Ricardo Bofill, former political prisoner and founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, died at dawn on Friday in Miami, family and friends confirmed to El Nuevo Herald.
The family is still waiting for a cause of death, said his widow, Yolanda Miyares, but Bofill, who was 76 years old, had suffered some complications of hip surgery.
Bofill was one of the best-known opponents of Fidel Castro. The Washington Post once described him as “a Cuban hero.”
Bofill “spent his entire life and suffered years in Cuban prisons for defending human rights and documenting human-rights violations in Cuba,” said John Suarez, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. “The non-violent movement in favor of democracy that exists today in Cuba is his legacy.”
In a tribute in Miami in 2015, writer Carlos Alberto Montaner highlighted the political importance of Bofill’s work in the Committee.
“From the creation of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, in the remote decade of the ‘70s, the political battle... became a battle for the dignity of people,” Montaner said.
A former professor of philosophy at the University of Havana, Bofill was imprisoned on several occasions by the government of Fidel Castro, the first in 1968, when he was sentenced to 12 years for the crime of distributing “enemy propaganda.” He was released in 1975 and a year later he founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, compiling and disseminating information about the violations committed by the Cuban government abroad.
In an interview in 2006, Bofill said the harassment he and other opponents suffered in prison led him to the creation of the Committee.
Castro and other members of the government “acted personally against us, terrorized or tried to terrorize our family members,” he told Cuban magazine Amanecer. “They beat us, did horrendous things to us, all kinds of tortures .. .and that’s where the idea arose of defending ourselves in an organized manner and of creating the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.”
Bofill was arrested several times in the 1980s and was held in the psychiatric hospital of Mazorra in Havana. In 1983 he was sentenced to 18 years for “illicit association” and “counterrevolutionary” activities. After he was released two years later for health problems, the activist sought refuge in the French embassy in Havana.
From the embassy, Bofill sent a letter that was published in el Nuevo Herald in September 1986, in which he explained the objectives of his work as the head of the Committee.
“Our program of action continues to be based on issues such as: the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba, the fight for the elimination of arbitrary and massive arrests, the end of the tortures and degrading treatment of detainees ... freedom of association and peaceful demonstration, freedom of expression ... and freedom for Cubans to freely exercise their right to enter or leave their homeland, “Bofill wrote.
“That is all. We have nothing to do with the CIA. We do not participate in violent acts. We have no other weapon than the word. And we’re going to use it as long as there’s a breath of life,“ the letter added.
Finally, the Castro government forced him to leave the country without the ability to return in 1988.
In one of his stays in the Combinado del Este, an infamous prison outside of Havana, he met Armando Valladares, another former political prisoner and Cuban opponent who was later appointed by President Ronald Reagan as U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
“When I was in the Commission, the information that [Bofill] and his committee sent me was very important and was part of the complaints presented by the United States to the U.N.,” Valladares commented.
In Cuba, Bofill “defied Castro,” said Miyares. “Castro had so many political prisoners and my husband confronted him for that reason.”
“He was a good person,” his widow said. “In the 40 years we were married, I never heard him speak badly about anyone. His sole issue was his battle against Castro. “