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Cuban Dissident Couple Survive Strains of Surveillance

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Cuban Dissident Couple Survive Strains of Surveillance

Cuban Dissident Couple Survive Strains of Surveillance

Cuban Dissident Couple Survive Strains of Surveillance

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Imagine all the strains of a long marriage while being under surveillance 24 hours a day, every day of every month of every year... Lourdes Garcia-Navarro profiles Oscar Chepe and Miriam Leiva, prominent Cuban dissidents who have been married for three decades despite their defiant stance against Fidel Castro's government.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Cuba, being a dissident can land you in jail. Political reformers are watched constantly; neighbors turn against them. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro profiles two people who face extra scrutiny. They are dissidents who fell in love and have stayed together despite many efforts to drive them apart.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

They sit in two old rocking chairs facing each other in their eight-foot-by-six-foot living room. After 30 years of marriage, they even seem to rock in synchronicity. Oscar Chepe met Miriam Leiva when they both worked for the Cuban government. He looks at her fondly as he reminisces.

Mr. OSCAR CHEPE: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `I've always had Miriam's support. She has been very valiant and very heroic. Indeed, she had a very big future in Cuban diplomacy, and she broke with that to follow me.'

On the wall is a picture of them in a foreign country; her face was fuller, his hair was black. They haven't been permitted to travel in many years now. He was an economist branded a traitor by the Cuban government and was among 75 dissidents put in jail in 2003. She recently received a human rights prize from the European Union for her work as a founder of the Ladies in White. Every Sunday, she and other wives and mothers of imprisoned dissidents pray and march down a main Havana street.

Ms. MIRIAM LEIVA: Almost immediately after I met Oscar, we've had very difficult time. But since we think the same, we're almost the same way. I think that we have supported each other very much, and it's the most important thing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oscar Chepe was fired from his job in the early 1990s for his increasing criticism of the regime. Miriam says she was advised many times to leave him and eventually, too, she lost her job. The dissident movement has been heavily infiltrated by the Cuban security forces, and that has divided it. Many prominent dissidents in Cuba distrust one another, so having someone who shares your struggle and that you trust implicitly is a rarity. Even though Oscar Chepe and Miriam Leiva have that, they lack one very essential thing that makes a marriage work: privacy.

Mr. CHEPE: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, `We know that we are watched by the political police. Our telephones are tapped. In my case, there is an apartment above us that is an office of the political police for many years. But we get used to living that kind of life because we know we are fighting for something that is just,' he says.

Just what they are fighting for is a democratic Cuba; more freedom of expression, the opening up of the economy. But while they've been persecuted by their government, they also criticize the United States and its 45-year-long embargo of Cuba. Americans are not allowed to travel to Cuba, and Cuban-Americans have had their visits cut down to once every three years under Bush administration policies implemented in 2004.

Ms. LEIVA: We are always saying that the Cuban government don't allow us to go abroad and they are violating our human rights. But the American government is doing the same to their citizens and, of course, to Cubans living in the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cuba accuses the dissident community of being in the pay of the United States and the hard-line exile Miami groups. It's a charge they deny. They both do admit, though, to having all the regular problems of a married couple.

Ms. LEIVA: Oh, my God, it's terrible, you know. This is why he's laughing, because I like to go to a theater, I like to go to the beach, I like to go places, you know. And he likes to stay here all the time, so it's very difficult.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They both say the hardest time was when they were forced to be apart. He was in prison for a year and a half and then released in 2004. They say it's a hard life they've chosen, but one which they can deal with together. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

CHADWICK: NPR's DAY TO DAY continues. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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