I knew they would go after him. When I spoke with José Daniel Ferrer for the first time, by phone, I immediately noticed his exceptionality. Shortly after, we talked around the table in our house and this impression was further confirmed. While outside night was coming on, the man from Palmarito de Cauto told us of the years he spent in prison, from the Black Spring of 2003 to mid-2011. The beatings, the denouncing, the inmates who respectfully called him “the politician” and the guards who tried to crush him by force. We spent hours listening to those stories, at times of horror and at others of true miracles. Like when he managed to hide a small radio, his most precious possession, from the searches until he himself smashed it against the floor, seconds before a guard confiscated it.
José Daniel, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), is today State Security’s main headache in the East of the country. He occupies that place — admirable but dangerous — in part because his every word projects honesty and determination. Good-natured, young, conciliatory, he has managed to revive a dissident movement languishing between repression and the exile of some of its members. His drawing power, and the respect many have for him, comes also from his perseverance and, in particular, from the fact that he is quicker to embrace than to distrust. He has become a human-bridge between several citizen projects and, right now, that makes him a sharp stone in the Cuban government’s shoe.
For 23 days this tireless Santiaguan has been detained. He can no longer traverse the steep roads connecting the towns of his region, nor respond to interviews, nor send messages via Twitter from his cell phone. Last Monday he declared a hunger strike in the police station where they are keeping him incommunicado. His wife, Belkis Cantillo, still has no information about how much longer he will be under arrest, or even if they plan to file legal charges. Some of us, his friends, have a bad feeling. José Daniel Ferrer has come to have an ability to call people together that frightens the Cuban authorities and they will punish him harshly for that. They fear him because he could give Santiago de Cuba’s slogan, “Heroic City,” a new meaning in these times.