Castro Internet Archive
Never has a lawyer had to practice his profession under such difficult conditions; never has such a number of overwhelming irregularities been committed against an accused man. In this case, counsel and defendant are one and the same. As attorney he has not even been able to take a look at the indictment. As accused, for the past seventy-six days he has been locked away in solitary confinement, held totally and absolutely incommunicado, in violation of every human and legal right.
He who speaks to you hates vanity with all his being, nor are his temperament or frame of mind inclined towards courtroom poses or sensationalism of any kind. If I have had to assume my own defense before this Court it is for two reasons. First: because I have been denied legal aid almost entirely, and second: only one who has been so deeply wounded, who has seen his country so forsaken and its justice trampled so, can speak at a moment like this with words that spring from the blood of his heart and the truth of his very gut.
There was no lack of generous comrades who wished to defend me, and the Havana Bar Association appointed a courageous and competent jurist, Dr. Jorge Pagliery, Dean of the Bar in this city, to represent me in this case. However, he was not permitted to carry out his task. As often as he tried to see me, the prison gates were closed before him. Only after a month and a half, and through the intervention of the Court, was he finally granted a ten minute interview with me in the presence of a sergeant from the Military Intelligence Agency (SIM). One supposes that a lawyer has a right to speak with his defendant in private, and this right is respected throughout the world, except in the case of a Cuban prisoner of war in the hands of an implacable tyranny that abides by no code of law, be it legal or humane. Neither Dr. Pagliery nor I were willing to tolerate such dirty spying upon our means of defense for the oral trial. Did they want to know, perhaps, beforehand, the methods we would use in order to reduce to dust the incredible fabric of lies they had woven around the Moncada Barracks events? How were we going to expose the terrible truth they would go to such great lengths to conceal? It was then that we decided that, taking advantage of my professional rights as a lawyer, I would assume my own defense.
This decision, overheard by the sergeant and reported by him to his superior, provoked a real panic. It looked like some mocking little imp was telling them that I was going to ruin all their plans. You know very well, Honorable Judges, how much pressure has been brought to bear on me in order to strip me as well of this right that is ratified by long Cuban tradition. The Court could not give in to such machination, for that would have left the accused in a state of total indefensiveness. The accused, who is now exercising this right to plead his own case, will under no circumstances refrain from saying what he must say. I consider it essential that I explain, at the onset, the reason for the terrible isolation in which I have been kept; what was the purpose of keeping me silent; what was behind the plots to kill me, plots which the Court is familiar with; what grave events are being hidden from the people; and the truth behind all the strange things which have taken place during this trial. I propose to do all this with utmost clarity.
You have publicly called this case the most significant in the history of the Republic. If you sincerely believed this, you should not have allowed your authority to be stained and degraded. The first court session was September 21st. Among one hundred machine guns and bayonets, scandalously invading the hall of justice, more than a hundred people were seated in the prisoner’s dock. The great majority had nothing to do with what had happened. They had been under preventive arrest for many days, suffering all kinds of insults and abuses in the chambers of the repressive units. But the rest of the accused, the minority, were brave and determined, ready to proudly confirm their part in the battle for freedom, ready to offer an example of unprecedented self-sacrifice and to wrench from the jail’s claws those who in deliberate bad faith had been included in the trial. Those who had met in combat confronted one another again. Once again, with the cause of justice on our side, we would wage the terrible battle of truth against infamy! Surely the regime was not prepared for the moral catastrophe in store for it!
How to maintain all its false accusations? How to keep secret what had really happened, when so many young men were willing to risk everything – prison, torture and death, if necessary – in order that the truth be told before this Court?
