Friday, May 13, 2022

Pedro Luis Boitel: Cuba's martyr for academic freedom and human rights born 91 years ago today

 "Men do not abandon the fight when the cause is just." - Pedro Luis Boitel

Pedro Luis Boitel born May 13, 1931 - May 25, 1972

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba on May 13, 1931. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by the Castro brothers. The majority of the movement's members, like Pedro, were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control, the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an impediment to the new regime's absolute power.  

Pedro Luis was a popular student leader, and was nominated to head the Federation of University Students.  The Argentine NGO,CADAL (Centro para la Apertura y el Desarrollo de América Latina), describes what happened to the young leader.

In 1960, Boitel ran for president of the University Students' Federation (Federación Estudiantil Universitaria - FEU) at the University of Havana and was backed by the 26 de Julio Movement. Even though Castro headed this movement during Batista's dictatorship, Fidel Castro and the other revolutionary leaders removed their support for Boitel precisely due to his independence of thought and democratic convictions. Castro himself personally intervened in the student elections at the University of Havana to remove Boitel from the FEU presidency. This event and other repressive measures that were carried out by Castro against Boitel led him to begin to conspire against the recently-established totalitarian regime in Cuba.
He was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1961 for his opposition to the new dictatorship. Today marks what would have been Pedro Luis's 91st birthday, but he died in 1972 at age 41 on a hunger strike in one of Castro's dungeons, the Castillo de Principe prison in Havana.

May 25, 2022 will mark 50 years since he died after completing his unjust prison sentence, and prison officials refused to free him. This led to his final hunger strike. 

Pedro Luis Boitel's ideals and example live on in the Cuban opposition both inside and outside of Cuba. 

The world knows about Pedro Luis Boitel because his mother, Clara Abrahante Boitel, fought to save her son and make known the atrocities committed against him, despite the threats visited upon her.

The first time I heard about Pedro Luis was in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened. The image and testimony of Clara Abrahante who looked forward to death to be reunited with her son is heart breaking. 

Please consider organizing nonviolent vigils outside of Cuban Embassies and consulates around the world on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 in remembrance of this student leader and upload photos, and videos over your social media documenting your action.

Original Spanish quotes by Pedro Luis Boitel and English translations:

“Los hombres no abandonan la lucha cuando la causa es justa.”

"Men do not abandon the fight when the cause is just." 

“Podrán matar y acabar con mi cuerpo, pero nunca con mi espíritu, ese no lo podrán doblegar jamás.”

"They can kill and destroy my body, but never my spirit, that they will never be able to break." 

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