Human Rights in Cuba

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September 2013
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Orange Juice Runs Through My Veins / Mario Lleonart
Posted on September 1, 2013

Not even I understand how much those nearly eight months — from 30
November 1993 to 28 July 1994 — affected the rest of my life. I was used
as cheap and reliable labor, exposed to hard labor in the citrus
harvest, to the substantial economic benefit of the Cuban regime and the
Grupo B.M. y Waknine & Berezovsky Co. Ltd. Over the years now I hve come
to understand that it was a chapter God had for me. The experiences I
went through had to do with things far beyond what I imagine, given all
that I have been and done since then.

My friend Omar Lopez Montenegro whom I met last June on my trip to
Poland excitedly tells his experience at the famous Pre- of de
la Víbora, a site which has also been immortalized thanks to another of
its graduates, the writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes, who turned this
mythical place into the origin of the backstory of his character
detective Mario Conde.

The joint non-violent resistence of Omar and other friends prevented
some gatekeepers from cutting their long hair during a period of
mobilization in the field. I lived something similar in Boom 400 of the
EJT (Ejercito de Trabajo Juvenil, or the Youth Labor ) and above all
the vivid outrages will stay with me forever.

After walking for three months among the concentration camps adjacent to
the towns of San Jose Torriente and San José de Marcos, they made us
return to that of Socorro en Pedro Betancourt. Supposedly from this Boom
400, which was our original camp, the suppliies assigned to us should
have arrived, but we received nothing during those three months during
which we wandered on some supposed mission whose high work goals were
never met.

During those three months we didn’t even get a pass to go to our homes.
We felt sorry for ourselves. Our clothes were dirty and ragged as could
be. Most of us were walking barefoot, a few with broken boots. One of
the generals named Acebedos came by for inspections and called us “the
shirtless”, and a relaxed captain in the camp next to Torrientes,
seemingly moved by compassion, told us — pointing at his massive gut:
“Don’t be discouraged boys, I lost this belly in the army”.

On returning to our original camp, we held out the hope that things
might change, but on arrival, a new unit chief met us: a Navy captain
whose punishment was being sent to the EJT. And I became aware of
another characterisic of this invincible army: it was the punishment
site for MININT, Armed Forces, and even Navy officers.

For us, the officer’s reception was to inform us that we’d just arrived
at Boom 400, and we had to earn all we asked for. An additional answer
to our worries was the delivery of immense Chinese machetes, and after a
miserable lunch, he made us go to some place infested with the invasive
marabú weed that we had to pull up and prepare for the planting of citrus.

That was more than a humiliation. Supposedly, in those conditions we
didn’t cut even one marabú, our patience having completely dripped away,
so even better we organized and so it was like that night in May 1994
when, in protest, the complete squad deserted and we agreed that nobody
would return for at least a week. The silent exit from the camp and the
trip, one by one, through the orange orchards towards the national
highway where in a matter of minutes we undertook a course towards Las
Villas, were the most glorious moments of those eight months of abuse.

On our return, at least those who returned — some never did — we were
subject to trial in the camp’s ampitheater, seeking an answer: “Who had
been the leader?” The end of the trial consisted in the delivery of the
supplies they’d deprived us of for the last eight months, our manner of
nonviolent protest showed the vulnerability of those who thought they
had power and made us discover that power was really in our hands.

The en masse desertion of an EJT squad had made the news all over the
island and uncovered corruption in high places. Although I was
liberated, that unforgettable July 28, 1994, I can’t deny that since
then, orange juice runs through my veins.

Translated by: JT

12 August 2013

Source: “Orange Juice Runs Through My Veins / Mario Lleonart |
Translating Cuba” –

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