On February 11, 2022 César Adriám Delgado Correa and his partner Roxana García Pedraza were married at the Agüica Prison in the municipality of Colón, Matanzas, where César has been imprisoned for almost a year for protesting on July 11, 2021. From there, he wrote me a letter.
"Alfre, let me tell you all about the wedding. A genuine penitentiary affair, ha ha. The day seemed to conspire against us, everything seemed to go wrong, but in the end it came off. They came to my cell for me, and when I saw her I forgot all about the handcuffs and the bars, and I was filled with freedom," the letter begins.
César has been with Roxana for five years and asked her to marry him during a visit to Agüica. She asked him several times if he was sure, and even left him with his parents for a few minutes to think it over. Then she accepted, and there was no more talk about it.
For the next ten days Roxana got going and made all the necessary arrangements. On February 11, she rented a car, found a notary, and showed up in Agüica dressed in white. At the guard post they asked her where she was going. Apparently Roxana was authorized to marry César, but inside the prison they weren't notified.
Cuban prison system regulations do not specify anything about how to celebrate weddings, though the Civil Registry Law does stipulate the procedures for notaries to travel to the sites where weddings are held.
Cesar's case is currently pending in the Supreme People's Court. The family changed lawyers and believes that five years is too long for someone who had never committed a crime before. Besides, César was a "good kid," a university graduate who was doing social service as a volleyball teacher at the Combinado Deportivo Frank País de Colón when he was arrested.
At the Camilo Cienfuegos campus of the University of Matanzas I shared a hostel with César for three years. I used to call him "Lavamanos" (washbasin) because of the deep cleft in his chest. Every day I went into his room to sell candy and I always saw him playing Dota, reading, or exercising to lose even more weight.
César never drank rum with the drinkers, but he did smoke. When he woke up he would take a cigarette, without getting out of bed and enjoy it, face up.
He liked to argue about things covered in his studies. Although he repeated a year of Physical Education, he never missed an opportunity to highlight some physiological curiosity.
On one forearm César has a beautiful tattoo of The Little Prince. It was very well done, but we always used to give him a hard time because of how colorful it was.
In 2018 I went to Havana to finish my degree, and I don't think I ever saw César again. We only spoke a couple of times on Messenger. At that time I noticed that César was already openly opposed to the government, as his Facebook profile revealed sides of the Cuban reality the official media conceals.
Up to this point, Cesar seemed to me like any young man of my generation. Internet access has meant that some of us no longer blindly preach the creed espoused by Cuba's political power structure.
Unfortunately, César's activity on social media was going to ravage his future. When he took to the streets of Colón on July 11, 2021, he had already been targeted for some time, and a State Security officer was following him.
Roxana didn't care about the place or the conditions, she just wanted to get married as soon as possible. She was able to choose the date, and it was to be no other than the 11th.
"They told me they would do me a favor, because no one had told them about the wedding …. they took me to a small room where I was to wait for him," Roxana recalls.
"The moment when we took our vows was the farthest thing from what I had imagined," César continues in his letter. The witnesses were officials. The tension distorted my perception of time, it seemed unreal. The only time I felt calm was when I put my signature on the paper, the only one that has been worthwhile in my 27 years."
Roxana wanted to surprise him and she succeeded, as César did not know the date of the wedding. He arrived at the small ceremony room with shakiras on, handcuffed and shackled.
"My wife chose the date. Nothing could've been more apropos than the 11th. And she came dressed in white, a real 'Lady in White.' She wanted to do it on July 11, but, her desire for promptness aside, it was obvious that it was going to be impossible on that date, when the dogs will release their pack and everything will be locked up. On that day the prison will be crawling with Special Troops, like it was on November 15 with the protest Yunior Garcia organized," says Cesar.
"After that," the letter continues, it was "give a few kisses to your wife, and that was it. Forget any fantasies about a honeymoon or a conjugal space that the old prisoners used to tell me about. That part about how they would bring in a cake, and the bride and groom's parents would participate in the ceremony. NEGATIVE, Pablo, head of the DTI, told me when I turned to him to explain the refusal: 'Remember that you're from Operation Dignity! I answered with a laugh and said 'Are you really that afraid of us?'"
