Latin Dictators Still Torture, But Cuban Dissidents Fighting Back

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Latin dictators still torture, but Cuban dissidents fighting back

Years ago Latin American dictators had thugs who became experts at torturing all who opposed the regime.

It happened in Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere. Some would use pliers to yank fingernails out. Others would put out the stubs of their smokes in the feet of the prisoners. This would hurt and was a reminder for days afterward.

There were many other forms of physical torture, but even writing about them hurts.

When Fidel Castro took over Cuba, he called on citizen juries to determine the guilt or innocence of men accused of torturing his followers during the Batista regime. They found thousands guilty and executed them within hours of the trial.

Still others — the lucky ones — were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. Some were condemned to live behind bars for 20 or 30 years.

Roberto Martín Pérez was one of them. He served 28 years on charges he was involved in a plot with Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo to oust the Castro regime.

There were many others. So many that in 1978, the Cuban regime would magnanimously release 3,800 political prisoners.

I knew many of them. One — Andrés Vargas Gómez — was my wife's uncle. Raoul Alfonso was my cousin. Alfredo Izaguirre was the son of my father's business partner and a close friend until they accused him of a plot to kill Fidel Castro.

On the Isle of Pines, Izaguirre was told to work in the fields. He refused, and the guards used a bayonet on his thigh to try to force him to do what he was being told to do.

The Cuban regime depended on these physical tortures to remain in power. Years later, the prison sentences are shorter. The state security agents have found they can beat dissidents and then throw them in a cell for two or three days and that works just as well.

What I had never heard in Cuba was the use of physiological repression.

Venezuela took the lead on that.

Last week Lilian Tintori, wife of Leopoldo López, the best-known Venezuelan political prisoner, was forced to disrobe in front of security guards to make sure she was not bringing in anything prohibited. She and another woman were forced to disrobe in front of Tintori's son and submitted to a body search by the guards.

Tintori said the guards took their time and inspected her body closely. This made the torture even more degrading.

Last Saturday I met with a group of Cuban dissidents.

One said that when he was in jail and his wife came to visit him, she was forced into a room where a naked man entered to make sure she had nothing for her husband.

Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations have condemned all forms of torture. The physiological ones leave no scars on the body, but leave scars on those suffering them for the rest of their lives.

The recent National Assembly elections in Venezuela gives one hope that soon Venezuela might be among the hemisphere's free nations.

A united opposition gained the majority of the seats in the National Assembly. President Nicolás Maduro refused to accept the results until international pressure forced him to do so.

Still, he named new judges loyal to him to minimize the effects of what the new National Assembly might do.

Still, Venezuela is closer today to become a democracy — after 16 years of Hugo Chávez and Maduro as presidents — than Cuba. I am happy for all my Venezuelan friends and hope that day comes sooner than later.

Cuba is another story. Raul Castro says the regime will not change despite all the efforts of President Barack Obama, who continues giving Cuba freebies to see if this will help in the negotiations.

Obama, and all who believe Raul Castro can be lured to change by offering him things to make life easier for the people, is wrong. Material things will not lure Castro to change. Nothing that might move the Cuban people to rise up against him is acceptable.

Still there is growing dissent inside Cuba.

One of the dissidents told me Saturday night. "Cubans are losing their fear of the regime."

May he be right.