In 1969, when he was only 19 years old, my brother was drafted into the ranks of the Centennial Youth Column. At that time we were living in the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Sur, in the province of Camagúey. I was very young, then, only 10, and there are some things I don’t remember clearly, so I told my brother about this book that I am writing, and that I needed his collaboration to recreate a true account of what he endured in the best days of his life- not for the pleasures he enjoyed, but for his youth.

My brother now lives in Naples, Florida. His health  is very delicate and this in large measure is because of the punishment and abuse he suffered in Cuba, from the age of 19 until his departure.

My family were believers of the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This religion has a principle the non-interference in political affairs and non-participation in military exercises.

In 1969 my brother was called to join in this military youth column. They took him to the sugar mill that was then called Francisco Guayabal, now known as  Amancio Rodriguez,  along with 300 other recruits they wanted to use as slaves in agriculture. I use the word slave because they would have to work from sunrise to sunset without receiving any pay, in addition to the military exercises.

Because of his religious principles, my brother refused to be drafted. At that moment they arrested him, and he can’t remember exactly where they took him to try to convince him to change his mind, with threats and beatings. Then they locked him in a small cell with very bright lighting. According to my brother, two days later, after a summary trail by the TR1 (Revolutionary Court Number One), he was condemned to death for treason, to make an example of him for the others who had been mobilized. After they drew so much blood from him that he became weak and dizzy, he was led back to the punishment cell. In the very early morning he and three other prisoners were led to a place outside that looked like a shooting range. It was still dark, lit up with lights of the cars.  They put the four men in front of some piles of earth and formed a firing squad.

With dark colored rags they blindfolded two prisoners, although  my brother and one other were not  blindfolded. When they called out the order to fire, my brother said he felt the shock and fell to the ground,  but did not feel injured,  and from the ground he saw them give the coup de grace to the other three, whom he believes were counterrevolutionaries.  It seems that they only wanted to terrorize him, which caused him enormous emotional distress. It made him lose consciousness which he only recovered when he was back in his cell.

It took only a little time to execute this  terrible torture which is to this day engraved to his core, part of a series of punishments and physical and emotional abuse that he had to endure. Engraved also in his mind is the execution of these three, whose names he never knew, nor what they were accused of.

A few days after this he ws released, but he was then made to stand trial again before a people’s court in the rural village called Arroyo Blanco, with many notables of the town taking part as witnesses. This time, he was condemned to four years imprisonment. He served two years, in various prisons, with most of the time spent in the prison of Morón. During this time he was subjected to punishment of all types including beatings. They wanted to break his religious will but they were not able to do it.

He was finally released as part of an amnesty declared by Raul Castro for military prisoners. But this was not the end of this. In 1976 he was drafted again, told that he would have to fulfill his  military service. Once again he explained that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and that for religious reasons he could not receive any military training and must refuse to comply with SMO ( Obligatory Military Service).

They put him on trial again and this time he was sentenced to another  2 years imprisonment, during which he was once again subjected to mental and physical abuse. During these two years he was sent to a variety of different prisons.

After serving his sentence, he  decided to move to the provincial capital, the city of Camaguey, where he lived many years without any political harassment.

But the harassment began again in 1990 (translator’s note- the year the Soviet Union fell, The Cuban regime felt particularly threatened). His house was searched several times. On one of those occasions they found some biblical texts reproduced by typewriter. The texts and his typewriter were confiscated, and a new trial was opened against him. This time he was sentenced to  3 months imprisonment for unlawful reproduction of biblical texts.

After completing these three months he was released but the pressure and harassment increased, and he was continuously being summoned to the State security unit in the Garrido neighborhood,  and also by the PNR (National Revolutionary Police). He was periodically visited by a security officer. It got to the point that these people proposed that he should do security work for them.  He refused at all times.

His house was under constant surveillance. Security people came and went.

But he was not intimidated by anyone, nor were they able to force him to change his faith- quite the contrary.  All these experiences made it impossible for him to make any deal with this repressive regime.

In the year 1996 he appeared at the Office of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to apply for refugees status for him and his family, and this was granted.

Today my brother is in poor health and in my opinion a lot of that is because of the abuse and mistreatment during his years in Cuba, where a person could be persecuted or harassed simpy because of his religious belief, or for being a homosexual. This is part of Castro’s legacy in Cuba.

These are not isolated cases but form parts of a great chain. Although some things have improved in recent years, we remember these efforts to crush people without any remorse.

Caleb Vega