César and Roxana do not have a wedding photo.
Since long before July 11, Cesar had a State Security person following him, occasionally on a motorcycle. They never called him or served him a summons, nor was he physically assaulted, though at work he was he written up for complaining about the high prices and the low salary he received.
On July 11, 2021, César left his house for downtown Colón. On his Facebook profile he uploaded a video in which he shouted: "Everyone take to the streets! This is historic! This is historic, people!" while making an "L" with his right hand.
"Down with the PCC!" shouted another young man walking beside him.
César echoed him: "Down!".
This video shows Cesar at the front of a group of hundreds of people who were marching down the city's main street towards the local government headquarters. He was there for a while. When he saw that, after the crowds were dispersed, stores and state facilities began to be vandalized, he decided to return home.
Despite this, César was charged with contempt of court and public disorder. The prosecutor asked for seven years, though he ultimately received a five-year sentence.
"With respect to the event in general, what happened on July 11 was a turning point in the history of our country. It demonstrated how much remains of that sentiment of rebellion in the face of injustice that goes back to the Creoles, as we suffer plenty of it," wrote César in his letter from the Agüica Prison.
Cesar's family learned that he was going to be arrested thanks to a rumor that he was "one of those who is going to be picked up." Thus, they decided to take him to his father's farm so that the neighbors on the Calle Varona would not see the incident. On July 15, 2021, Cesar was arrested at the farm on the outskirts of Colón.
"The expected treatment," César recounts in his letter. "They did not disappoint: statements under duress, psychological and physical torture like those at the PNR (in Colón) on July 15 at the hands of the head of the Yonder unit, arbitrary arrests without any order, 60 days without communicating with our families, in violation of their own laws, denied a lawyer … in fact, they took five statements from me before I spoke to my defender."
In César's section in Agüica there are 11 inmates, the others all facing sentences of 15 to 30 years, for common crimes. "That's a crime, because César has no reason to be with those people. César isn't a common prisoner. Even the guards realize it when they see him," Roxana explains.
The list drawn up by Prisoner Defenders of the 1,236 Cuban political prisoners in May 2022 contained only one graduate student and one university student. César is one of the few prisoners of conscience with university studies in Cuba incarcerated as a result of the July 11 protests.
"Denigrated by the prison officials (they call us the stone throwers), they denied us the regulated visits after the transfer to Agüica. In fact, with a five-year sanction I shouldn't be in this kind of prison. And I certainly shouldn't be on a floor with prisoners serving 40-year sentences. Rather, I should be at a camp," explained César about the violations he has suffered.
At Agüica Prison César is not always able to call his family as often as newcomers should be able to: at least every four days. Sometimes more than 10 days go by and he is unable to call, due to a malfunction or a lack of electricity. Despite the fact that penitentiary regulations permit hair up to three centimeters, all of them have their heads shaved.
"The advocates avoid attending to us, and the rare time someone manages to approach them, they masterfully justify the violations that are committed. In the end it's like the inmates say: 'They're the same family,'" explains Cesar.
"Do they beat people up? Yes, and quite a lot, but I recognize that … the social networks were a negative precedent for them," clarifies César on the importance of condemning all violations in the digital space.
"The postal service in Agüica doesn't work, the letters never arrive, the living conditions are inhuman, the food is disgusting; they only give you one egg, instead of two," César continues.
César's first prison was the Combinado del Sur in the city of Matanzas. He was there for only four months, and he was given two eggs to eat. When he arrived at the Combinado del Sur he was received with an act of repudiation in which there was no lack of verbal and psychological abuse.
At Agüica, César says that the bathrooms are Turkish-style, as in most Cuban prisons, but there are no ceramic tiles, just cement. César describes the leaks in the walls and ceilings as works of art.
"The medical service is disgraceful," Cesar continues, "the doctors are insufficient and the officers, indolent. There are no new needles for shots. I have friends who have gone four years without the corresponding attention, with a hospital nine kilometers away and without the medicines they have."
