In Fidel Castro's jails, plantados are the most stubborn political prisoners, the ones who have endured the harshest punishment. They have lived for years in small, filthy cells and been beaten with hoses, sticks and bayonets.
Mario Chanes de Armas, the last of the original plantado prisoners, was released in Cuba Tuesday, 30 years after being imprisoned.
The release of the 65-year-old inmate, jailed longer than any other Cuban political prisoner, followed the release of two other original plantados.
Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez was freed March 25 after 22 years; Alfredo Mustelier was released in March 1990 after more than 20 years.
Mustelier, Chanes and Diaz Rodriguez once were among Castro's closest allies. They helped propel Castro to power but turned against him early in the revolution.
Before their release, a slew of plantado prisoners were freed.
Many came to Miami and, like former political prisoner Armando Valladares, became influential forces in international efforts to free other political prisoners in Cuba.
But all along, Chanes remained as the symbol of -- those who never submitted.
The plantados' rebelliousness surfaced in 1961, the year Chanes was jailed.
In 1961, the Cuban penal system introduced its Progressive Plan, more commonly known as the Rehabilitation Program. Those who followed it attended political education classes and were paid full wages for manual labor. They were generally treated better, allowed more visits and released sooner.
Most political prisoners refused the program in the beginning.
The plantado movement gained strength in the mid-1960s.
In 1964, the plantados were the ones who rebelled at forced-labor camps. Ordered to dig ditches, they worked as slowly as possible in protest. For this, they were beaten. Several died. The labor camps closed three years later.
In 1967, political prisoners who refused the blue uniforms worn by ordinary prisoners became plantados. These men remained in their underwear.
A plantado came to mean someone with an "attitude of rebellion," said former prisoner Angel de Fana, released in 1983 after serving 21 years.
The plantado population, which numbered in the thousands throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, gradually dwindled. Some died, some joined the Rehabilitation Program and others were released. The majority were men.
By 1978, 250 plantados remained. Later that year, several plantados were among 3,600 political prisoners released by Castro.
Manuel "Chichi" Del Valle, one of the plantados freed in 1978, was murdered last year outside his southwest Miami home -- motive unknown.
Valladares was among the first of the prisoners to be released in the
1980s. He was freed Oct. 21, 1982, after
pressure from French President Francois Mitterrand.
At that time, Valladares said there were about 150 plantados still in jail. Valladares told his story -- and that of the plantados -- in his 1986 book Against All Hope.
Additional plantados came out in subsequent years, including a relatively large number in 1986.
Among those freed in 1986 was another long-time plantado: Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, whose original death sentence was later commuted to 55 years.
Castro had long refused to free plantado prisoners such as Gutierrez Menoyo, Chanes, Diaz Rodriguez and Mustelier because they had once been his allies.
Gutierrez Menoyo had once been a senior revolutionary commander in Castro's army. Chanes helped launch the attack on eastern Cuba's Moncada barracks on July 26, 1953. Mustelier took up arms with Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Diaz Rodriguez plotted against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Their release doesn't mean there are no more political prisoners in Cuba.
In the early 1980s, a new group of 60 young political prisoners emerged. They say they are the new plantados.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.