Samuel Pupo Martínez, Cubanos, 11J

Samuel Pupo Martínez: a prisoner with stone skin

MEXICO CITY, Mexico. — Samuel bends over, rounds his back and drags his legs. The rigidity of his body does not allow him to move freely or his joints to respond. He arrives at the infirmary with help because he can barely walk and the ibuprofen no longer relieves him. There the doctor injects him with something stronger and the pain subsides, although he never goes away. The rest of the time he is alone. He doesn’t get out of bed. He doesn’t take a bath. For him in that state it is impossible to fend for himself. There are days, like these crisis days, when he doesn’t even swallow water, it’s easy. The prison infirmary is like a punishment cell for him. At least in the detachment, his companions help him when his body is literally stone.

Nine years ago, Samuel Pupo was diagnosed with scleroderma, a degenerative disease that turns your own immune system into an enemy. Your body mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and there is no cure for it. There are two types of scleroderma, one is localized, which only affects the skin. But the most serious is systemic sclerosis. This, which damages blood circulation and organs, is what Samuel has.

At first glance, if you don’t touch the hard epidermis, Pupo appears to be healthy. He is a 48 year old man, tall and stocky. However, his skin lesions are mostly hidden under his inmate uniform, except for his fingers, where the accumulated humor bursts, filling the tips of his limbs with sores. Nor do his nails have an ordinary appearance. The texture and shape are more like the hooves of an animal than the fingers of a man. But the most devastating effects of his illness are internal: glaucoma, diabetes, high blood pressure, constipation, and constant pain that sometimes immobilizes him.

When he was arrested on July 11, 2021 for demonstrating against the government in Cárdenas, his family thought that suffering from an incurable and degenerative disease would save him from jail. Besides, he didn’t hurt anyone, he didn’t throw stones, he didn’t confront the police. What he did do that day was get on top of an overturned car and shout: “Down with communism! Homeland and Life!”, very close to the headquarters of the municipal Party.

Samuel Pupo during the 11J protests in Matanzas (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

That was enough for him to be sentenced to three years in prison and then denied the change of measure to an open regime. There has been no condescension towards him, despite the fact that prison has greatly deteriorated his health, as his defense in court has shown. On the contrary, Samuel has been told that it will only get worse for him, as long as his wife doesn’t shut up.

“My son, who is only thirteen years old, has learned what a dictatorship is”

“You have to be trustworthy to teach, and if you continue with your husband, you are not. If you continue with him, it is because you think that way,” the director of the Granma 50th Anniversary Polytechnic told Yuneisy. After working there for years as a teacher, she made it clear to him that not separating from her husband was reason enough to turn her into a plague.

yuneisy-santana has been with Samuel for 15 years. Both arrived alone in Matanzas from Ciego de Ávila, and built a life without family nearby. She was there when the first symptoms that led to the diagnosis of the disease appeared. She later accompanied him when he was arrested and prosecuted. She is the one who fills her sack every month, buys medicines on the street that there is no pharmacy —except in prison— and goes to the Agüica prison, 70 km from her house. For Yuneisy it is unthinkable to leave him, even if they leave her without support as punishment.

Samuel Pupo Martínez: a prisoner with stone skin
Samuel Pupo Martínez (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Without a job, with her husband in prison and a child in her care, Santana started cleaning houses to survive and sold some equipment and clothes to buy food.

“I have not felt alone because our family helps and I have had support from people who do not even know me, but have seen my complaints. In addition, I have not lacked a house to clean”. Yuneisy says that this has been the most difficult year for her family, that at times she loses strength, but that she asks God a lot to lift her up and let her continue. Now, without Samuel, Hugh alone has her.

“My son, who is only thirteen years old, has learned what a dictatorship is. He already knows how to hate and doesn’t want to know about communism. He recently reproached me for having given birth to him in Cuba”. Since he was four years old, Hugh Dieter Pupo has seen how his father is a different person and he had to take care that other parents do not.

Samuel Pupo Martínez: a prisoner with stone skin
Hugh’s letter to his father (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Samuel in the winter cannot touch the cold water because that tears his skin. Before you wash his face every morning, he should warm it up. Then, with a sterile needle and cotton, he must pop the lesions on his fingers and clean the tips. His father needs constant medication that they don’t guarantee in prison, to drink boiled water and a healthy diet. In prison he eats just what is least recommended: flour in the form of bread, cookies, sweets. Hugh understands that his father’s health is delicate and he sees it deteriorate with each visit.

“When I buy something for my child, like some cookies, he tells me that he doesn’t want it, that he should leave it to his father. He sees me struggling to fill the sack and thinks that not eating will help Samuel have more things. They have always been very close and this separation has affected him a lot.”

The boy hardly smiles anymore, he doesn’t play, he doesn’t want to go to the beach or have ice cream. On his first day of the school year, he had to explain to the other children why his father was still in prison. Yuneisy has noticed how her son went from being a happy child to another who is always anguished and does not want to lose sight of her. Hugh fears that his mother will also be imprisoned.

Samuel Pupo Martínez: a prisoner with stone skin
Yuneisy and Hugh on their way to the prison to visit Samuel (Photo: Courtesy of the author)

Their mother blames them for everything that happens to them. “They destroyed our family and Hugh’s childhood. They don’t stop harassing us. They are following up with my son, who has never had a problem at school, and they had not told me. They are robbing my husband of his lifetime.”

“They”, as Yuneisy names them, are some of the faces of Cuban totalitarianism: the police, State Security, the school that does not give them a job, the courts, the government.

On September 14, 2022, the Office of Attention to Minors summoned them both, mother and child. Although in the trials they have highlighted that Samuel is not a political prisoner, today his son is given “monitoring” to verify that he does not have the same ideas as his father and that he is not going to “contaminate” his companions of class.

State Security, the same one that has Samuel in prison, and takes away his calls every time Yuneisy makes a direct one; they hold her responsible for harming the child; They have warned her that they can withdraw her custody or put her in jail if she insists on talking. However, Yuneisy, far from being terrified, her harassment only drives her to scream louder, louder.

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