Yndamiro Restano, a poet of center-left ideas, must have posed a dangerous threat to the Cuban regime: He was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison, by far the longest term given to any Cuban dissident in recent years.
A state prosecutor had requested a 12-year sentence for Restano, charging him with rebellion for producing leaflets that called for a multiparty system in the island. Other nonviolent dissidents have received much shorter sentences.
Maria Elena Cruz Varela was recently sentenced to two years in prison for putting out similar pamphlets. Daniel Azpillaga, who led a Sept. 6 demonstration before the state security's Villa Marista headquarters, was also sentenced to two years. Who is Yndamiro Restano? Why was he punished so harshly?
I had a long talk with Restano during my last trip to Havana a few months ago. We were talking at the doorsteps of his mother's house on G Street. I was nervous about sitting there, taking notes in front of everybody. He was not. He had nothing to hide, he said. He was not seeking to overthrow the government by force. And there was no sense in playing games with the state security: No matter where we met, they would find out anyway, he smiled.
Restano had brought me, as a present, a copy of his poetry book, Oru, Songs for the Orishas, inspired by the santeria religion. In it, he describes himself as one of Cuba's many "dreamers . . . hurled against the impossible."
But, far from a romantic dreamer, Restano struck me as a hands-on organizer with a clear political program. He saw the system's gradual deterioration as a great opportunity to recruit pro-democracy activists among workers and retired members of the armed forces.
"We are passing from a situation of scarcity by consensus, to one of misery by force," he told me. "That's when the process of destabilization begins."
Restano, 44, a young-looking man despite his white hair, comes from a hard-line communist home. His father, Julio, was a political commissar in Matanzas province. His mother, Aurora, had also been a staunch Marxist.
But Yndamiro has long moved in dissident circles. His wife, Marcela, is the sister of Cuba's human rights leader Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz. The two lived at Sanchez's two-story house in Havana's Marianao section.
Restano worked as a journalist until he was fired from his last newspaper job in 1985 for political reasons. He then labored as a construction worker, a gardener and, until recently, as a window cleaner at Havana's Children's Hospital.
In 1990, he formed the social-democratic Harmony Movement. The group now claims about 300 members.
Late last year, he signed the Democratic Convergence document with Cruz Varela and a dozen other dissident leaders. It advocates peaceful opposition and "constructive criticism" rather than "pathological anti-Castroism," he explained.
Too many Cubans -- including himself -- had once supported the revolution. It made no political sense to antagonize them by saying everything the revolution had ever done was bad. Some things, such as gains in health and education, should be preserved, he said.
"People in Cuba want a 90-degree change, from the far left to the center," he told me. "They don't want a 180-degree change, from the far left to the far right."
So why has the Cuban regime reacted so strongly against Restano?
It is probably a message that, as times get tougher, the government will crack down on dissidents harder than ever. It may also be a signal to those seeking to introduce the Trojan horse of democratic socialism, that they won't get away with it.
One thing seems clear: The Cuban regime is worried about moderates who say they only want a 90-degree change. Restano's message must be striking a chord in Cuba -- and he is paying the price for it.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.