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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Cuba dissident: 'Fear is everywhere'
Cuba's President Fidel Castro - the world's longest-serving leader - turns 80 on 13 August. The BBC News website looks at the impact the Revolution he led has had on the lives of two Cubans: one a supporter, the other a dissident.

Poet and journalist Raul Rivero was among 75 dissidents handed down long jail sentences in 2003. Accused of being in the pay of the US - a charge he denies - he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. But following international pressure, he was released and he went into exile in Spain with his family.

Here, he explains why he decided to speak out against the system he once supported.


Raul Rivero
Raul Rivero feared Cuba would become like communist Russia

Like most of the people from my generation, I was seduced by the Cuban Revolution when I was a teenager. We regarded Fidel Castro's project dearly - I'm referring to his struggle for independence, freedom and better living conditions for all Cubans.

I never met him in person, but I saw him closely at several rallies.

As time passed, I started to feel that the Revolution's initial ideas were progressively being replaced by Castro's obsession to remain in power.

I now believe that the worst legacy of Castro's government is the spiritual ruin of the Cuban nation: good values were lost without being replaced by new ones. We now have a theatrical society whose script is written every day by the official press.

Disappointment came to me gradually.

I started not liking some aspects of daily life. But I wasn't prepared to accept that the Revolution to which I had devoted my entire youth was a failure.

Moscow lesson

But when I worked as a correspondent for the official news agency, Prensa Latina, in Moscow, I saw what was to become Cuba's future, and I didn't like it at all.

Russia was a dogmatic, schematic and secretive society, with submissive people and no individual freedoms.

I wanted to express in my verses how suffocated and helpless I felt
My first reaction was to quit Prensa Latina, because journalists working there couldn't contradict the Communist Party guidelines in any way.

I went on to work independently, writing book reviews. I tried to be discreet, working in the most professional and decent way possible.

As a poet, my main enemy was also censorship - not only that imposed by the state, but also the self-imposed one. In an authoritarian society you know exactly what you can say and what you can't.

I wanted to express in my verses how suffocated and helpless I felt. But I had to disguise these feelings - technically, poetry allows that.

Fear

And one day I started to feel afraid. I was concerned that if my position became public, my family would suffer the consequences.

Fear is everywhere in Cuba - on the streets and also on TV, radio and in the newspapers. You see soap operas featuring a constant police presence, and people make jokes about being under surveillance.

I was very careful about who I talked to. I went as far as to suspect some friends and relatives. In fact, everybody became suspect - that's what the government does to individuals.

I was right to be careful. When I went on trial in 2003, several people I knew, who turned out to be agents, testified against me.

I never thought I would have to leave Cuba, and I never wished to do so

As predicted, my family had a difficult time when it became known I was a dissenter.

I tried to get them out of the country immediately, because once you are identified as an opponent it's like a contagious disease - it affects the whole family. I didn't want them to lose their youth like I had.

My two eldest sons left Cuba for the United States. One of my daughters, the youngest, is now with me in Spain. My other daughter, who is an actress, remains in Cuba - she is happy there and doesn't want to leave.

My wife soon lost her job. The government cut off all our sources of income - it suffocated us financially.

We found ourselves cornered. It seemed they wanted to show us that the state was the owner of everything, from work to your children's school.

I kept on working as a poet, but I didn't mask my poetry anymore - I had started to publish my books abroad. This liberated me as a writer. I also wrote a couple of books on the Cuban situation.

But then I went on trial and they sentenced me to 20 years in prison. I was sent to a jail 400km (250 miles) from Havana, where I spent a year in a punishment cell. In there, poetry became my refuge and my salvation.

My wife was very brave during these difficult times. She stayed in Cuba and played a key role in the process that led to my release. She was the contact with the international press and the human rights groups which helped get me out of prison.

I never thought I would have to leave Cuba, and I never wished to do so. I believed I could be useful for my country working independently, professionally - I still believe that.

Painful exile

When I finally had to leave, in 2005, it was a great blow - I was 59 years old and at that age it's not easy to rebuild your entire life.

Fortunately, I received a warm welcome in Madrid. I began working for El Mundo newspaper and I made new friends. I feel better now.

Still, the separation from my country pains me, as does the division of my family. Divided families are yet another stain on Fidel Castro's legacy.

I dream of returning to Cuba and of working for an independent newspaper there. I would like to have my life back and see the places where I grew up, where I first fell in love.



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