When I visited Miami in 2009 to present the Directorio’s Pedro Luis Boitel Freedom Award, in absentia, to Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, I was deeply moved to greet Huber Matos (right), at the ceremony, writes the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman.
I hadn’t seen him in almost thirty years, and his presence brought back memories of how I and others had campaigned for his release from prison and then welcomed him to New York and pledged to support his struggle for a free Cuba. His death once again brings back those memories, which I want to recall as we remember Huber Matos and rededicate ourselves to his cause, his passion — una Cuba libre.
I remember, first, the “Free Huber Matos” ad that we placed in The New York Times on October 13, 1979, the day Castro spoke at the U.N. Matos was supposed to be released from prison the following week after twenty years solitary confinement and suffering. His wife was terrified that they were going to kill him because he was the most powerful symbol of the betrayal of the Cuban revolution. We got 100 of the most prominent Americans to sign the appeal for his release – among them Senators Scoop Jackson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and prominent intellectuals like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Arthur Schlesinger, and Sidney Hook. And Huber Matos was released.
Just weeks later he came to New York where we organized meetings for him all over town, including a press conference at which he issued a powerful statement affirming his belief that the Cuban struggle for freedom would succeed. “The struggle against the regime will be a long one,” he said. “Of that we have no illusions. But it will succeed because of the people’s commitment to basic democratic values. We do not support terrorism or an invasion from the outside. We don’t want a dictatorship of the right to replace the repressive regime we now have. But we will win. For the present our work must be of an ideological nature. We are engaged in an ideological struggle against Castro. Our purpose is to explain the hard truth about his rule: which is that his regime violates every norm of human freedom and well-being and is despised by the overwhelming majority of the Cuban people. Castro has failed, and the people know it.”
And then the following year, on the first anniversary of his release from prison, I joined Huber Matos in Caracas at the founding Congress of Cuba Independiente y Democratica (CID). In my remarks to the Congress, I called it “a day of hope because Huber Matos is now free after twenty years in Castro’s jails. It is a day of hope because Huber Matos has set an example of courage, integrity, and devotion to freedom. It is a day of hope,” I said, “because his struggle shows that freedom and truth can and will prevail over lies, cruelty, and oppression.”
I concluded by pledging to help mobilize moral and political support for the struggle. “Huber Matos was a prisoner,” I said, “but now he is free. Cuba is enslaved, but it will be free. Let us go forth from this Congress joined in a common struggle por una Cuba libre! Por una Duba Independiente y Democratica! Y por un Mundo libre!”
We haven’t achieved that yet. But we’re so much closer. The movement is now so much stronger. And the people are so much better prepared. It is now far beyond an ideological struggle and has become a genuine social and a political movement. So as we mourn Huber Matos, let us remember him as he would have wanted us to remember him, as a brave fighter for freedom. And let us pledge to honor him by never giving up until the Cuban people can enjoy the freedom and the dignity for which he devoted his entire life.