Haunted by cancer after Cuba’s Black Spring
Haunted by cancer after Cuba's Black Spring
By Alfredo Felipe Fuentes/ CPJ Guest Blogger
As the world welcomes celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on her
first international tour in a decade, we must also remember journalist
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who continues to be confined not only to
the island nation, but to a prison cell in Havana Province.
Martínez, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de
Información Hablemos Press, was imprisoned in September after he started
looking into why an international shipment of medicine was allowed to go
bad, according to news reports. The journalist, who has been on
intermittent hunger strikes over the course of the past few months,
described in a telephone conversation with Hablemos Press last year the
inhumane conditions he faces in prison. Cases like that of Calixto are
a troubling counterbalance to reforms the authorities have announced in
recent years, and recall the Black Spring, one of the darkest episodes
in recent Cuban history, and my own experience as a prisoner of conscience.
Six months before the Castro government freed me from prison and
deported me to Spain in October, 2010, I found a cyst on my neck. I
turned to the prison authorities and the jail doctor, who, after
examining the small lump, told me it was probably an inflamed or
necrotic ganglion, but nothing to worry about. This was without even
ordering an ultrasound to look for elements that might have contradicted
his rushed diagnosis.
Months later, while still in prison, I managed to have a specialist
examine me, but he only reproduced the same irresponsible conclusion and
attitude of the previous doctor.
For my part, as a believer in science and the Hippocratic Oath, I
dismissed my concern and confidently continued my life as a prisoner of
But in February 2012, after having lived some time in Spain, I arrived
in the United States, where I began to worry again about the cyst due to
its insistent presence. Moreover, it had started to increase in size. I
went to a doctor who ordered various imaging exams with the latest
As a result of those exams, the specialist ordered immediate surgery in
order to remove the cyst.
A week after the surgery, I went for a follow-up visit with the
specialist, who informed me that the tissue removed from my neck had
been sent to pathology and that the tests indicated, without a doubt,
I had to face then, all of a sudden, that most dreaded word: Cancer.
After undergoing surgery, I am now going through radiation and
chemotherapy, which though the most effective treatment for cancer, also
implies a serious decrease in quality of life.
It is in this situation that I find myself today, with severe
limitations for my work; except for writing in days of grace.
I thank my doctors in the United States, my relatives and brothers in
exile for their constant concern and support. I especially thank my wife
Loyda Valdés, who as in her magnificent time with the Ladies in White in
Cuba, has not left me for a second and toils, with love, so that my
treatment and recovery are strictly implemented.
My case, in the sense that it was not acted upon in time, constitutes
another example of the mediocrity of the Cuban "medical power." But
without forgetting the already mentioned negligence and laziness of the
doctors who examined me in prison, what I truly attribute my cancer and
its consequences to are my seven years of unjust incarceration and its
sustained stress. I attribute it to the Cuban Black Spring.
Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, an economist by training, began working for the
Cuban independent press in 1991. He was given 26 years in prison in 2003
for violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code and acting against "the
independence or the territorial integrity of the state."