The Miracle of Freedom
In 2003, Cuban journalist, librarian, and poet Ricardo González Alfonso was sentenced to 20 years in Cuba’s maximum-security prison Combinado del Este. He was released and exiled to Spain in July 2010.
The PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) invited González Alfonso to attend its annual conference, but the complications of his status as a writer in exile seeking asylum in Spain prevented him from traveling. Instead, he sent the following statement:
THE MIRACLE OF FREEDOM
Madrid, 20 March 2011
My dear colleagues who are attending the 9th Writers in Prison Conference organized in Brussels by PEN International, I wouldn’t dare contact you without mentioning two words: solidarity and gratitude. Only someone who has been confined to a tiny cell, 1.8 by 3 meters, where you eat, sleep, and answer calls of nature–where you stay with no company other the rodents, the insects, and the voices fighting your cause–can understand what it means when, at her quarterly visits, my wife, in a purposeful clandestine whisper, would tell me that this or that non-governmental organization was calling for our freedom; and always, always, one of these organizations was PEN.
It is undoubtedly a miracle to stop feeling alone in the solitude of a cell; to feel this solidarity which gets through the bars and illuminates the shadows, to restore a creator’s spiritual energy. At least that is what happened in my case. It compelled me to take prohibited action, and with no more resources than strips of paper and a pencil, I wrote 45 poems about the terrible, relentless underworld that is Cuban prisons.
Under the name Hombres Sin Rostro [Men with No Faces], this collection of poems, short and secret, escaped the prison in a cigarette box. That daring led me to be sent to a punishment cell, which I could only escape by means of a 16 day hunger strike, and an international campaign of support from various non-governmental organizations. Once again, PEN was one of these supportive allies.
The prison continued with its harsh, subhuman treatment, and although my spirit remained undefeated – I wrote another book: (Con)Fines humanos [Limits of Humanity] – my body was not as strong, and I had to undergo surgery on four occasions.
Gonzalez Alfonzo was incarcerated in Cuba’s Combinado del Este prison for over seven years as a result of the Cuban government’s crackdown on journalists, writers, librarians, and academics during the Black Spring in 2003. Photo: Voices Behind Bars
Almost at the end of my captivity, when the censorship began to ease, my wife brought me dozens of Christmas cards. They had been sent to me from Australia, Europe, Asia, and America. PEN brought into my cell snowflakes, children singing carols, and birds of a thousand and one colors with their happy trills of hope. The world appeared in the underworld of the prison. The daily damp seemed to do less damage, and even the mold on the walls seemed beautiful to me. It was as if freedom, that miracle, was staying in my cell.
After seven years and four months in prison, I was exiled to Madrid, where I requested political asylum; in accordance with Spanish law, I had to surrender my Cuban passport. As I have not yet been granted this request, I am unable to travel to Brussels to meet with you, to thank you from the depths of my soul for your boundless solidarity, and with the warmest of embraces, express to you the gratitude of all imprisoned writers around the world.
Continue – we must continue – with this wonderful task of renewing the hope of writers who are still being held captive by shouting out to the world their ideas, truths, and souls transformed into words.
Let’s work to ensure that tolerance is not an everyday dream, but the most precious gift of every man and every woman. Let’s work, lastly, to bequeath to the future the tangible miracle of freedom.
Ricardo González Alfonso
Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of the PEN’s Writer in Prison Committee read González Alfonso statement in Brussels. Read Botsford Fraser’s speech.