Cuba's repressive machinery is used effectively against people who exercise their fundamental rights of free association, free expression, free opinion, or the freedom of movement. Scores of Cuban activists who suffer short-term detentions and who receive official warnings that they will face prosecutions for political crimes take seriously the risk of prosecution and imprisonment in Cuba's jails. And while the existence of hundreds of political prisoners is a deterrent to some potential opponents at home, Cuba also uses occasional prisoner releases to maximize political capital abroad. Cuba's deprivation of these individuals' liberty represents a shocking disregard for their fundamental rights. The government's failure to provide the prisoners with humane conditions and the punitive measures taken against them in prison represent additional layers of punishment for their "crimes" that, in several instances, rise to the level of torture.
High-ranking Cuban officials insist that Cuba has no political prisoners, relying on specious arguments and word-games to deny a glaring problem. In June 1998, Cuba's justice minister, Roberto Díaz Sotolongo, argued that Cuba had no political prisoners because its criminal code only penalizes conduct and not thought.50 In July 1998, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alejandro González, invoked national sovereignty in his attempt to dodge reporters' questions about the lengthy pretrial detention of four members of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group and the confinement of hundreds of other political prisoners, saying that Cuba preferred the term "counterrevolutionary prisoners."51
The Cuban government's refusal to reveal the size of its prison population and its bar on domestic and international human rights monitoring impedes the collection of precise information on the numbers and condition of Cuban political prisoners. On several occasions, Human Rights Watch conducted telephone interviews to Cuba regarding political prisoners which were disrupted by persistent background noise that made conversation impossible or were terminated when lines went dead. Human Rights Watch interviews with former political prisoners, dissident groups, and prisoners' family members lead us to believe that Cuban prisons still hold several hundred political prisoners, and potentially hundreds moreprosecuted for common crimes in retaliation for their real or perceived government opposition. Others have been imprisoned for dangerousness and illegal exit, in violation of fundamental human rights. In mid-1998, one of Cuba's nongovernmental human rights groups prepared a list of almost 400 political prisoners.52 Other Cuban human rights organizations believe that the number of political prisoners is even higher, and point to continued arrests and prosecutions in 1998 and 1999.
While the numbers of Cuban political prisoners have dropped over recent years, this apparently has resulted from a trend toward shorter prison sentences (often eighteen months to four years versus past sentences of ten to twenty years), resulting in quicker turn-over. Most political prisoners serve out their entire sentences and virtually all are detained for more than one-third of their term, when Cuban convicts become eligible for parole. Nevertheless, Cuban prisons still detain scores of dissidents for extremely long terms—of ten to twenty years—and prosecutors have not uniformly reduced sentences.
Punitive Measures Against Political Prisoners
Like Cuba's general prison population, political prisoners frequently suffer dramatic weight loss due to meager food rations, serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems due to insufficient medical attention, and abuses at the hands of guards or other inmates. But political prisoners also encounter problems unique to their status as non-violent activists, for holding anti-government views or for criticizing human rights violations in the prisons. Every political prisoner we spoke to stressed that Cuba's confinement of non-violent prisoners with prisoners convicted for violent crimes, often in maximum-security facilities with Cuba's most hardened criminals, is degrading and dangerous. Prison authorities refuse to acknowledge political prisoners' distinct status and punish them for refusing to participate in political reeducation, not wearing prison uniforms, or denouncing human rights abuses in the prisons. Guards restrict political prisoners' visits with family members and subject relatives to harassment. Prisoners' relativesalso face government intimidations outside the prison walls. Before trial, many Cuban political prisoners routinely spend several months to more than a year in pretrial detention, often in isolation cells. Following conviction, they face additional p
unitive periods in solitary confinement. The government also crushes free expression inside the prison walls with criminal charges and prosecutions of previously-convicted prisoners who speak out about inhumane prison conditions and treatment.
