Thursday, June 9, 2016

Witness Accounts From The Frontlines of Cuba: Sirley Ávila León

Victims of Communism Commemoration, June 9, 2016 Washington D.C.

My name is Sirley Ávila León. I am Cuban and reside in Cuba. I was elected as a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba by my neighbors in June 2005, for the rural area of Limones, district #37, in the municipality of Majibacoa in Las Tunas province. The Assembly, which in theory is the entity that governs the country, in practice is controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba. The Assembly was composed of 81 districts, with more than 50,000 inhabitants. From the beginning of the two-day seminar in which I learned how to exercise my functions as a delegate, I connected well with everyone on account of my character and my rural roots. I began to become interested in the life of the citizenry in general, a life which is so damaged by the people’s complete lack of hope of escaping from the human, spiritual, and moral misery which they suffer. I say this because of what I heard there and because of the things I have heard people say in the street: “No one is going to change this; it can’t be fixed, but no one is going to knock it down either.” These are recurrent expressions among the people. From the first meetings of the Assembly I noticed the double standard of the leaders, who in reality were not interested in the people at all. The biggest problems were bureaucratic: because of so much corruption, the system did not function.

I learned from the people who voted for me that before 1992, the area had been one of the most productive in the province: there had been three primary schools, but due to the hydraulic plan implemented by Fidel Castro, they had been demolished in order to construct a reservoir which left part of the population destitute.

Children had to walk more than 9 kilometers on difficult paths in order to attend the nearest school; the parents, needing to accompany their children, had no time to cultivate their land, despite the cruel poverty in which they lived. To minimize the ill effects on their children, some emigrated to the towns of Calixto and Las Tunas and other places where there were schools, leaving their lands abandoned, and in some cases affecting third parties whom they’d previously provided with food and who now had to pay for all of their food needs.

As farmers they didn’t have a right to retire, and needed to begin a state-controlled professional life, for which many of them were prepared neither intellectually nor physically. It was depressing to hear their stories. Trusting in the Fidel Castro quote that I often heard in the media, that revolution means “changing everything that must be changed,” I gave my word to the farmers that I would fight to change their situation, no matter the consequences. I was unaware as yet of the monster that I was facing, unaware of the lack of rights and the dictatorship that exists in Cuba, a dictatorship that is capable of anything in order to keep itself in power and whose claim that power originates in the people is a constant lie.

I set myself to the task of demanding the school that the area needed so badly. For six months I went to the municipality and the province. During the first months of 2006, without any result, I went to the Council of State, and during that same semester the construction of the school was approved. To my surprise, people from all around started coming to me, telling me their problems and asking me to represent them. In an immediate meeting of the Assembly, I was accused by its president of being a leader, for having requested containers to protect and transport the products of the farmers of the district, and for having demanded that the authorities fulfill their commitment to buy producers’ tomatoes, fruits, and vegetables, which because of delays in payment, were rotting in the fields, harming the peasants economically, while people in every city were plunged into famine. He said that my conduct would have to be analyzed at the provincial seat of the Communist Party of Cuba, and I was driven there immediately in one of their cars.

Although the regime began campaigns against me, the people’s confidence in me grew. The school was built and was inaugurated during the 2007-2008 school year. The provincial leaders never forgave me for its construction. They questioned the way in which I related to the people, my concern for resolving the lack of payment to the farmers, housing for critical cases, plunged into the cruelest destitution, the lack of seriousness in commitments to persons living in the countryside. During the 2010-2011 school year, after having been in operation for three years, the school was closed by a government decision, made without considering the characteristics of the area for which it had been built: impassable roads, the distance to the nearest school, the economic condition of the local parents. Nevertheless, the school was closed, supposedly by a law that originated in the highest reaches of power.

I lost no time. I made complaints according to the established procedure, but without results. I sought support in the mass organizations and political organizations (all governmental organizations). I went to the Council of State twelve times in nine months, because the parents affected had decided not to send their children to the school they had been assigned while awaiting the response to my actions, and had been victims of threats and repression on the part of the Ministry of Education as well as other entities like Care of Minors, the Prosecution, the National Revolutionary Police, the Communist Party of Cuba, and People’s Power. They were threatened with having their children taken away and housed in a school for disabled children if they refused to take them to their assigned schools. They threatened to take these parents’ children prisoner, waging psychological warfare against them, prohibiting them to meet with me.

The last time that I went to the Council of State, when I was not able to meet with Raúl Castro or someone designated by him, I stopped in one of the avenues by the entry of the building, hoping that some minister would take interest and pay attention to me. Not much time had passed before a citizen appeared, claiming to be the Chief of Security for the area of the Council of State. When I had explained to him what I was doing, he told me that I would have to accompany him, and he brought me before the head of Assistance to the Population, and I was expelled and threatened that if I returned I would be accused of crimes against state security.

Disappointed, sobbing, I went to the editorship of the newspaper Granma, asking them to publish that, as a delegate representing the people, I wanted an interview with Raúl Castro or Ricardo Alarcón. They told me that they couldn’t publish this. Threats on the part of the provincial and municipal leaders were not far behind, urging me to renounce my position as a delegate, upon seeing the firmness with which I defended my principles and position with the support of the area. They made moves to impose another person who was not supported by the people. They eliminated the district which I officially represented. They threatened me with an investigation by the prosecutor.

Certain that I had not committed any crime, I gave it no more thought and went to Holguín in order to search for some independent journalists whom I didn’t know personally but whom I had heard about. I wanted to denounce the regime for its human rights abuses. On September 8, 2012, I decried this situation on Radio Martí. I faced down the monster of dictatorship, which is interested only in power and privileges, all by myself. I don’t know a lot about politics, but the totalitarian dictatorship of the Castros is one of the world’s most corrupt and criminal. I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect government, but I am certain that by involving all people, from house to house, we can build a government with democracy and constitutional liberties and rights. I participated as an activist in opposition groups like UNPACU, and I supported the hunger strikes of Luis E. Losada (23 days, accompanying his family) and Ángel Yunier (El Crítico) in Granma. I decided independently to organize people who thought like me, so that we could protect ourselves from the regime and at the same time defend the rights of the people and convince those who doubted that we could indeed change the dictatorship into a state ruled by law.

For everything that I have described above, I have been the victim of several attempts on my life, attempts to physically eliminate me, and other acts of vandalism against my land, my animals, and my property, all organized by the regime and its political police as part of its intent to eliminate me. The young Yudisleidy López Rodríguez alerted me to the fact that the political police had offered highly dangerous common criminals rewards for murdering me. She was killed on September 26, 2014 for publicly decrying an attack on me in which my bed was set on fire during the early morning. Her murder was covered up as a crime of passion.

On May 24, 2015, I was attacked in my home by Osmani Carrión, sent by State Security to kill me. He attacked me with a machete, severing my left hand and mutilating my right arm and both knees. He didn’t cut off my head thanks to the presence of a child at the scene of the events and thanks to God who protected my life so that I could be here today and offer my testimony. I am in the United States with a medical visa in order to receive treatment for the most recent attack I have suffered, but I will return to Cuba as soon as I recover.

I thank all the wonderful people who have given me this opportunity.

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