Thursday, July 22, 2010


I was just thinking before I got up to draft this post how trivial a trip to the airport is to those of us who consider it a drag to go on business trips. It's the 21st-century equivalent of a bus ride, especially if the destination is some dreadful industrial park in the heartland. But imagine what must have been going through Gisela's mind this afternoon as she bade farewell to my childhood neighborhood (and my grandparents' home) from (ironically) a State Security vehicle. According to reports from Gisela's sister, this event took place today around 2PM. Yes. The moment we've dreamed of is here. No, it hasn't exactly played out as we'd hoped. I had envisioned a short flight to Miami. I am sure Tony would have preferred to return home. But neither of these outcomes were in the cards.

Into this whole mess of a process steps Cardinal Jaime Ortega, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Havana, and we end up with a forced exile to Spain (one which is in the works as I write these words). I take nothing away from the Cardinal's achievements. In fact, I am grateful to him and hope that his concern for the well-being of Cuba's jailed dissidents transcends his debut into the world stage. Credit also goes to Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Spain's Foreign Minister. No doubt he was motivated by a desire to appease (one might say even reward) the regime, but if it weren't for his degree of influence with the Castro brothers, we'd still be pleading for Tony's release at this moment. I've always believed that the breakthrough would come from Spain and recent events have proven me right. If you don't believe me, ask my mom.

Despite Moratinos' calls for the abrogation of the European Union's Common Position on Cuba, the skeptics are waiting to see if this gesture will lead to the dismantling of the repressive machinery that's been in place on the island since 1959. For instance, Jorge Moragas (Foreign Affairs Secretary for Spain's Popular Party) questions in this op-ed for El País whether these prisoner releases signal genuine change. In his piece, he describes a status quo that is optimized to replace the 75 from the "black spring" of 2003 with a new generation of political hostages (there is no other way to describe them) for 2010 and beyond:
  1. It's not certain whether the prisoners have been granted amnesty by the Cuban government or if they retain the right of return to their own country.
  2. The fate of prisoners not wishing to leave the island is unknown.
  3. This wouldn't be the first time that the regime leverages a prisoner release as a propaganda tool.
  4. The 'gag law' used to convict most of the 75 from the 2003 group remains in effect. Also in effect is the law against 'social endangerment' (yet another tool used to round up dissidents at will).
Before I move on, I'd like to thank Mr. Moragas (and his colleagues in the Popular Party) for his persistent demands for the release of all Cuban dissidents. Carles Llorens, Foreign Affairs Secretary for Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya, has been instrumental in raising awareness about the plight of the Cuban dissidents. In a book entitled Disidentes de Cuba, Llorens and his wife Claudia Pujol canvass the full spectrum of today's dissident movement both inside and outside the island. Just last year, he released a children's story entitled Rolandito i el rei Fidel. Through this powerful medium, Mr. Llorens tells the story of Rolando Jiménez Posada, one of the 75 imprisoned in 2003. In addition, he has appeared in countless meetings and conferences to expose the truth about the Cuban regime to a public that is generally predisposed to give the Castros the benefit of the doubt. For his tireless efforts on behalf of Cuban freedom, I thank Carles Llorens and his party. Moragas and Llorens have earned their places in Cuban history.

There are many politicians closer to home (the US and A) that have been on board this cause since day one. Lincoln Díaz-Balart stands out from the crowd for his mention of my uncle's case on the floor of the U.S House of Representatives. I hear from my mother that he is on his way to Spain as we speak in the hopes of being of assistance to the recently arrived dissidents. Mr. Díaz-Balart is not seeking reelection, so there can't possibly be the slightest bit of political calculation in his actions. I wish him the best in his endeavors and thank him for his commitment to justice in Cuba.

From the realm of politics, I move on to NGO land. When I first embarked on this effort to seek my uncle's release, I was shocked by the dearth of information on Cuban prisoners of conscience on the Amnesty International site. It was until much later that this oversight was remedied and today there is a list of Cuban prisoners of conscience posted on their site. Long before Amnesty caught up to this issue, Human Rights First was on the case. It was two years ago that HRF published a detailed profile on my uncle's case and issued a call to action to petition the Cuban government for the unconditional release of Tony and Dr. García Paneque. My many thanks to the staff at HRF (you know who you are) for coming through. I am heartened to see HRF's cautious optimism in response to the announcement of the prisoner releases. That's precisely what the situation calls for.