Cuban police or prison guards often heighten the punitive nature of solitary confinement with additional sensory deprivation, such as completely blocking all light from entering a cell, blocking ventilation, removing beds or mattresses, seizing prisoners' clothes and belongings, forbidding prisoners from communicating with one another, or restricting food and water beyond the already meager prison rations. Prison and police officials also disorient prisoners by leaving lights on in cells for twenty-four hours a day, incorrectly setting the time on clocks, or incessantly playing loud music. Many prisoners said that their discomfort was aggravated by extreme heat and swarms of mosquitos biting them in the tightly closed cells. Experts in treating torture survivors recognize these as methods of physical and psychological torture.53
Abusive Pretrial Detentions
Prior to trial, government officials often disregard basic due process guarantees by confining suspected political opponents in incommunicado detentions for extended periods—often in maximum security prisons. The practice, which can include interrogations, threats, physical hardship, and psychological trauma, serves as a heavy punitive sanction prior to trial. While Cuban law limits pretrial detention to sixty days except in exceptional circumstances, political prisoners—particularly prominent ones—often spend far longer. The four leaders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group spent over nineteen months in pretrial detention before their March 1, 1999 trial. A Havana court sentenced Reinaldo Alfaro García to three years in prison for spreading false news on August 28, 1998, but he already had spent over one year in detention—since May 1997, which the Cuban government typically counts as time served.
In the cases detailed below, Cuban authorities used pretrial isolation as a tool of intimidation and as punishment for nongovernmental activism. During theseisolation periods, police or prison authorities barred or strictly limited contact with other prisoners, attorneys, family members, and friends, subjected the detainees to interrogations without lawyers present, and physically and mentally debilitated them. The former political prisoners interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who uniformly believed that the government had preordained the outcome of their trials, considered pretrial detentions the first stage of the government's punishment.54
Cuba only charged the four leaders of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group with a crime in September 1998, after they had spent fifteen months in detention.55 During their nineteen-month pretrial detention, Cuba held Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Félix Bonne Carcassés, and René Gómez Manzano in maximum-security prisons. Roque Cabello spent some periods in the prison ward of a Havana hospital. Vladimiro Roca's wife, Magalys de Armas Chaviano, visited her husband at the Ariza Prison in Cienfuegos on June 26, 1998.56 She said that since his arrest, Roca had spent several months in an isolation cell where he had no contact with other prisoners and no access to sunlight. His punishment cell had one bare light bulb that guards kept illuminated day and night. Although prison authorities provided him with a medical check-up on June 12, he depended on his wife to supply him with medicine for his high blood pressure. Prison guards restricted his visits to one two-hour visit every three weeks, which only two family members could attend. De Armas Chaviano said that prison guards forbade her from bringing him books with any political themes.57 Cuban authorities were holding Bonne Carcassés in similar conditions at the Guanajay Prison in Havana province. From the time of his incarceration, Bonne Carcassés, who suffers from diabetes, was not provided with an appropriate dietand received insufficient medicine. The twenty-four-hour illumination in his cell reportedly contributed to vision loss.58
Most of the prisoners who were released in early 1998 on the condition that they leave Cuban territory told of harsh, lengthy pretrial detentions.59 In some cases, the former prisoners who were forced into exile left behind co-defendants (compañeros de causa) in Cuban prisons, serving out sentences exacerbated by interrogations carried out under intimidating circumstances and poor treatment during pretrial confinement.
On October 11, 1992, state security agents in Bayamo in Granma Province arrested brothers José Antonio and José Manuel Rodríguez Santana, detaining them at Bayamo's state security headquarters. The officials confined the brothers, who both suffer from asthma, for four months in sealed cells, where they could see no sign of night or day and had minimal ventilation. Although family members tried to bring the brothers asthma medication, the officials did not always deliver it and in the sweltering, airless conditions, they suffered several severe asthma attacks. During this period, the state security agents interrogated the brothers several times.
