Pedro Luis Boitel: Cuba’s martyr for academic freedom and human rights
“Life on earth is a hand-to-hand mortal combat … between the law of love and the law of hate.” – José Martí (1881)
Pedro Luis Boitel Abraham (1931 – 1972)
Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement’s members like Pedro were anti-communists.
Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University were his fellow students nominated to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960. Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel’s threat to the emerging communist regime was that he refused to betray the Federation of University Students and sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy.
As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent to Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961 he served the cruel and unjust sentence but as the date of his release came and went prison officials refused to free him. In response to the years of cruelty, torture and now denial of his freedom he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died forty years ago today on May 25, 1972 after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana in the Castillo del Principe. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today.
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