-2719. ''We
send any book that will help give people a political formation, to help
them understand true democracy,'' he said.

Rodríguez knows something about the risks of speaking up in a
dictatorship. Having walked hooded and naked to face death -- and lived
to tell about it -- he feels an obligation, as so many of our old
warriors do, to spread the word about freedom's promise.

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