After four months, Cuban authorities transferred José Antonio and José Manuel to the maximum security Las Mangas Prison in Granma, where each was assigned to a cell with ten or eleven common prisoners held for violent crimes. The common prisoners harassed and beat them and provided state security agents with false information about them that later led to difficult interrogations. When the brothers protested their treatment and human rights conditions in the prison, they were harassed further. At a closed trial in August 1993, both brothers received ten-year sentences for rebellion and enemy propaganda. While Cuba released José Antonio on the condition he go into exile in Canada in April 1998, José Manuel Rodríguez Santana remains in the Las Mangas Prison at this writing.60
In July 1993, a court in Santiago convicted eight local residents of enemy propaganda and rebellion. Human Rights Watch interviewed three of theseindividuals, Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Luis Alberto Ferrándiz Alfaro, and Xiomara Aliat Collado, who were exiled to Canada in early 1998. One of their co-defendants, Víctor Bressler Villazán, remains in the Cuatro Caminos Work Camp in Santiago serving a twelve-year sentence for rebellion, while Emilio Bressler Cisneros, a relative who tried to defend them, is serving an eight-year sentence for enemy propaganda in the maximum security Boniato Prison in Santiago. Cuban state security agents arrested all of the co-defendants in January 1993 and first detained them in the Santiago state security headquarters, known as Versalles. Sambra Ferrándiz remembered challenging the police searching his house on January 13, 1993, to present him with a warrant. Rather than produce one, they arrested him and took him to an isolation cell at Versalles, where he was detained for three months. The cell reminded him of a tomb. It was two meters by two meters and completely closed except for a very narrow, deep space, "like a canal," that allowed some air in. A hole in the floor served as his toilet. An incandescent 100 watt bulb remained lit twenty-four hours a day, heating the stuffy cell like an oven. When night fell, swarms of mosquitos emerged, which to Sambra Ferrándiz seemed like a nightmare and kept him awake through the night. He remembered one of the state security investigators, a Captain Seriocha, telling him that "the mosquitos are our principal allies." Sambra Ferrándiz spent fifteen days in incommunicado detention before seeing his family. He said that they wept when they first saw him because he was so swollen from mosquito bites.
State security agents began interrogating him on January 14, usually in very heavily air-conditioned offices, after he had emerged from the stifling heat of his closed cell. When he or his co-defendants arrived for questioning, the agents would shut him in the cold office for between thirty minutes and one hour before the interrogation began, leaving him shivering from the cold. He recalled an investigator, who had an overcoat in his arms, asking him several times if he was cold, yet refusing to give it to him. While going to and from the interrogations, guards required him always to face the wall, with his hands at his back, and not to look at his surroundings. From Versalles, state security agents moved Sambra Ferrándiz to the maximum security Mar Verde Prison in Santiago. A Santiago court convicted him of enemy propaganda and rebellion and sentenced him to twelve years in prison in July 1993.61
State security agents also detained Luis Alberto Ferrándiz Alfaro and his wife, Xiomara Aliat Collado, in Versalles. Aliat Collado said that during her forty-five-day detention in Versailles, state security agents tormented her psychologically,telling her that her then five-year-old son—who suffers from asthma and had been left alone with his fourteen-year-old sister following their parents' arrest—was sick and that he would not receive medical treatment and might die if she did not talk.62 Aliat Collado received a seven-year sentence. Cuban officials transferred Ferrándiz Alfaro to the maximum security Boniato Prison in May 1993, where guards detained him for three months with another prisoner in a closed cell, measuring six feet by six feet, with no light and minimal ventilation, that was full of insects. He said, "they did not explain why I was being held in that cell. I'd never been in prison before." During this period, a Santiago court sentenced him to twelve years for enemy propaganda and rebellion.63
On August 3, 1992, a Cuban military tribunal found Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada and Dr. Omar del Pozo Marrero guilty of revealing state security secrets and sentenced them, respectively, to thirteen and fifteen years. The court also sentenced Second Lt. Julio César Alvárez López to nineteen years for the same crime and for insubordination, and Carmen Julia Arias Iglesias to nine years as an accomplice to revealing state secrets. The Cuban government released Infante Estrada and Del Pozo Marrero into exile in Canada in 1998 and Arias Iglesias into exile in the United States in 1997, while Alvarez López remains in prison at this writing. Cuban prosecutors alleged that Alvarez López had provided the three others, who were human rights and political rights activists, with the names of government infiltrators in their organizations.
