Miami-Dade County

Movie aims to capture horror of Castro’s prisons, heroism of Cubans who defied him

There are moments that prison inmates never forget: the day they lost their freedom, and the dark hours when they were abused.

Angel de Fana went to prison in Cuba on Sept. 10, 1962. He was accused of being the mastermind behind an incident that left a pro-government militia member and two of his own men dead. He served 20 years and seven months in Fidel Castro’s prisons, suffering and witnessing many abuses.

“They took me to interrogations with a hood over my head. One time, they took me out naked and left me there for a long time,” de Fana recalled of his time in Cabañitas, a place so secret that inmates could only guess where they were by the length of time it took their guards to transport them there, covered with a tarpaulin and a guard’s boot on their heads.

De Fana, now 80 years old, is one of the “plantados” — political prisoners who served more than 20 years in prisons, often wearing only their underwear to show their defiance to Castro’s rule.

They were known as plantados — Spanish slang for people who stand steadfastly by their convictions — because they refused to accept a re-education plan offered by the government that would have forced them to work in prison and accept political indoctrination in exchange for reductions of their sentences.

Today, their history is being told in “Plantados,” a movie being filmed in a Miami building, visible from State Road 112, where a crew is building replicas of Cuba’s most brutal prisons.

“It’s a fictional tale of the plantados. It’s not the life of any of them, and at the same time it’s the lives of all of them,” said director Lilo Vilaplana, known for his work on the Colombian serial “El Capo” and the Miami TV serial “Leyendas del Exilio.“

“We want to capture the essence of the plantados, their indomitable spirit, their resistance, their persistence and their courage in the face of Castrismo,” Vilaplana said in a room where a handyman was recreating the cells of the La Cabaña prison, adding layers of cement to make it look like the walls of the ancient Spanish fortress that was turned into a terrifying prison for Cuba’s political prisoners.

“Plantados” boasts a million-dollar budget provided by Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals, a Cuban-born businessman who became wealthy in Spain with his Telepizza chain.

Fernández Pujals provided the funds to honor the memory of Cuban political prisoners and especially his uncle, José Pujals Mederos, who served 27 years of a 30-year sentence imposed by the Castro government. Pujals Mederos died in March in Tallahassee.

De Fana, who recalls his experiences for the movie, said the idea for the movie came up several years ago, when many of the leading former political prisoners were still alive. They included Mario Chanes de Armas, who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks but later became one of the longest-serving political prisoners on the island; and Eusebio Peñalver Mazorra, who served 28 especially tough years in prison because he was black.

Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as “Antúnez,” said he suffered the same rough treatment during the 17 years and 38 days he spent in prison for shouting out his complaints against the government during a Raúl Castro speech in 1990 in his native town of Placetas in central Villa Clara province.

“From the time I was arrested I was subjected to a racist policy,” said Antúnez, another of the former political prisoners recalling their experiences for the movie.

“Some of the scenes during the casting moved me, because they took me back to those abuses and harassment that I myself suffered,” he said, adding that his own prison experience was “totally insignificant compared to the horrors suffered by the political prisoners.”

De Fana said that one of his most difficult days in prison was when he told a guard that he would not thank Castro’s revolution for anything, only God. His defiant gesture earned him a shower of punches.

Antúnez and De Fana were interviewed in a large room where the filmmakers have lined the walls with old photos of prisons to recall the spaces and events in the movie’s script, written by author Angel Santiesteban Prats, who lives in Cuba.

The plot follows two lines, one that lays out the Castro government’s abuses against political prisoners on the island, and another in which a former political prisoner in Miami runs into the Castro henchman who tortured him in prison.

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

Vilaplana also showed el Nuevo Herald the recreated “drawers” — minuscule cells sometimes used to confine up to four inmates, three standing and one on the floor.

The film also will reproduce other forms of punishment, such as immersion in pools of excrement. One of the most infamous was in the Isle of Pines, a lagoon where the prison’s sewage lines emptied.

“It’s good that the brutality, cruelty and beatings that still go on today become known,” said Antúnez, adding that “at this very moment we have men in prisons who are suffering these horrors.”

The Cuban government currently holds 125 political prisoners, according to Cuban Prisoners Defenders, a non-governmental organization.

“The most terrible part of all this is that it seems to be something from the past, that we’re doing something from history. And it’s not like that, because [the movie] is tremendously current,” said actor Yerandy Basart.

“Today the methods are the same, the anonymous heroes are the same, and the suffering continues. That’s why it’s important to make this movie,” he added.

The debut of “Plantados” is planned for the summer of 2020.