Cuban Political Prisoner Free After 24 Years
MIAMI (AP) _ Two days after arriving straight from a Cuban prison, Angel Pardo was still in wonderment.
″Being here,″ he said in Spanish, ″is like a dream.″
Just 48 hours earlier, Pardo was having breakfast at Havana’s Combinado del Este prison, among five prisons he was shuffled to over 24 years for counterrevolutionary activities against Fidel Castro’s government.
Pardo, who was 21 when he was jailed as a political prisoner, spent more than half his life in prison.
He is philosophical about the long confinement in which he said he was kept incommunicado for more than seven years and suffered psychological torture.
″The sacrifice has been great, but it was something, part of history, I had to do ... for my country,″ he said with little emotion during a recent interview.
Thousands of former Cuban political prisoners have arrived in Miami in trickles and large groups since Castro came to power in 1959. Yet many more remain jailed, including 13 ″plantados,″ inmates serving sentences of 20 to 30 years who refuse government ″re-education.″
For Pardo, 45, who arrived here in mid-October with two other plantados, the reality of freedom in Miami has been tempered by anguish for his old cellmates still behind bars.
From November 1987 to September of this year, more than 2,600 Cubans, including former political prisoners and members of their immediate families, were admitted to the United States, said Nat Kingsley, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
A 1984 immigration pact renewed a year ago between the United States and Cuba allows up to 23,000 Cubans to emigrate. The Cuban government, in return, agreed to take back 2,500 Cubans who arrived during the Mariel boatlift and are being held in this country for criminal offenses.
Sitting recently in the modest northwest Miami home of his parents, a warm breeze wafting in through an open front door, Pardo smiled when he slipped in conversation and said, ″... here in Cuba.″
Born Angel Enrique Pardo Mazorra in the Punta Brava section of Havana, he was the middle child between two sisters, Lilia and Barbara.
The son of a lawyer, also Angel Pardo, and a homemaker, Dolores, he was a good student who was educated in public schools and entered the private Masonic University in 1960 to study law.
Two years later, when Castro put all private schools under government control, Pardo quit the university and began studying French at the French Alliance.
″I was always against the (Castro) regime, and I became involved with conspiracies against the state,″ he said straightforwardly.
As he slept early one morning, Cuban authorities came to his home.
″They said they wanted to talk to me for five minutes, and then I’d be able to return home,″ Pardo said. ″It took me 24 years.″
The date was Nov. 5, 1964. The initial interrogation by Cuban security lasted 23 days, he said.
Pardo was first imprisoned at Cabana in Havana, where overcrowding forced him to sleep on the floor, food was scarce and, he said, prisoners heard the firing squad every night.
After learning he had been sentenced to 30 years of forced labor, Pardo was moved four months later to Isle of Pines. For two years, he cut weeds and dug trenches; those who refused, he said, were beaten or shot.
It was after Pardo and others refused to wear the blue prison uniforms of the common criminal, rather than the yellow ones they had previously worn, that he was moved in 1967 to Pinar del Rio, west of Havana. Thrown together into a block of cells and wearing no clothes, the inmates became known as ″La Ciudad Desnuda (Naked City).″
Confined to their cells, fed little, sleeping without blankets, Pardo recalled, ″We had to go on hunger strike so that we’d at least be able to wear underwear.″
At Boniato prison in eastern Cuba’s Oriente province, Pardo spent 7 1/2 years incommunicado in cells closed off with sheets of metal. Letters never reached him, Pardo said, and his family left for Miami in 1970 without ever being able to say goodbye.
A poem he wrote at the prison in 1980 begins:
″We struggle for a more humane world
without fences, thick walls or tyrants
where the sun doesn’t rise between chains
nor the moon lay down over stones ...″
An elderly aunt in Cuba kept Pardo’s family in exile informed of his whereabouts, and later when he was taken to Combinado del Este in Havana, she visited and brought him packages.
The situation improved some in the early 1980s as the plight of the political prisoners became known and international delegations visited the island, Pardo said.
Pardo, whose release along with Alberto Jane Padron and Valentin Figueroa Galvez was secured through the efforts of U.S. Rep. William Lehman, D-Fla., said that among the 13 plantados remaining in Cuban jails, Ignacio Cuesta Valle has served nearly 30 years.