I was called as a witness at that first session. For two hours I was questioned by the Prosecutor as well as by twenty defense attorneys. I was able to prove with exact facts and figures the sums of money that had been spent, the way this money was collected and the arms we had been able to round up. I had nothing to hide, for the truth was: all this was accomplished through sacrifices without precedent in the history of our Republic. I spoke of the goals that inspired us in our struggle and of the humane and generous treatment that we had at all times accorded our adversaries. If I accomplished my purpose of demonstrating that those who were falsely implicated in this trial were neither directly nor indirectly involved, I owe it to the complete support and backing of my heroic comrades. For, as I said, the consequences they might be forced to suffer at no time caused them to repent of their condition as revolutionaries and patriots, I was never once allowed to speak with these comrades of mine during the time we were in prison, and yet we planned to do exactly the same. The fact is, when men carry the same ideals in their hearts, nothing can isolate them – neither prison walls nor the sod of cemeteries. For a single memory, a single spirit, a single idea, a single conscience, a single dignity will sustain them all.
From that moment on, the structure of lies the regime had erected about the events at Moncada Barracks began to collapse like a house of cards. As a result, the Prosecutor realized that keeping all those persons named as instigators in prison was completely absurd, and he requested their provisional release.
At the close of my testimony in that first session, I asked the Court to allow me to leave the dock and sit among the counsel for the defense. This permission was granted. At that point what I consider my most important mission in this trial began: to totally discredit the cowardly, miserable and treacherous lies which the regime had hurled against our fighters; to reveal with irrefutable evidence the horrible, repulsive crimes they had practiced on the prisoners; and to show the nation and the world the infinite misfortune of the Cuban people who are suffering the cruelest, the most inhuman oppression of their history.
The second session convened on Tuesday, September 22nd. By that time only ten witnesses had testified, and they had already cleared up the murders in the Manzanillo area, specifically establishing and placing on record the direct responsibility of the captain commanding that post. There were three hundred more witnesses to testify. What would happen if, with a staggering mass of facts and evidence, I should proceed to cross-examine the very Army men who were directly responsible for those crimes? Could the regime permit me to go ahead before the large audience attending the trial? Before journalists and jurists from all over the island? And before the party leaders of the opposition, who they had stupidly seated right in the prisoner’s dock where they could hear so well all that might be brought out here? They would rather have blown up the court house, with all its judges, than allow that!
And so they devised a plan by which they could eliminate me from the trial and they proceeded to do just that, manu militari. On Friday night, September 25th, on the eve of the third session of the trial, two prison doctors visited me in my cell. They were visibly embarrassed. ‘We have come to examine you,’ they said. I asked them, ‘Who is so worried about my health?’ Actually, from the moment I saw them I realized what they had come for. They could not have treated me with greater respect, and they explained their predicament to me. That afternoon Colonel Chaviano had appeared at the prison and told them I ‘was doing the Government terrible damage with this trial.’ He had told them they must sign a certificate declaring that I was ill and was, therefore, unable to appear in court. The doctors told me that for their part they were prepared to resign from their posts and risk persecution. They put the matter in my hands, for me to decide. I found it hard to ask those men to unhesitatingly destroy themselves. But neither could I, under any circumstances, consent that those orders be carried out. Leaving the matter to their own consciences, I told them only: ‘You must know your duty; I certainly know mine.’
After leaving the cell they signed the certificate. I know they did so believing in good faith that this was the only way they could save my life, which they considered to be in grave danger. I was not obliged to keep our conversation secret, for I am bound only by the truth. Telling the truth in this instance may jeopardize those good doctors in their material interests, but I am removing all doubt about their honor, which is worth much more. That same night, I wrote the Court a letter denouncing the plot; requesting that two Court physicians be sent to certify my excellent state of health, and to inform you that if to save my life I must take part in such deception, I would a thousand times prefer to lose it. To show my determination to fight alone against this whole degenerate frame-up, I added to my own words one of the Master’s lines: ‘A just cause even from the depths of a cave can do more than an army.’ As the Court knows, this was the letter Dr. Melba Hernández submitted at the third session of the trial on September 26th. I managed to get it to her in spite of the heavy guard I was under. That letter, of course, provoked immediate reprisals. Dr. Hernández was subjected to solitary confinement, and I – since I was already incommunicado – was sent to the most inaccessible reaches of the prison. From that moment on, all the accused were thoroughly searched from head to foot before they were brought into the courtroom.
