Activist's Daughter Speaks Against Castro
By VANESSA ARRINGTON
The Associated Press
Saturday, December 4, 2004; 12:11 AM
PERICO, Cuba - Her political activist father is her hero and Sayli Navarro
wants to follow in his footsteps - at any cost. The soft-spoken, articulate
teenager was just 6 when her father went to prison the first time, for posting
signs reading "Down with Fidel."
Now 18, Sayli Navarro speaks out against Fidel Castro's government as well as
the imprisonment of her father, one of dozens of government opponents still
behind bars despite a recent string of releases.
Felix Navarro was among 75 dissidents rounded up by Cuba's government in
March 2003 and accused of receiving money from U.S. officials to undermine the
island's communist system - charges the activists and American officials denied.
This week, the government released six of the prisoners, including writer Raul
Rivero. Including seven others freed earlier this year, 13 of the original 75
have now been released, all for medical reasons.
Several of the 62 still behind bars were transferred this week from provincial
prisons to major Cuban cities for medical checkups, prompting their relatives to
hope they, too, might be freed.
Among them was 51-year-old Navarro, president of an opposition party that held
political meetings attended by Cubans and even U.S. officials.
Navarro was transferred Tuesday from his prison cell in eastern Guantanamo
province to nearby Santiago. His daughter and wife, Sonia Alvarez, anxiously
await news of his fate.
"We are not sure, but we know that something is happening," Sayli
Navarro told The Associated Press in an interview. "Hope is something we
have yet to lose."
Alvarez was less optimistic.
"I honestly don't think they will release him," she said. "He is
really strong, with no illnesses. Hopefully they let all the prisoners go, but I
don't think they will - the old man (Castro) is very stubborn."
Castro is far from revered in the Navarro household. A picture of Pedro Luis
Boitel, a political prisoner who allegedly died during a hunger strike in the
1970s, hangs on a wall in the modest home in this tiny town 100 miles east of
Navarro's Movement for Democracy Party, which calls for political and economic
openings in Cuba, is named for Boitel.
Boitel's tribulations in prison also inspire the younger Navarro. After her
father was imprisoned last year, she began reading about Castro's time as a
political prisoner before Cuba's 1959 revolution.
Surprised by his descriptions of relative comfort - clean rooms, abundant water,
twice-a-month visits by family members, access to a prison store, the young
woman decided to write Castro.
"Cruel treatment, violations of rights ... and lack of access to medical
care and religious services" define Cuban prisons today, she wrote in the
letter delivered to Castro's Havana offices in September.
She decried the practices of keeping prisoners hundreds of miles from their
families in filthy, overcrowded cells, and allowing family visits just once
every three months.
"Why is the treatment of Cuban prisoners ... so painful and
degrading?" she asked. "What difference exists between an Iraqi
prisoner and a Cuban prisoner?"
At the letter's end, she calls Castro's government "the world's most
diabolical," and says it is time to reflect on the imprisonment of people
"only for thinking differently."
After sending the letter, Navarro said she worried for days that she might be
jailed, or that her father would be punished.
So far, there has been no reaction.
"Fear is something all human beings experience," she said. "My
love for my father, and his example, inspire me, and this makes me strong."
Felix Navarro was a physics teacher and high school principal when he posted the
"Down with Fidel" signs in the early 1990s and was arrested. Released
nearly two years later, Navarro went to work in the sugarcane fields - no one
else would hire him.
Alvarez said her husband later held political meetings in his home, which were
attended by Cubans from various provinces and, at least once, by U.S. Interests
Section Chief James Cason.
"He is a very active person, fearless," Alvarez said of her husband.
"He will confront anything."
"They are exactly alike," she said of her husband and daughter, the
couple's only child.
Sayli Navarro said life as a dissident's daughter is not easy. She misses being
with her father, especially on holidays.
Among the most crushing moments was during her father's trial, when neighbors
testified against him.
But she said most neighbors treat her and her mother well. Her belief that her
battle is just helps keep her going.
"They have not committed any crime," she said of the jailed
dissidents. "They are in prison due to the whim of one man."
Whether or not her father is released, Navarro said she plans to keep fighting
for change. "I want a Cuba with liberty," she said, "which
doesn't exist in Castro's Cuba."