CubaNews / November 2010
By Larry Luxner
All things considered, Rolando Jiménez Posada is one lucky cubano. Liberated from his filthy, stinking jail cell after seven years and nine months behind bars, the 40-year-old dissident is today not only a free man — but enjoys considerably better living conditions than his fellow ex-political prisoners living in Spain.
Jiménez is the first Cuban “prisoner of conscience” to be given aslyum by the Czech Republic — a fierce opponent of communism whose leaders are urging the 27-member European Union not to normalize relations with Havana until the regime makes significant progress on human rights and democracy.
CubaNews caught up with Jiménez on Oct. 28, only two days after his arrival in the Czech capital. Over coffee and orange soda, we interviewed him for an hour at the secluded and tightly guarded government guest house on the outskirts of Prague where he has been given temporary lodging.
“To be honest, I never really wanted to leave Cuba,” said the one-time lawyer, who was born and raised in Nueva Gerona, the capital of Isla de Pinos (Isle of Youth).
“But on Oct. 9, Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me in prison and proposed the idea of me being released, on the condition I leave Cuba permanently. I knew about this because I had read in the newspapers about the liberation of the prisoners of conscience of 2003.”
Jiménez Posada’s long road from Pinos to Prague had its roots in the late 1980s, when Jiménez became a military officer, traveling to both Angola and the Congo.
He eventually attained the rank of colonel and chose a career in military intelligence. He worked for awhile in both Havana and Isla de la Juventud for DNA, the regime’s counternarcotics bureau.
But in 1996, Jiménez decided to abandon his military career. “By then, I already had a wife and child, and economically it was difficult. My salary was very low, and as a lawyer working in civil law, I could earn more money.”
Around that time, Jiménez became interested in the dissident movement. He joined a group called Corriente Agromontista, a group of lawyers willing to litigate political cases against the state.
The group was formed in 1990 by Dr. René Gómez Manzano and Leonel Morejón Almagro, whose goal was to reform Cuba’s judicial system from within — requiring the Castro regime to obey its own laws.
In 1997, both men won an award from the American Bar Association but couldn’t attend the awards ceremony in San Francisco because they were being detained in Havana.
Jiménez later formed his own group, Centro Democrático Pinero de Derechos Humanos, with 38 members — including seven lawyers.
His first brush with the law occurred in December 2001, when he was temporarily detained and beaten after taking part in a peaceful celebration to mark the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Jiménez was again detained in June 2002, and the following month was threatened at his home in Nueva Gerona after handing out copies of the famous UN declaration. At that point, he was warned by state security that he’d be thrown in jail if he kept staging public activities in support of political prisoners.
In early 2003, Jiménez and his friends dared to put up signs along the main street of Nueva Gerona declaring “Abajo de la Dictadura!” and “Abajo Fidel!”
He was immediately taken to the local Interior Ministry headquarters and detained for three days, and later transferred to Havana’s infamous Combinado del Este prison.
“Originally, 137 people were detained in Cuba. Of these, 75 were eventually brought to trial,” Jiménez explained. “In Cuba, the law says you must be tried within six months, but I waited four years to be brought to trial.”
It wasn’t until April 2007 that the dictatorship formally sentenced Jiménez to 12 years in jail for “disrespecting” Fidel Castro and releasing secrets of the state security police.
“Really, according to the law, my crime was public disorder, for which the maximum sentence is three months,” he told CubaNews. “But the authorities did not want to qualify it as public disorder, but rather desacato — disrespect — and enemy propaganda.”
A year after his arrest, Amnesty International named Jiménez a prisoner of conscience.
In Havana, the inmate was singled out for special punishment in “Area 47,” where he languished mostly in solitary confinement. In Nueva Gerona, his tiny jail cell measured two by two meters, with only a bed and toilet.
“In the prison on Isla de la Juventud, we were allowed out only on Mondays and Tuesdays, and only for an hour,” he said. “Prisons in Cuba have rules, and one of those rules is that prisoners must wear uniforms. But we refused, because for us, that’s like being a common criminal.
Jiménez, who has trouble reading because he spent so much time in the dark, said during his long years of detention he was allowed family visits for two hours every month.
He also received medicine and reading material from friends in the Czech Republic, which is why he’s ended up here.
CubaNews interviewed Jiménez on Oct. 28, six days after he was freed from jail and put on a plane to Spain, where the Czech ambassador was waiting for him at the airport.
“We had a very close links with the Czechs, and the conditions here are much better than those who went to Spain,” he said. “I had the opportunity to visit where they’re staying in Madrid, and they’re living in a hostel.”
By contrast, Jiménez is being accommodated in a relatively upscale guest house in the suburbs, about a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown Prague. A security guard stands at the heavy metal gate, questioning all visitors. It’s clear no agents of Cuban state security will bother the former prisoner here.”
He’s not alone, however.
“My ex-wife is here with me because she’s the mother of my only son,” said Jiménez. , at which point 41-year-old Lamasiel Gutiérrez walked into the room and introduced herself.
An independent journalist and former correspondent for the dissident website Misceláneas de Cuba, Gutiérrez spent most of 2003 in jail. She left Cuba along with Jiménez, their son, Rolando Jesús Jiménez Gutiérrez, the ex-prisoner’s brother, Geovani Jiménez Posada, and a niece, Diana Sánchez Jiménez.
“My ex-wife went to the Czech Embassy in Havana, and they gave us visas to travel here,” he said. “The ambassador went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and proposed the idea, but they said no, they’re not going to let anyone go to the Czech Republic.” But then the Catholic Church intervened, and the family was allowed to leave.
“Tomorrow, we are going to do the papers to receive political asylum,” he said. “This doesn’t mean I will be a Czech citizen. You have to live here for 10 years to be a citizen.”
While his ex-wife hopes to relocate as soon as possible to South Florida, where she has lots of family members, Jiménez says he’ll be content to stay in the Czech Republic.
So far, he has no complaints — despite Prague’s cold climate and a language that’s completely unfamiliar to his ears.
“Since the first day I got here, they’re giving us a pension that covers everything, plus 100 korunas (about $5.88) per person per day for food,” he told us. “Next week, I begin a Czech language course, and I will have a translator at my disposition.”
One more thing: Jiménez said he resents the idea that only dissidents who got money from the U.S. Agency for International Development or some other source of funding from Washington ended up in jail.
“Our group was self-financed,” he insisted. “We had a rule that 10% of our members’ income had to be given to the organization. Most of us worked for the state and earned less, but some of our members ran casas particulares and had extra money. I never took any money from the U.S. government.”