From Inside Cuba

Distributed by The Cuba Free Press Project.

Havana, April 8, 1998, Cuba Free Press


The founding member of Corriente Agramontista, a Cuban civic association which groups members within the legal profession, has been jailed since July 16, 1997. His future remains uncertain, as is the future of his colleagues within the Task-force for the Internal Dissident Movement: Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Vladimiro Roca Antunes, and Felix Bonnet Carcaces, each of whom is being held in separate prisons.

Of the four member of the Task-force, the quietest one is Rene Gomez Manzano. Born in Havana, on December 19th, 1943, he is described by his older brother Jorge, as a very mysterious and quiet type of guy. "He was always in his room, reading, studying. He used to watch t.v. when there was something that interested him. He did listen to the radio a lot, local radio, as well as, from abroad, in an old Russian made Selena radio."

The difference which Jorge points out is that, before 1959, when he was 11 years old, Rene had been sent by his parents to study "high school" in a small American city, by the Appalachian Mountains, and later took up wood carving. After the "triumph" of the Revolution, Rene earned a scholarship to study International Law at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. In addition to learning Russian, Gomez Manzano is fluent in English and French, and also studies Esperanto. Reading and chess are two of his "hobbies". In Aguica, Matanzas, some 180 kilometers from the Cuban capital, is the prison where Rene is presently being held, since last October, after a three month stay of constant interrogations at Villa Marista, the State Security headquarters. Rene uses the solitude of his jail cell to practice chess.

As many other thousands of Cubans who became disappointed at the revolutionary process and picked up some creed, Gomez Manzano became close to Catholicism through the Church of Nuestra Senora del Rosario, close to his home in the Havana neighborhood of Vedado. While in Aguica, he has requested the services of the priests for the prisoners, one of the humanitarian services provided by Caritas, ONG of the Cuban Catholic Church, but the requests have been rejected. Jorge, his brother, spoke directly with the priest at the Parroquia de Colon, a distant town, some 9 kilometers from the prison, and his reply was that he had stopped trying to minister to the prisoners as his requests had also been denied. The same situation is faced by Marta Beatriz at Manto Negro, in the outskirts of the capital, and Vladimiro in Arizas, Cienfuegos, some 300 kilometers from Havana. During the March 9th, visit, Marta was not allowed to be given the book Crossing the Walkway of Hope, a selection of writings by Pope John Paul II.

Jorge can visit his brother Rene every 21 days. Every three weeks, Vladimiro and Felix Bonnet, both jailed in Guanajay, can be visited by their families. Marta Beatriz, the only woman in the group, has visits every Monday. Once a week, the attorneys for the authors of "The Motherland Belongs to All", can visit their clients. The one who has received the most attention has been Bonnet Carcaces, whose attorney, Dr. Juan Escandel, also a member of Agramontista Current, weekly talks to his client. Lately, Dr. Joaquin Hernandez, the lawyer for Marta Beatriz, has started visiting her, and Dr. Eduardo Sorrie has only been able to visit Aguica prison once, to speak to his client, Rene Gomez Manzano.

Due to personal and work related problems, Dr. Amelia Rodriguez has not been able to meet with her client, Vladimiro Roca since he was transferred from Villa Marista to the main prison facility in Cienfuegos. The lawyer's expenses are covered by the families of the prisoners and in the case of Roca, they need at least $100 dollars to cover the trip from the capital to Ariza prison. The worst part is that, if they are tried and convicted, they will be taken even further. Even is the visits then will only be limited to every 45 days.

Rene Gomez Manzanos' health at this time is good, in spite of the horrible situation of the food supplies at the prison, with cabbage soup and rice at every feeding. He has had eye problems due to the shortage of light in the cell. Rene is nearsighted and uses contact lenses. At 65 years old, his brother Jorge still looks strong. He has stoically taken up the task of picking up heavy packages and overcome insurmountable obstacles (transportation, bad weather) but he has never missed a single visit to his brother, Rene. "His outlook is excellent. Now I find him looking more relaxed and each time we see each other we talk as it we were in our own living room." The brothers have lost their parents and form a small family. Rene was married but divorced some years ago, didn't have children. Jorge has two grown children, who are married.

A lawyer to the end, Rene has received the news of a possible release without much enthusiasm. He is keeping track of the efforts to obtain the release of the four, from the request made by the Pope to the American Secretary of State. Due to his experience and knowledge of the internal legal mechanisms, he thinks that they will probably be tried at the municipal tribunal level, so as to deflect the international attention placed on the Task-force. The fanfare is less at that level. Perhaps they will give them small sentences. "You must take into account the amount of time that they've been in prison already", and either before, or after, they serve their sentences, they can be forced to leave the country permanently. Because from what we've seen so far, Rene, Marta, Vladimiro, and Felix, must surely be convinced that they are persona non-grata to Fidel Castro and his regime.

Rene Gomez Manzano has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. In 1997, he shared with Leonel Morejon Almagro, another dissident lawyer, the annual award given by the American Bar Association, the association of American lawyers. Abroad, Corriente Agramontista is represented by Dr. Pablo Yabre, Cuban lawyer exiled in Florida.

By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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