Oppression in Cuba

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuban writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo gives a talk at a meeting of the Pen Club in Iceland Saturday 10 October 2015 at 14 in the City Library in Grofin, Reykjavik Centre. The meeting is co-sponsored by the City Library. Pardo describes the systemic abuse of human rights in Cuba and the reasons he was forced to leave the country. Pardo was born in Havana 1971 and received a degree in biochemistry from the University of Havana. Around 2000, he became a photographer and writer, starting the online magazine Voces in 2010, the only such magazine in Cuba. The material from Voces often had to be clandestinely distributed on CDs or in photocopies, as the authorities try to limit access to the Internet. In 2009, Cuban secret service agents sought out Pardo and a colleague of his and gave them a beating. In September 2012, Pardo was arrested, but when the news of the arrest spred, a multitude gathered outside the prison where he was held, to protest. He was released later the same day. He later moved to the United States where he has edited and contributed to a collection of short stories, Cuba in Splinters. He also writes poems and blogs.

In the beginning of 1959, communists seized power in Cuba and have ruled the fertile, sunny, tropical island since then with an iron fist, long under the leadership of Fidel Castro. Their oppressive regime is described in the Black Book of Communism, published in Icelandic in 2009. Almost 30,000 people are thought to have perished as a result of their activities (compared to around 3,000 in Pinochet’s Chile). More than 100,000 people have had to spend time in prisons and labour camps. In addition to a powerful secret police, the Cuban communists organised special neighbourhood committees to watch over people and to discover any dissent. Individual enterprise is held down as much as possible. It is estimated that around two million people have fled the country: they have “voted with their oars”. Icelandic leftists have however been staunch supporters of the Cuban communist regime. Magnus Kjartansson, editor of their now-defunct organ The Nation’s Will (Thjodviljinn), went to Cuba in 1962, spent an evening with Che Guevara and listened to two of Castro’s long speeches, and subsequently wrote a pro-Castro book, The Cuban Revolution (Byltingin a Kubu). Many Icelandic leftists also worked as volunteers on Castro’s sugar plantations, including literary critic Silja Adalsteinsdottir, also for a while editor of The Nation’s Will, and labour leader Pall Halldorsson. The last action of the main leftist party, the People’s Alliance, before it was dissolved in 1998 was to send a delegation to the Cuban Communist Party, led by two former Party Chairmen, Margret Frimannsdottir and Svavar Gestsson. They asked for an interview, or rather an audience, with Fidel Castro, who did not bother to receive them.

Cuban refugees vote with their oars. From the Black Book of Communism.

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