"The head of the unit, Lieutenant Colonel Emilio, is a high-handed sadist who does whatever he wants at this place, without consequences. I think that this is on purpose, so that Agüica continues to be the 'bogeyman' for Cuban prisoners," concludes César about his prison experience.
The figure in question, Lieutenant Colonel Emilio Cruz Rodríguez, has been at Agüica Prison for more than 25 years, and has been denounced many times for his repressive methods.
The entrance to this prison is hundreds of meters from the Carrretera Central (central highway), at a point between Colón and Los Arabos. The road that leads from the Carretera Central to the prison entrance has, on the right shoulder, a row of huge columns crowned by circles, all made of concrete, inscribed with the years when Agüica obtained Colectivo Vanguardia Nacional status; there are about ten columns of "recognitions."
"Possibly, what will come out of there is a monster," Roxana explains about her husband's change. "A monster for the cause, that is. Cesar knows more about politics every day, more about law. He has changed too much. The guards watch themselves a lot with him because he knows his rights. He has had a lot of time to think and read. He has also written a lot."
"César was very easy-going," Roxana continues, "always playing video games. He really liked technology. We used to kid him and say I was just his lover, because his wife was the computer. He used to get the Paquete [pack of digital material] a lot; there he would look for things related to make-up and beauty tricks that I liked. He would do everything to please me."
Roxana says that her husband is a very upstanding person. He seldom drank, and when he did "he barely wet his lips, practically just as a gesture." It was only after two years of dating that César took her to his house. She spent most of her time there.
"He sits on the terrace, whiling the day away with his coffee and cigarettes in his hand. He listens to music in English. The only bad thing is the smoking, but when I hang out with him sometimes I smoke one too," Roxana recalls.
She speaks of her husband as if he were free, using the present tense to refer to things that César can no longer do.
Roxana misses being able to trim her now-husband's eyebrows, cut his nails and give him massages at night. She misses tickling his beard and having him tickle her back, on her hair.
On every visit, she makes sure he eats what he likes best. "He loves yellow or fried rice, that's a real treat for him," she says with a laugh.
Roxana worked as a teacher at the Josefa Álvarez de Colón elementary school. As a result of César's arrest, some colleagues subtly avoided her, and her superiors tried to get her to "insert more political topics in the classes."
The distress caused by this situation spurred her to quit her job.
Now she gets up every day at 6:00 AM and goes to work at her father-in-law's farm, the same place where Cesar was arrested. There she checks all the sows, and prepares their food. Sometimes some of her audios contain the squealing of hungry pigs in the background.
She gives the animals shots when they are sick, bathes them, and sometimes guards them to keep them from being stolen. If any of the guards are absent, she has to sleep near the pigs. These animals are, ultimately, eaten exclusively by tourists in Varadero's hotels. They must be safe.
Violeta, César's mother, completed several medical missions abroad and was always a praised doctor in Colón’s Public Health system. César's father participated in the Angolan war, graduated as a mechanical engineer, was an official with the UJC (Union of Young Communists), headed up important companies in the municipality, and was a prestigious figure in the local government. One of César's grandfathers participated furtively during the 50s in the "fight against bandits," and was chief of police in the municipality of Limonar.
The family has not slept well since July 15. The appeal trial was a real ordeal. At that point they lost hope that their silence in the face of injustice would bear fruit. State Security always told them not to report anything through social media if they wanted to help César.
"Why is César in jail?", Roxana reflects. "Because he wants to have freedom in this country. All the meanings of the word 'freedom' are violated in this country. He was always very well informed of everything going on through the networks. César's greatest desire is for Cuba to be free, for there to be freedom of expression, for this to change a little, for the people in the system not to be hounding the people, so much and to stop repressing them."
Cesar concludes his letter:
"Cuba is not just the sun and beach paradise they promote. It is something dark and sad for the society that inhabits it. The machinery of fear has strengthened, but also, in response, the courage of many Cubans. I love you and we will always be Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life). Yes there are political prisoners in Cuba, I'm one of them."