BY GLENN GARVIN | Miami Herald
Plantados, 9-10 tonight, WLRN-PBS 17
Alone in a dark, filthy prison cell, exhausted and dizzy from a hunger strike against Fidel Castro’s jailers, years to go on his sentence, Huber Matos reached out to his sole companion: an emaciated rat hunting for something to eat. ‘‘You are going to be the only witness to my poor existence.’’ Until now, with Miami filmmaker Rafael Lima’s documentary Plantados.
The plantados—the immovable ones—were the Cuban political prisoners who refused prison work, indoctrination or even uniforms. As a result, they served every day of sentences as long as 30 years.
Lima, who teaches screenwriting at the University of Miami, has knitted this documentary together from interviews with a half-dozen plantados, archival film and clandestine footage he shot at Cuban prisons in 1998-1999.
The result is an intimate and disturbing chronicle of how a totalitarian government treats its most helpless victims, those in jail. When the books are finally balanced on Castro’s four-plus decades in power, it is hard to imagine what could possibly offset these accounts of beatings and torture with bayonets, of starvation and darkened cement coffin cells known as tapiadas, of malnutrition and isolation and torture disguised as medical care.
There are tales of courage and humanity, too. Roberto Mart�n P�rez, who served 28 years in Castro’s prisons, recalls a gentle-minded political prisoner named Roberto L�pez Ch�vez being dragged away for torture. When the guards threw him back in the cell, his body was covered with bayonet wounds, including one P�rez could fit four of his fingers into. ‘‘See why I don’t want you to hate?’’ gasped L�pez. ``Because those who hate do this to us. And this isn’t the way you make a nation.’‘
But perhaps even more moving than the tales of bravado in Plantados are moments when the prisoners describe their losses. These were no Rambos, just ordinary men standing up for what they believed. ‘‘We had to pay a high price for it,’’ says one. One plantado describes leaving a 6-month-old baby as he went to prison and finding a 22-year-old man when he returned. Another, whose mother, father and son all died while he was locked up, says simply: ``I lost everything.’‘
Plantados is an important addition to the unfortunately large world library documenting human-rights abuses. If I’ve got a tiny criticism, it’s that all the prisoners Lima interviews are male. There were plantadas, too, women who stood up to Castro and paid just as high a price. Their story deserves a telling every bit as moving as the one in Plantados.