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That August, after Rodriguez was forced into exile, officials summoned Bejar and Alonso to Songo-La Maya and expelled them from the island's small-farmers association. "They mounted a show trial of sorts, where all they did was insult me and present all sorts of lies about me," Alonso said. "They were set on expelling me because they said if they didn't, our views could infect the others." The two Transicion leaders and their neighbors were later interrogated at the village's police headquarters. Province officials later undertook what amounted to an internal economic blockade. It became impossible for the independent cooperatives to buy seeds, fertilizers, and tools, or to use heavy machines. And unable to get the proper certificates, the cooperative members could no longer sell their produce at the mercados.
But the farmers were not discouraged, even as they struggled to survive. Alonso prepared to celebrate the first anniversary of Transicion last year at his farm in Loma del Gato. He planned to invite members from the other independent cooperatives and independent journalists as well, but the festivities never took place. Reynaldo Hernandez Perez, president of the cooperative's umbrella organization and leader of Progreso I in Guantanamo, was arrested in Havana while delivering invitations. Two days before the party Hernandez was arrested again. The government also arrested Bejar and summoned Alonso and a half-dozen cooperative leaders to police headquarters. Police even barricaded the path up to Loma del Gato.
This past October the authorities again called Alonso and two other Transicion members to Songo-La Maya, where security agents warned them they could be tried for "illegal" activities. A month later in Las Tunas, police interrogated and threatened a member of the National Alliance of Independent Farmers; in Guantanamo, officials forced Hernandez to uproot a recently planted tobacco crop after they said he was using improper seeds. While the government has yet to shut down the farmers' experiment, the atmosphere in the Sierras remains tense.
Years of oppression, anxiety, and multiple hunger strikes have exacted a toll on Diosmel Rodriguez. His forehead is creased, and his hair is thin and graying. When he speaks about his lost years, his hands fidget and his lips quiver a bit. Thin and slight (he stands little more than five feet tall), he tends to walk with a stoop. Like many Cubans who came to the United States with a one-way ticket, he's had to adjust to the pressures of life in exile. It hasn't been easy.
At the small office in Little Havana where he occasionally works, he doesn't seem to fit in with the Americanized Cubans, who banter in Spanglish and speak of la patria in the past tense. Rodriguez, whose limited English prevents him from looking for work as an accountant, writes columns for a nonprofit, exile-run Internet news service called CubaNet (www.CubaNet.org), which also publishes stories from independent journalists in Cuba. When he's not writing for CubaNet, Rodriguez tracks political prisoners in Cuba for the Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Directorate and is also helping Juan Clark, a Miami-Dade Community College sociology professor and author of Cuba: Myth and Reality, update his book.
The modest wages and government aid he receives have done little to ease the transition to life in Miami. Rodriguez lives with his wife and two young sons in a cluttered, one-bedroom apartment. Every few minutes jets roar overhead and rattle his small home. His Cuban neighbors, who have lived in the area for decades, are distrustful of a man who once served in the island's military, and openly question whether he is a double agent. Being just one of thousands of bitter Cubans with a story to tell is disheartening.
But ask him about the cooperative movement and his voice grows animated; his arms take on a life of their own as he recounts facts, figures, and historical allusions.
"The Transicion cooperative isn't just a piece of land and a band of farmers," he asserts. "It's an idea, a goal, the age-old dream of peasants, which can now become a reality by directly defying those who would deny us the most basic right of all: the right to feed ourselves."
He knows the odds for success are not in his favor, but the cooperative movement is the start of an idea that can't be contained, he says. And there are signs that even if the Cuban government appears deaf to their proposals, other more powerful entities, such as the U.S. government, are listening.
This past month the Clinton administration announced a series of measures to ease a few areas of its 37-year-old economic embargo against the island. One of the new rules authorizes the sale of food and agricultural supplies specifically to independent farmers. A U.S. company can now legally sell anything from seeds to farming equipment to Rodriguez's rebels. Yet it's doubtful the new measures will actually help men like Alonso and Bejar. The Cuban government controls all commercial imports and is unlikely to allow such foreign aid, especially from the United States. And farmers with an income of about ten dollars per month could hardly afford such supplies.