Exile strikes back: film on the horror of Castro’s prisons shot in Miami

A film inspired by the Cuban political prisoners known as Plantados is shot in Miami on a high budget financed by Spanish-based Cuban businessman Leopoldo Fernández Pujals.

BY PEDRO PORTAL

There are moments that a prisoner never forgets: the day he loses his freedom and those dreadful hours when he is tortured.

Angel de Fana was imprisoned on September 10, 1962. He was accused of being the mastermind of a violent act in which a militiaman and two of his fellow fighters were killed. He served a sentence of 20 years and seven months in Castro’s prisons, during which he experienced and witnessed many abuses.

“They took me to interrogations with a hood that covered my head. Once they took me out naked and left me there for a long time,” says De Fana, who was at the Cabañitas, an interrogation site so secret that the prisoners could only imagine where they were by the time it took to transport them there, covered with a canvas tarpaulin and with the guards’ boots on their heads.

De Fana, 80 years old and from Havana, is one of the Plantados political prisoners who served sentences of more than 20 years in Castro’s prisons, often dressed only in their underwear.

They were called Plantados (immovable ones) because they refused to accept a government-imposed re-education plan that forced them to work and accept political indoctrination with the promise of reduced sentences.

Today the story of those men became Plantados, a film shot in Miami, in a tower-like building that can be seen from Highway 112, where some of the darkest prisons in Cuba are being replicated.

“It’s a fictional story of the Plantados. It is not the life of any of them and at the same time the life of all of them,” says director Lilo Vilaplana, who is known for his work in Colombia in the series El Capo and in Miami for directing, also for television, the episodes of Legends of the Exile.

“We want to capture the essence of the plantados, their indomitable spirit, their resistance, their persistence and their courage vis-à-vis Castroism,” explains Vilaplana in a room where a handyman is trying to reproduce the halls of La Cabaña, laying layers of cement to get the effect of the old walls of the Spanish fortress that was a terrible prison for Cuban political prisoners.

Plantados has a huge budget provided by the Cuban businessman living in Spain, Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals, founder of businesses such as the Telepizza chain.

Fernández Pujals provided the money in memory of the Cuban political prisoners, and especially of his uncle, José Pujals Mederos, who served 27 years of a three-decade sentence imposed on him by Castro’s regime. Pujals Mederos died in March in Tallahassee.

De Fana, who shares for the film his anecdotes and those of other prisoners, recalls that the project started several years ago, when some prisoners were still alive, such as Mario Chanes de Armas – who participated with Fidel Castro in the attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba and was later one of the oldest prisoners of his regime – and Eusebio Peñalver Mazorra, who served 28 years in prison where he suffered the worst treatment because he was black.

Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” had the same experience. He was held captive for 17 years and 38 days for making a harangue in a square in his village, Placetas, in Villa Clara, during a speech by Raúl Castro in 1990.

“Since I got arrested I was the victim of a racist policy,” says Antúnez, who also shared his memories for the film.

“Several scenes from the castings have moved me, because they have brought me back to those abuses and humiliations that I suffered in my own flesh,” he says, adding that “the prison we lived in was totally insignificant compared to the horrors suffered by political prisoners.

As for De Fana, he recalls among the most difficult moments of his life in prison the day he told a guard, “I don’t have to thank the revolution but God,” a courageous gesture that was a prelude to an avalanche of blows.

Antúnez and De Fana are sitting in a room where the producers has placed historical photos of the prisons on the walls, which serve to recreate the spaces and events recounted in the script by writer Angel Santiesteban Prats, who still lives on the island.

The film has two storylines:  the first one, which takes place in Miami, where a former political prisoner meets the henchman who tortured him, and and the second one, which is a flashback that tells the story of Castro’s abuses of political prisoners.

The cast is made up of actors well known in Cuba and Miami, such as the experienced Gilberto Reyes, Alberto Pujols and Carlos Cruz, and a younger group, made up of Héctor Medina, Ariel Texidó, Adrián Mas, Ricardo Becerra, Frank Egusquiza, Yerandy Basart and Fabián Brando.

On the tour of the film’s set, Vilaplana shows the Nuevo Herald a recreation of the “gavetas”, tiny cells in which sometimes up to four prisoners were confined, three standing and one lying down.

The film will also reproduce other punishments, such as immersion in excremental ditches. Among the worst ditches was one in the Isle of Pines prison, which was a lagoon where prison waste ended up, where prisoners were sent after being beaten.

“It’s a good thing to know that brutality, cruelty and beatings still exist,” says Antúnez, emphasizing that “right now we have men in jail who are going through horrible things”.

“The most terrible thing of all is that it seems like it’s a thing of the past, that we’re making a historical film, and it’s not, because [the film] has a tremendous relevance,” says actor Yerandy Basart.

“Today the methods are still the same, the anonymous heroes are still the same, and people are still suffering, that’s why it’s important that this film comes out,” he concludes.

The release of Plantados is planned for mid-2020.