Dissidents or Opposition, All Roads Lead to “Villa Marista”

During one of the July 11, 2021 protests

Dissidents or Opposition, All Roads Lead to “Villa Marista”

2 / mayo / 2024

Juan Antonio Blanco, director of the Cuban Conflicts Observatory, defines “opposition” as those who openly adopt a political posture contradictory to the government. Dissidents, on the other hand, are those who are deeply uncomfortable and in disagreement with the regime because it has hindered their basic needs and ambitions to get ahead. Dissidents tend not to express themselves publicly unless they believe that doing so will help them obtain some specific demand. Nonetheless, if their situation is desperate, they frequently go from private complaints to public protest.

In totalitarian regimes like Cuba, however, where there’s broad dissidence but a dismantled and decimated opposition, the repressive apparatus doesn’t differentiate between dissidence and opposition. To the regimen, its propaganda, and its political police, dissidents and the opposition are equally “enemies of the Revolution” and deserve the same treatment. The variations depend on the person’s visibility, and the system’s own organizational capacity, and their perception of risk.

That conclusion has been demonstrated anew in the last few days. Alina Barbara Lopez Hernandez, a 58-year-old Cuban intellectual who a long time ago crossed the line into dissidence, was arbitrarily detained for several hours, subjected to brutal treatment, then sent home.

On April 27, 2024, a group of citizens were found guilty by the Cuban regime and sentenced to up to fifteen years in prison. These dissidents went out to protest on the streets of Nuevitas, Camaguey in the summer of 2022, during a wave of blackouts. The judges cited crimes of deep political weight to validate the sanctions that others had already dictated. The crimes they utilized to justify the prison sentences that the men and women of Nuevitas have now been suffering for nearly two years, demonstrate that, to the Cuban regime, dissidents and opposition members are both considered enemies.

Within the catalogue of crimes the Nuevitas demonstrators were charged with, two stand out: “spreading enemy propaganda” and “sedition.” The Cuban regime perceives expressions of any differing views as “propaganda” incited by “enemies.” The act of protest is an attack on the powers of a government that’s been abducted by the bureaucracy and the political class that has grown to depend economically and politically on the Communist Party.

When the sentence against the Nuevitas demonstrators came to light, the Cuban Rights Observatory issued a press statement noting that the sanctions against the accused total 138 years in jail. The organization also recognized that the sentences comprised proof of “a hatred of the Cuban people that has no compassion for anyone, and has refused to heed the large number of petitions in favor of the political prisoners, including those of the Catholic Church.”

Without a doubt, the sanctions are evidence of hatred against any person who has chosen to challenge the monolithic obedience the Cuban regime demands. In determining the possible culprits beyond the visible faces of the regime’s high echelons, it must be said that this hatred is spawned and executed by a force of thugs concentrated in the department of the Interior Ministry known as State Security.

They’re the ones who decide when, where, and how to detain an intellectual like Alina Barbara. They’re the ones who determine how and in what conditions to expose the Nuevitas demonstrators on national television, and the punishments that should be allotted them. They’re the ones who decide when to go from “prophylactic” measures to prison in the cases of independent journalists like Jose Luis Tan Estrada.

Jose Tan, a journalism graduate from the University of Camaguey, was summoned to the State Security offices in his province, where he spent several days under interrogation. On April 26, he went to Havana, where he was detained and transferred directly to the Villa Marista State Security headquarters.

More than 72 hours have passed since Tan entered Villa Marista, which is an alarming signal. That place isn’t set up for the short-term detentions the Cuban regime employs with such frequency against Cuban journalists and members of the opposition. Villa Marista is a center for torture and processing intended to break the dissident or opposition member before sending them on to prison or removing them from the Cuban landscape.

Heberto Padilla spent several days in Villa Marista (in 1971); after he was released, he made a public confession that marked a milestone in the history of cultural censorship in Cuba. Hamlet Lavastida, an artist, was detained in an isolation center upon his return to Cuba in 2021, then sent to Villa Marista where he remained for over 80 days. His release was on condition that he leave Cuba for good, a move his jailers themselves facilitated. Sulmira Martinez (known as “Salem de Cuba”) a young woman who was barely 21, was held in Villa Marista for writing some Facebook posts criticizing the Cuban regime and calling on citizens to protest. After interrogations and forced confessions, she was transferred to a women’s prison where she still awaits trial.

Villa Marista symbolizes the way the Cuban regime perceives dissidence: a virus that should be eradicated, because those spreading it aren’t people, but pathogenic vectors capable of transmitting the “disease” of opposition.

To the Cuban regime, all the roads of dissidence and opposition lead, sooner or later, to Villa Marista. However, for the citizens, these roads leading to dehumanization and torture should never be normalized.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.
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