Bloggers have been essential in keeping the prisoner issue (and my uncle's case in particular) alive. Notable among many are Yoani Sánchez (more courageous than ANY of us for publishing her postings from inside the island), Joan Antonio Guerrero Vall and his #OZT effort (I love the Emile Zola J'Accuse reference), and even the Babalú guys (yes, the ones that kicked me off their blog for liking Silvio Rodríguez's music). But I leave the best for last! Marc Masferrer and his Uncommon Sense blog (again, I love the Thomas Paine reference) has been the flagship for everyone who has been proactive in the dissemination of information about Cuba's dissident community. Without Marc, many of us wouldn't have "met" and this task would have been much more difficult. Also, I can't think of anyone else who has been more generous with his time and energy. Again, I predict that there will be a special place for bloggers in the annals of Cuba and Marc's name will be front and center. Thank you, Marc, from the bottom of my heart.

The dissidents themselves (both inside and outside the island and both inside and outside of prison) have been the key to this glorious day. Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Guillermo Fariñas, Damas de Blanco. To quote Silvio quoting Bertolt Brecht, "esos son los imprescindibles." In the early days, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and his blog were an essential source of information about Tony's health condition. I thank Oswaldo and his brother Carlos for being there for Tony since day one.

I'd like to conclude these acknowledgments by thanking my friends and family. Many of you have been there to offer words of encouragement and advise. Your support has been invaluable. My mom has been all over this like white on rice. Tony is like a son to her and his imprisonment has been the worst kind of psychological torture to her. I admire her for her perseverance. My wife Carolina has been priceless. Without getting into too much detail, she was instrumental in connecting several key pieces of this puzzle. I'd have to say that, without her, we would not have been as successful getting the message out.

Before I sign out for the evening, I'd like to think that Tony is sitting comfortably on the plane right now and is getting ready to take off. I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight, but I know for a fact that I'll be up early checking for news of his arrival. My feelings right now are not unlike those I experienced when I set foot in Miami upon my return from Iraq. I am content with the outcome as I look back on all the difficult moments. I realize also that it took a massive team effort to get here.

On a lighter note, I guess I'll have to change the blog description soon! I also can't wait to replace Tony's picture with a current one. There is no doubt that it will be a happy one because I will insist on a smile from my subject.

BTW, in case you were wondering, the picture is of the other Tony Díaz in the family. He is my eldest son.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tony's daughter issues calls for solidarity with her father

In her most recent letter (quoted below), my cousin Yenysel is asking anyone interested in helping with the cause of Tony's release to write letters and postcards of support to Tony. She arrived in the US recently and hasn't seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but those of you that have seen the film will recall that Senator Jeff Smith launched his two-day filibuster in the hopes that the floor of the Senate would be flooded with letters of support. This is pretty much the effect she is aiming for. On a related note, Uncommon Sense posted a letter from a fellow prisoner of conscience, Adolfo Fernández Saínz, that corroborates the facts in Yeny's plea and calls for interested parties to write to Lt. Col. Reinerio Díaz Betancourt, the prison warden, at the following address:

Prisión Provincial de Canaletas
Carretera Sanguily, KM 2 ½
Ciego de Ávila, CP 65 100

Without further ado, here is my translation of her letter:
My name is Yenysel Díaz Sánchez. Many of you already know me because of the letters I have written asking for the solidarity of all persons of good faith that might be able to intercede on my father's behalf. His name is Antonio Ramón Díaz Sánchez and I am asking for your help obtaining his release. He is one of the prisoners of conscience arrested during the black spring of 2003 in Cuba. I don't wish to bore you with all the details of the sad story that began on March 19, 2003. My goal is to denounce the injustices committed against my father, which have taken on the form of official harassment. Although Tony has been diagnosed with a chronic colon ailment, the prison authorities have failed to furnish him with the special diet prescribed by the doctors. He is being held more than 500 kilometers from his home, thus forcing his loved ones to make a difficult journey for a two-hour visit. Sentenced to 20 years in prison for fighting to defend his rights and those of his people through non-violent means, Tony is once again being confined to an isolation cell with the dimensions of a cage, a concrete slab to sleep on, and a hole for his bodily functions. Tony is the victim of blackmail, punished for his refusal to accept the authorities' offer to transfer him to a facility near Havana (which is closer to his home) if he were to wear the same uniform issued to common criminals.
Unable to break the will of a man unwilling to compromise his dignity, the harassment grows worse. For the last three months, his correspondence has been censored. I appeal to your sense of justice and ask you to express your solidarity with our cause by showing the Cuban regime that Tony is not alone and that there are those that would advocate for his freedom. To show your support, please send your letters or postcards to the following address:

Prisión Provincial de Canaletas
Zona de Aislamiento
Celda #1 Pasillo #1
Carretera Sanguily, KM 2 ½
Ciego de Ávila, CP 65 100

I'd like to express my family's appreciation for your kindness. It is your continued support that gives us the hope that we might someday enjoy once more the joy of our father's company.

Thank you.

Uncommon Sense

#OZT I Accuse the Cuban Government

Generación Y

Oswaldo Payá

La mochila de Jorge Moragas