Martyred student leader Pedro Luis Boitel fought by Fidel Castro's side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However, as Castro came to impose a communist regime, the student leader became a liability.
Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. He was also a poet. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement's members, like Pedro Luis, were anti-communists.
Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control, the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University, where his fellow students nominated him to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960. Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel refused to betray the Federation of University Students. He sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy. This made Pedro Luis an obstacle to the emerging communist regime.
|Pedro Luis Boitel at CMQ Radio Station|
As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent of Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961, he served the cruel and unjust sentence, but as the date of his release came and went, prison officials refused to release him.
While imprisoned, Boitel continued to challenge the repression and the impunity of regime prison officials. He left a powerful impression on his fellow political prisoners. In 2009, Gregorio Asorio in an interview discussed how he first met Boitel while in prison for his opposition to the Castro dictatorship in the 1960s. Prison officials condemned black Cuban political prisoners for opposing Castro, thinking that they should be grateful to the dictator, and this thin man challenged the guards, declaring that Cuban blacks were part of the Cuban nation, and had helped found the Cuban nation in the struggle for independence. This man then cited Jose Marti's quote that anything that divides humanity is a sin against humanity. Gregorio introduced himself and asked his name, and learned that he was Pedro Luis Boitel.
to the years of cruelty, torture, and now denial of his freedom, he went
on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died fifty years
ago on May 25, 1972, after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana at the Castillo del Principe prison. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 and were
replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend
university. It has still not been restored today. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
Fifteen years later, in the documentary Nobody Listened, Boitel's mother spoke on camera about her son's imprisonment and death.
Fifty years later, the Castro dictatorship's cruelty continues unabated, as does the courage of Cubans who oppose it.
Below is a poem by Pedro Luis written during his long years of imprisonment.
Original Spanish text below
El destierropor Pedro Luis Boitel
Melodía distante que invade mi habitación
sombras que transitan los rincones de mi mente
mis manos, el destino con vivencias ha encadenado
esa, esa es la ley del desterrado.
Cruces de experiencias grabadas en mi piel
lastimándome cual el mortífero desdeño de una mujer
recubierto de épocas efímeras subsiste mi corazón
dependencia nostálgica de un niño que se olvido de crecer.
Memorias transformadas en fantasmas
aquellos que me asedian mientras reposo
omnipresentes sombras que perturban mis sueños
mientras yo evoco mi país a mi modo.
Isla que desaparece en el horizonte
crepitante estación que alguna vez ocupé
hoy sólo este éxodo marchito recoge el viento
pétalos esparcidos en una corriente ausente de mar.
El destierro me vincula al pasado
soy esclavo de un concepto, de una idea
busco entre los recuerdos el principio de todo
más sólo hallo cenizas, parcialmente sepultadas durante mi trayectoria.
El destierro me ha sentenciado a vivir encarcelado a la nostalgia, compartiendo su celda
pero al transcurrir los años he aprendido a despertar,
y ahora en mi realidad busco mi emancipación, mi senda.