Pablo Pacheco Avila: Heroes and Inspiration

Source: The Freedom Collection /

Pablo Pacheco was born in the city of Puerto Padre in Cuba’s Las Tunas province.

He first became involved with the opposition in 1998 when he joined the Cuban Human Rights Foundation, an organization that monitors and denounces human rights violations and supports Cuban political prisoners. He became the foundation’s secretary.

In 1999, Pablo started a career as an independent journalist. He worked for several independent news agencies such as the College of Independent Journalists of Camaguey, the Avila Independent Journalists Cooperative, and the web-based Cubanet, an online compendium of independent news stories offering alternative perspectives from those of government-controlled media.

On March 19, 2003, Pablo was arrested during a massive government crackdown on activists known as the Black Spring. He was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents, human rights activists, and independent librarians arrested by security forces. In a summary judicial proceeding, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

During his incarceration, Pablo helped to establish a blog called “Voices Behind Bars” with dissident bloggers Iván García, Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo. The platform featured testimonials from political prisoners describing conditions and abuse inside Cuban jails. Their stories were recorded over the phone during the prisoners’ limited telephone privileges. In the event that guards cut off the phone lines, relatives would smuggle written testimonials out of the prison for inclusion in the blog. In 2009, “Voices Behind Bars” was recognized as the best of 187 Cuban opposition blogs in the Una Isla Virtual (A Virtual Island) competition.

After 7 years, Pablo was freed when the Catholic Church and the Spanish government negotiated the release of the 75 Black Spring prisoners. Pablo went into exile and currently lives in Miami, Florida, with his wife and son. He continues to share his experiences from his time in prison and remains active in Cuba’s freedom movement.

The Cuban peaceful opposition took refuge in and read a lot about dissidents and the processes in Eastern Europe, especially in Poland. The Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa. We read a lot of Adam Michnik, Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless. For the communist system that prevails in Cuba, we identified more with what happened in the Soviet Union’s satellite countries than with the Soviet Union itself.

Personally, I identify a lot with the process that happened in Chile. It is what I see for Cuba. I think this will be one of the ways we can try. I think the main thing learned by Cuba´s peaceful opposition from Eastern Europe movements is that fear is not the only option. There are other options besides fear. Facing a totalitarian and communist system is risky but worth it. They achieved freedom and that´s what we want: Cuba’s freedom.

I had the privilege of working with Walesa, with Normando [Hernandez] and Omar [Moises Ruiz] … Yes, they are a source of inspiration for all who want freedom and democracy in Cuba. There are others, not only those, but fundamentally [Lech] Walesa, [Andrej] Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik (a writer that I admire very much).

[Normando Hernandez (1969 – ) is a Cuban independent journalist and human rights advocate. From 2003 to 2010, he was a prisoner of conscience after his arrest in the Black Spring crackdown.

Omar Moisés Ruiz: (1974 – ) is a Cuban independent journalist and a former dissident and political prisoner. He was among those imprisoned during the Black Spring crackdown in 2003. In 2010, he was exiled to Spain and currently resides in the United States.

Lech Walesa (1943 – ) was the leader of Poland’s Solidarity movement that brought down the communist regime. He served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995.

Andrei Sakharov (1921 – 1989) was a Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident, and human rights activist. A key architect of the Soviet nuclear force, he became an outspoken opponent of the communist system. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Vaclav Havel (1936 – 2011) was a Czech writer and dissident. He served as the last President of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992 and the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. His 1978 essay, The Power of the Powerless, discusses the nature of communist tyranny and how dissidents can work together for change.]

Adam Michnik (1946 – ) is a Polish writer and journalist and a former dissident and political prisoner. He was a key advisor to the Solidarity movement and established several anti-communist publications.]

Obviously [Abraham] Lincoln, [Jose] Martí, [Antonio] Maceo, and [Simon] Bolivar are a source of inspiration for all of us.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These are people who always moved ahead despite the obstacles of life, the difficulties of the way, they learned to get ahead. There are many people that we value and admire for that fight. [Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th president of the United States.

Jose Marti (1853 – 1895) is recognized as Cuba’s national hero. Marti was a writer and essayist who advocated for Cuban independence from Spain. Lt. General Antonio Maceo Grajales (1845 – 1896) was a Cuban soldier and statesman. He was second-in-command of the Cuban Army of Independence.

Simon Bolivar (1783 – 1830) was a military and political leader in Latin America. Born in Venezuela, he led Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama (then part of Colombia), Peru, and Venezuela to independence from Spain.

Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997) was a Roman Catholic nun, who founded the Missionaries of Charity religious order. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her efforts to aid the poor.]

In prison I could devour the complete works of José Martí. When you deeply study the work of Martí, you better understand this great man that is our apostle. I think José Martí is the greatest of all Cubans. He is the figure that every Cuban should remember always.

The Vaclav Havel Center