Puerto Rican political prisoner Ana Belén Montes is set to be released from a federal prison in Texas on January 8, 2023. This upcoming release marks a victory for the movement to free Puerto Rican prisoners of conscience. Belén Montes is a former U.S. intelligence analyst who was sentenced to 25 years in prison on October 16, 2002, for espionage on behalf of the Cuban state. She pleaded guilty to the charges levied against her, testifying before the court, “I obeyed my conscience rather than the law. I believe our government’s policy toward Cuba is cruel and unfair, profoundly unneighborly, and I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and our political system on it.”
Ana Belén Montes was one of the top Cuba analysts working for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before she was arrested on September 21, 2001, ten days after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. According to the U.S. government, her arrest was motivated by a fear that she could leak information about the U.S.’s planned invasion of Afghanistan the following month.
Belén Montes used her influential position within the U.S. government to influence policy toward Cuba. One example was in 1998 when she wrote policy that softened the Pentagon’s assessment of the threat posed by Fidel Castro, at a time when Cuba was on the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (the U.S. removed Cuba from this list in 2015, only to re-add the nation in 2021).
“An Italian proverb perhaps best describes the fundamental truth I believe in: ‘All the world is one country,’” Belén Montes testified at her sentencing. “This principle urges tolerance and understanding for the different ways of others. It asks that we treat other nations the way we wish to be treated—with respect and compassion. It is a principle that, tragically, I believe we have never applied to Cuba.”
According to ProLibertad, an organization fighting for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners in the U.S., Belén Montes has had to endure near-complete isolation for the two decades of her incarceration. When she was initially incarcerated, she was restricted to a degree in which she did not have access to television or newspapers and could not interact with any other inmates. As of the past few years, her visits and correspondence are limited to a list of only 20 people who she knew before incarceration.
“[Belén Montes] understood that the Cuban people have been and continue to be victims of constant attacks by an atrocious, inhuman, unjust imperialism that should not be,” Puerto Rican journalist Luis De Jesús told Peoples Dispatch.
“And she took the side that she understood was the most correct. And this, no matter what you think of Ana Belén Montes, is to be admired.”
“It is a gratifying moment to know that she is finally going to be out of prison, but not quite an achievement, because we know that the causes that led Ana Belén to do what she did and to defend the Cuban people as she defended them, still exist, because the Cuban people are still victims of those attacks,” De Jesús continued. “I wish that we didn’t have to have more figures like Ana Belén Montes in the future. That the relationship between Cuba and the United States could be one of brotherhood and solidarity, based on internationalism, as all bilateral relations should be.”
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