Their trial also followed harsh pretrial detentions. In April 1992, state security agents arrested Infante Estrada and Del Pozo Marrero and confined them in sealed cells (celdas tapiadas) in their Havana headquarters, known as Villa Marista. During the seventy-five days that state security agents held Infante Estrada in solitary confinement in Villa Marista, they repeatedly interrogated him about his human rights and opposition activities. He recalled that he could not tell day from night in his cell and he tried to mark the passage of time by listening for birds singing outside. Del Pozo Marrero spent eighty days in a cell that wasapproximately three-by-seven feet. He said that the guards never used his name, but only referred to him by a number.64
Adriano González Marichal spent almost two years in prison before his December 1993 trial. Police had arrested him in January 1992 for putting up anti-government posters, denouncing human rights violations, and participating in a September 1991 rally in front of the Villa Marista state security headquarters calling for the release of political prisoners. In March 1992, he was sent to the maximum security Quivicán Prison in Havana, where several guards and common prisoners beat him and sent him to a punishment cell for two months. The cell was approximately four feet by nine feet, with no lights. In July of the next year, still in pretrial detention, prison authorities moved him to the maximum security Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. Guards delivered him to the punishment section of the prison, a group of cells known as "forty-seven" and the "rectangle of death,"(rectángulo de la muerte) a unit with about ninety cells in three hallways. At the entrance, he remembered a large sign listing the rules, which include no speaking and no lying in bed from 5:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. The prison officials took his clothes, dressed him in a black uniform, took all his belongings, and handcuffed him for several hours. Each time prisoners entered or left the unit, guards forced them to face the wall with their hands behind their heads and their legs spread, or the guards would push their legs apart. Guards often beat prisoners who fell down. He spent twenty-one days in the isolation cells in that unit.
Following conviction, prison authorities frequently punish political prisoners with periods in isolations cells, either due to their status as dissidents or their speech or activities while in prison.
The case of René Portelles demonstrates how Cuba employs brutal measures to repress political prisoners. From his arrest in September 1993 until his release into exile in Canada in April 1998, prison authorities repeatedly used isolation, as well as beatings and prison transfers (which isolated him from family and friends and forced him to adapt to new, difficult prison environments), to punish him for his opposition to the government and criticisms of prison conditions. Prior to his trial, state security agents confined Portelles in an isolation cell in the Pedernal State Security Offices (Unidad de Seguridad del Estado) in Holguín for several months. In 1994, an Holguín court sentenced him to seven years for enemypropaganda, apparently because he had served as the local president of the Social Democratic Party.
After his conviction, prison guards held Portelles in isolation cells in the Holguín Provincial Prison and the Holguín State Security Headquarters because he had organized hunger strikes to protest prison conditions. The agents also beat Portelles several times, in one case breaking a rib, to punish him for his criticisms. Portelles spent thirteen months in an isolation cell in 1995 and 1996 at the Canaleta Prison in Ciego de Avila. In early 1996, he undertook a hunger strike at the Ariza Prison in Cienfuegos. On February 29, guards attempting to end the strike beat several prisoners, including Portelles. The authorities sent Portelles to a punishment cell for one additional month in retaliation. In March 1996, guards transferred Portelles to the Valle Grande Prison in Havana, where they sent him to isolation cells on five separate occasions due to his defense of other prisoners' rights. In April 1997, prison authorities transferred him to the "punishment company" (compañía de castigo, the section of the prison where officials punish prisoners with isolation and other deprivations) of the Boniato Prison in Santiago de Cuba. After only a month, prison authorities transferred Portelles again, to the Combinado de Guantánamo Prison, where he spent three separate periods ranging from twenty days to three months in punishment cells in late 1997. Prison authorities imposed the three-month isolation period after granting Portelles a several day temporary release in August 1997 with orders that he solicit a visa to the United States. While at the United States Interests Section in Havana, Portelles denounced human rights violations at the Guantánamo prison.
