The Cuban Black Spring – a term that has come to describe the government crackdown on dissidents that took place in 2003 – marks its ninth anniversary this year. Seventy-five people were imprisoned after the repressive move, accused of acting as agents of the United States.
All the political prisoners detained during the Black Spring were eventually freed, starting in 2010, with exile to Spain being a condition of their release. The dissidents that refused this condition were among the last to be set free.
The injustice of the sentences inspired the formation of Cuba's most famous and well-respected opposition group, Las Damas de Blanco (The Ladies in White), made up of the wives and other female relatives of the dissidents, which lobbied via peaceful protest for their release.
The ninth anniversary of the Black Spring has many Cuban bloggers remembering their history and wondering whether anything has fundamentally changed – especially in the context of the impending papal visit and the pontiff's apparent inability to meet with opposition groups to discuss the country's human rights record.
Reinaldo Escobar, writing at Translating Cuba, notes that:
On the ninth anniversary of the Black Spring of 2003, and in the environment leading up to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba, the Cuban political police have intensified their repressive activities against the Ladies in White.
It is at least paradoxical that State Security acts as if it has the conviction that the ecclesiastic authorities are not going to protest. It gives the impression that an understanding has been reached, or is being reached, between the government and the Catholic church, under which the police have a free hand to repress, and the religious to expand their prerogatives with regards to worship. There will be more processions, more permissions to rebuild churches, seminaries and convents, in exchange for a commitment to look only to heaven.
Luckily, faith does not depend on these blunders. What will be damaged over the long term is the influence of the Catholic church in a future without a dictatorship.
Pedazos da la Isla notes that nine years later, the crackdowns continue:
On the ninth anniversary of Cuba’s Black Spring (where 75 dissidents were arbitrarily arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 2003) and only one week before the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the island, a number of human rights activists throughout the country were repressed and detained, especially the Ladies in White who were attempting to go to mass in their respective local churches, this past Sunday. This oppressive wave also extended itself into the city of Pinar del Rio..
While Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter wonders whether another Black Spring is imminent, another Translating Cuba contributor – and one of the Black Spring 75 – Juan Adolfo Fernández Sainz, shares a moving testimony:
The same day, March 18, 2003 I went to Chinatown, in downtown Havana, to exchange ideas with colleagues in the independent press. The issue was the Iraq War, which had been declared unilaterally, and without the strong international support there had been for Operation Desert Storm, after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
Like the previous day there had been numerous arrests of opponents, it crossed my mind to burn some papers but I decided not to. My articles, my comments, I wrote to be published. They were my views and had nothing to hide. I did not feel guilty. The afternoon of the 19th my house underwent a thorough search.
My room was filled with soldiers until dawn. I noticed that the people who had invaded my space did not know anything about us. They had previously been poisoned. To them I was a traitor in the service of a foreign power.
In the process of the criminal investigation, it was the same. All they cared about was that I incriminate the U.S. government…I concluded that they were not even interested to get to the truth only to condemn us by all means.
It was a brutal sentence. One day in prison I amused myself adding up the sentences of all the 75; we had almost 1500 years in total, an average of twenty. None of us had committed violent acts, or incited violence. There have been worst waves of repression, but nothing so cruel against proven civil and peaceful opposition. All the major projects proposed by the opponents were for a peaceful transition to democracy.
I spent seven years in prison and have no regrets. After I chose the easiest route and went abroad. Hence my commitment to those who decided to stay. And my decision to do whatever my conscience tells me to, to support the fight we have chosen. Not to impose any idea. I know them, they want the best for Cuba.