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Cuban Political Prisoner : 'But I Have Not Lost My Honor'

July 17, 1988|BARRY BEARAK | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Imagine a man sinking in muddy water until it reaches his lips. Then the years go by. Twenty-six years.

Finally, that man is taken out and put in the middle of the city where there is walking and buses and signs of life. Ask that man how he feels, I don't know that he could tell you.

He has no eyes for wonders. He is amazed only that he is free and his companions are not. He is free--and yet still wishes to be with them. Now imagine I am that man.

That man, Alberto Fibla, is 60 now, a father without his children, a doctor without his license, a man without his country, an aging counterrevolutionary trying to find what has become of his counterrevolution.

Twenty-six years ago, he was sent to a Cuban prison for conspiring against a young government that had turned Communist.

But his war against Fidel Castro did not end with the slam of a cell door. It struggled on day after day, his defiance constant as a heartbeat.

The Rooted Ones

He became one of the so-called plantados, literally the rooted ones. They obeyed few prison rules, agreed to none of the government "re-education" plans, spent year after year in no clothes but their underwear.

For this resistance, they were often put in cells so crowded they fit themselves together on the floor like pieces of a puzzle. Or in dark solitary, left with the mind's tricks and the body's stench.

Outside the prison walls, Castro's power steadily grew. Inside, the years only collected into decades. The rambling path of history moved on, and the long protest of the plantados never caught the urgent attention of the world.

Once there were thousands of them, then hundreds, then dozens. Many finally entered the re-education plans. Others simply endured. Time swept up the rest.

These past months, some of the very last have been released in a trickle, in large part because of recent pressure by the Reagan Administration.

An International Cause

Belatedly--after the young have turned old and the many have become relatively few--Cuban political prisoners are an international cause.

Alberto Fibla, the captive physician, stepped into exile in the pre-dawn of May 13. He arrived much like a thousand other prisoners--leftover icicles of the Cold War, melting into the Miami heat.

So you ask, were my years all a waste? No, no, no, I am sure they were not. It is true I have lost everything--my family, my career, my youth. But I have not lost my honor, my concept of duty.

If I lost that, I would have lost the essence of my life. Besides, what else was there to do? We were like Don Quixotes. That is right. Like Don Quixotes.

Fidel Castro took power on Jan. 1, 1959, and began a triumphant weeklong march to Havana. He was the young statesman-warrior in green combat fatigues. Bravado seemed to lift from the smoke of his cigar and surround the curl of his beard.

His rebels had overthrown the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista. Adoring crowds expected an era of reform that would lead to democracy.

Instead Castro plotted a behind-the-scenes transition to a totalitarian state. By autumn, writes biographer Tad Szulc, he was already talking to Soviet emissaries over caviar and vodka.

In rapid but deliberate moves, the revolution seized control of the media, the courts, private businesses--even universities. Schoolchildren were introduced to the virtues of Marxism.

With this lunge to the left, thousands--eventually more than a million--fled the island for America. A temporary time away, they thought.

CIA Schemed to Kill Him

In these early years, Castro was embattled, from within and without. A brigade of U.S.-trained exiles launched a hapless assault at the Bay of Pigs. The CIA schemed to kill him: poison his food, even explode his cigars.

So threatened--and so personally inclined as well--Cuba's new caudillo was intolerant of opposing voices. Dissent was dangerous.

He ordered 5,000 executions in the 1960s, according to historian Hugh Thomas. Another 20,000 political enemies were imprisoned, Castro himself estimated in 1965.

Among those jailed was the 34-year-old navy doctor Alberto Fibla (pronounced FEE-bla), a respected cardiologist whose early approval of the revolution had turned to bafflement and finally rage: Fidel was a Communist!

It was night when six men from State Security came to get him. His wife was away. His three young children slept.

The G-2 did not tell him why they were there--nor was this perplexing. He was part of a plot to overthrow Castro's government. He knew they knew.

Months later, there was a trial--a "peculiar" trial, Fibla calls it. Seventy-two men were accused. His own case lasted maybe 40 seconds. He was not allowed to talk.

I had never seen my lawyer before, and he did not know which of the men I was. The judge was sleeping. I guess he was tired, poor man.

His sentence was 30 years, and he joined the many others convicted of politically motivated crimes, kept separate from common criminals.

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