CubaBrief: Remembering Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez and when nobody listened, but hundreds came out to pay their respects for a freed political prisoner

Thirty four years ago on May 29, 1987 after enduring nearly 28 years in prison, Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez descended from a Panamanian air force jet onto Panamanian soil where he met his daughter Glenda Menes, who he last saw when she was a year old, and his 84 year old mother Candida Rodriguez. During his long imprisonment his wife had passed away. One day later on May 30th he arrived in Miami where he was received by “300 well-wishers” who “thronged ” Miami International Airport.

Photos of Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez kept by his daughter Glenda Menes ( Screengrab: Nobody Listened)

Photos of Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez kept by his daughter Glenda Menes ( Screengrab: Nobody Listened)

Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez had been “imprisoned since August 12, 1959, and sentenced to 30 years in prison for taking part in the first attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.”

Following his arrival in the United States he met and married Ninoska Perez Castellon and they continued the struggle for a free Cuba in the diaspora. On Friday, June 25, 2021 Ninoska over Facebook posted a photo of her, and her husband, announcing that he had passed away, and she offered the following summary of his life:

“He was one of the first to oppose the regime of Fidel Castro, he spent 28 years in Castro’s prisons as a Plantado, [a defiant political prisoner who rejected indoctrination and compromise with the dictatorship]. He saw his friends die on hunger strikes, fall riddled with bullets before the firing squad, he was hungry, cold, angry and in pain with his brothers. He survived torture, inhuman punishments, lack of medical attention and they never managed to break him down. He never considered himself a victim. When, after an intense international campaign, he was released, General Manuel Noriega, for doing Fidel Castro a favor, sent an official delegation to Cuba to look for him. He told them that he did not accept freedom because there were 200 other prisoners who were in worse condition and the plane returned to Panama without him. It was after several days of the prisoners asking him to come out and advocate for them that he left the prison with the commitment to continue fighting until he was free and he did.”

In 1987 the documentary “Nobody Listened” captured Cuba’s human rights reality combining interviews with former political prisoners, including many Plantados, archival footage of firing squads and other instances of repression. Former prisoners described show trials, extajudicial executions, and cruel and unusual punishment that rose to the level of torture. This documentary interviews Roberto Martin Perez’s daughter, Glenda Menes, while he was still jailed while holding one of the grandchildren he had never seen.

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Nobody Listened contains footage of his arrival in Panama and his first encounter with his daughter and mother. The documentary follows up with the circumstances surrounding this early conspiracy against the Castro dictatorship that led to his arrest, and how some of those who captured him ended up alongside him in prison for decades. Political prisoners in Cuba from 1959 on spanned all political persuasions, and positions, including in conflict, often ended up together in the same cell where the secret police hoped they would take reprisals against each other, but regime agents were disappointed by the solidarity demonstrated by all.

Over the past 62 years there have been and continue to be many Cubans jailed for matters of principle who have been and are Plantado, refusing to compromise with the dictatorship. New generations continue to step up in opposition to the Castro dictatorship, and supporters abroad were seen in New York City on June 23, 2021 campaigning for the release of Cuban political prisoners. This is a legacy of those who first stood up to the Castro regime.

Requiescat in pace Roberto Martin Pérez.

From the Archives

UPI Archives, May 29, 1987

Cuban political prisoner released after 28 years


PANAMA CITY, Panama — One of Cuba’s longest-held political prisoners was released Friday through the petitions of a Panama general and vowed to denounce human rights violations by Fidel Castro’s government.

After nearly 28 years in jail, Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez, 52, arrived on a Panamanian air force jet.

He was greeted by his mother, Candida Rodriguez, 84, his daughter Glenda, 29, who was a year old when he was first arrested, and two grandchildren he had never seen.

Other relatives and Cuban journalists also were present.

‘My companions wanted me to let the world know the conditions in which we lived and Castro’s lies when he says that in Cuba human rights are respected, that prisoners are not beaten, in short, that we don’t have reason for denouncing what we denounce,’ Perez told a news conference.

Perez’s mother sent a handwritten letter to General Manuel Antonio Noriega, Chief of Panamanian Defense Forces, asking for intervention to obtain her son’s freedom.

Noriega petitioned the Castro government for Perez’s release. Perez originally wanted his release only along with 248 other political prisoners, but agreed to leave on the condition Panamanian officials would try to achieve freedom for the others.

Asked whether he had been tortured, Perez said, ‘I am missing one testicle from a shooting, I have been beaten, I have been abused and never broken.’

Perez vowed to continue his fight against communism in Nicaragua, Angola and other countries, and said he did not know when he would travel to the United States, where all his relatives live.

Perez said there are more than 270 political prisoners in different jails in Cuba.

Sun Sentinel, May 31, 1987


MIAMI — About 300 well-wishers thronged the airport on Saturday to greet Roberto Martin Perez Rodriguez, the longest-held political prisoner in recent Cuban history.

Perez arrived at Miami International Airport aboard an Air Panama flight after a one-day stop in Panama. Panama’s chief of Defense Forces had lobbied Cuba to win the man’s freedom.

Cuban authorities on Friday released Perez, 53, from the Combinado del Este prison.

Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega had interceded on behalf of Perez, imprisoned since Aug. 12, 1959, and sentenced to 30 years in prison for taking part in the first attempt to overthrow President Fidel Castro.

Arriving with Perez were his daughter, Glenda, and mother, Candida, 84, who had flown from Miami to Panama to meet him on Friday.

Perez said he learned last week that he would be released.