Two Court physicians certified on September 27th that I was, in fact, in perfect health. Yet, in spite of the repeated orders from the Court, I was never again brought to the hearings. What’s more, anonymous persons daily circulated hundreds of apocryphal pamphlets which announced my rescue from jail. This stupid alibi was invented so they could physically eliminate me and pretend I had tried to escape. Since the scheme failed as a result of timely exposure by ever alert friends, and after the first affidavit was shown to be false, the regime could only keep me away from the trial by open and shameless contempt of Court.
This was an incredible situation, Honorable Judges: Here was a regime literally afraid to bring an accused man to Court; a regime of blood and terror that shrank in fear of the moral conviction of a defenseless man – unarmed, slandered and isolated. And so, after depriving me of everything else, they finally deprived me even of the trial in which I was the main accused. Remember that this was during a period in which individual rights were suspended and the Public Order Act as well as censorship of radio and press were in full force. What unbelievable crimes this regime must have committed to so fear the voice of one accused man!
I must dwell upon the insolence and disrespect which the Army leaders have at all times shown towards you. As often as this Court has ordered an end to the inhuman isolation in which I was held; as often as it has ordered my most elementary rights to be respected; as often as it has demanded that I be brought before it, this Court has never been obeyed! Worse yet: in the very presence of the Court, during the first and second hearings, a praetorian guard was stationed beside me to totally prevent me from speaking to anyone, even among the brief recesses. In other words, not only in prison, but also in the courtroom and in your presence, they ignored your decrees. I had intended to mention this matter in the following session, as a question of elementary respect for the Court, but – I was never brought back. And if, in exchange for so much disrespect, they bring us before you to be jailed in the name of a legality which they and they alone have been violating since March 10th, sad indeed is the role they would force on you. The Latin maxim Cedant arma togae has certainly not been fulfilled on a single occasion during this trial. I beg you to keep that circumstance well in mind.
What is more, these devices were in any case quite useless; my brave comrades, with unprecedented patriotism, did their duty to the utmost.
‘Yes, we set out to fight for Cuba’s freedom and we are not ashamed of having done so,’ they declared, one by one, on the witness stand. Then, addressing the Court with impressive courage, they denounced the hideous crimes committed upon the bodies of our brothers. Although absent from Court, I was able, in my prison cell, to follow the trial in all its details. And I have the convicts at Boniato Prison to thank for this. In spite of all threats, these men found ingenious means of getting newspaper clippings and all kinds of information to me. In this way they avenged the abuses and immoralities perpetrated against them both by Taboada, the warden, and the supervisor, Lieutenant Rozabal, who drove them from sun up to sun down building private mansions and starved them by embezzling the prison food budget.
As the trial went on, the roles were reversed: those who came to accuse found themselves accused, and the accused became the accusers! It was not the revolutionaries who were judged there; judged once and forever was a man named Batista – monstruum horrendum! – and it matters little that these valiant and worthy young men have been condemned, if tomorrow the people will condemn the Dictator and his henchmen! Our men were consigned to the Isle of Pines Prison, in whose circular galleries Castells’ ghost still lingers and where the cries of countless victims still echo; there our young men have been sent to expiate their love of liberty, in bitter confinement, banished from society, torn from their homes and exiled from their country. Is it not clear to you, as I have said before, that in such circumstances it is difficult and disagreeable for this lawyer to fulfill his duty?
As a result of so many turbid and illegal machinations, due to the will of those who govern and the weakness of those who judge, I find myself here in this little room at the Civilian Hospital, where I have been brought to be tried in secret, so that I may not be heard and my voice may be stifled, and so that no one may learn of the things I am going to say. Why, then, do we need that imposing Palace of Justice which the Honorable Judges would without doubt find much more comfortable? I must warn you: it is unwise to administer justice from a hospital room, surrounded by sentinels with fixed bayonets; the citizens might suppose that our justice is sick – and that it is captive.