The resistance to President Castro’s control of Cuban culture seems to be building despite the government’s new restrictions.
The Cuban government has been tightening its grip on dissidents, sentencing opposition leader Rene González on Monday to 16 years in prison for “propaganda against the revolution.” And last week the same court upheld the life sentence of government critic Laura Pollán, who was sentenced to 15 years in 2008.
But despite the increased crackdown, Mr. González remains defiant. On Monday, the 75-year-old wrote a farewell to the Cuban people in which he urged them to resist and called upon the international community to intervene.
At a press conference, a defiant González claimed that he will still ignore government restrictions on his freedom of expression, and this week he will lead the first “Just Venezuela,” a public protest outside of parliament, organized in tribute to the people of Venezuela.
“When I had a revolutionary government [in Cuba], I participated in all kinds of actions,” González told the Associated Press. “But now, as a human being, I don’t want to go through any kind of preventive detention. I’ll stay.”
“I will try to continue and make people know and contribute, as much as I can, to the resistance,” he added.
González was arrested for the first time in 1984 while out canvassing for votes and was later jailed at the time for belonging to the National Assembly, which he leads. Over the next two decades, he spent his time bringing non-violent protest to the streets of Havana in order to bring about political change in the communist country.
The three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who had served 14 consecutive years in prison on trumped-up criminal charges, was previously cleared of criminal charges in May 2016, but two months later he was re-arrested under different charges.
“What [calls to social responsibility] motivate me to keep talking is the dignity of the Cuban people,” González said, noting that he joined the Communist Party because he liked the idea of helping other people.
“It can be very difficult, because you are considered a political dissident and a criminal but [the communist government] insists on saying, ‘you are a traitor,’” González added.
González noted that throughout his time in prison the government had never proved that he had raised seditious slogans or had offered his services to the opposition in any way.
“What makes me so confident in my word that I know there is no sign of any support of sedition,” he said.
Although the United States is responsible for much of the unrest and the population’s frustration with the Castros, González says that Cuba’s population is largely ready to call for elections.
“In my last political action, during the swearing-in ceremony for the new president, I spoke about the constitutional government’s weakness and about the need for a change of this type,” he said.
“This was met with applause, I guess and the people said I have my own opinion. And I had more than 200 people there.”