Back in prison, guards beat him for his denunciations and for shouting "Down with Communist Slogans!" and "Down with the Communist Dictatorship!" In November 1997, prison authorities transferred Portelles to an isolation cell in the "rectangle of death," the punishment section of the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. In late 1997, prison authorities transferred him across the country, detaining him in a tightly-sealed cell of the state security headquarters at the Combinado de Guantánamo Prison. To protest, he started a hunger strike. On January 14, 1998, state security agents beat him after he had shouted "Long live Pope John Paul II!" and "Long live the Social Democratic Party!" Shortly afterwards, Cuban authorities transferred Portelles again, to Villa Marista, prior to forcing him into exile in Canada in May 1998. Twice, state security agents in Villa Marista tied him up and left him on the floor of his isolation cell for a few hours. Portelles said that state security agents at Villa Marista deceived him on five occasions, telling him to get ready for his "imminent" departure.65
In December 1997, authorities at the Las Mangas Prison in Granma transferred José Antonio Rodríguez Santana, who was serving ten years for enemy propaganda and rebellion, to a punishment cell at the state security headquarters in Bayamo, Granma. The transfer followed Rodríguez Santana's denunciation of serious physical abuse in the prison. Capt. Leonardo Miranda, the commander of the state security post, ordered Rodríguez Santana confined to the completely closed cell for seventeen days. The confinement in the airless cell, which Rodríguez Santana believed was an effort to intimidate him, provoked several asthma attacks.66
Cuban authorities kept Raúl Ayarde Herrera, who was serving a ten-year sentence for espionage, in a completely dark isolation cell in the maximum security Guantánamo Provincial Prison for one year and ten months, from March 1995 until December 1996. The cell measured three feet by seven feet. Prison guards took all of his belongings, leaving him only with some clothes. On several occasions when he asked for medical assistance, the guards punished him by leaving him naked for twenty-one-day periods. In December 1996, prison authorities transferred him to the maximum security Pitirre Prison in Havana, known as 1580, where they held him in a sealed punishment cell for two months. From April 1997 until February 1998, guards at the Kilo 5 ½ Provincial Prison in Pinar del Río confined him in an isolation cell. The Cuban government forced Ayarde Herrera into exile in Canada in April 1998.67
Cuba imprisoned Armando Alonso Romero, nicknamed Chino, who was serving a twelve-year sentence for "other acts against the security of the state," in the Las Tunas Provincial Prison from August 1997 until February 1998. Throughout this period, prison guards confined him in a punishment cell that measured approximately four feet by six feet. The cell was almost completely sealed, allowing little daylight to enter. He said that the prison had approximatelyforty-five isolation cells. From the time of his arrest in September 1993 until his April 1998 release, Alonso Romero spent over four years in isolation cells.68
Marcos Antonio Hernández García, who was arrested in April 1990, convicted of enemy propaganda, espionage, and sabotage in 1991, and sentenced to twenty years, also was confined in the Las Tunas Prison from August 1997 until February 1998. Guards confined him in an isolation cell during the entire period. The guards also placed him on a regimen they called the "harassment plan," (plan de hostigamiento) under which they pulled him out of his cell at ten to fifteen minute intervals from 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. every night.69
From December 1996 until March 1998, guards at the Cerámica Roja Prison in Camagüey held José Miranda Acosta, who was serving a twelve-year term for terrorism, in an isolation cell. Miranda Acosta, a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano de Liberación, MCL), was arrested in 1993 and charged with being the intended recipient of a box containing a grenade. He never received such a box, nor affirmed that it had ever existed. When he first arrived at the prison in September 1996, guards beat him several times.70
Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada spent the majority of his almost six years in prison in solitary confinement. Prison authorities placed him in punishment cells at the Toledo Prison in Havana, the Agüica Prison in Matanzas (in an area with sixteen isolation cells known as "La Polaca"), and the Combinado del Sur Prison in Matanzas (from early 1994 until December 1996). In La Polaca, where prison guards detained him in 1993 and again from December 1996 until April 1997, Infante Estrada's cell was completely dark at all hours of the day and night and for various periods guards seized his mattress and all his belongings. The guards did not permit him access to a nearby closed patio, where he said the sun entered directly only in July and August. At the Combinado del Sur Prison in Matanzas, where Infante Estrada spent almost two years in solitary confinement, the chief of internal order, Lt. Juan Araño, warned him to cease his denunciations of humanrights abuses in the prison. Infante Estrada recalled Araño telling him, "if you are a lion, then you have to be caged" (si eres leon, tienes que estar enjaulado).71
In September 1995, Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz commenced a seven-month period of incommunicado detention in a four foot by six foot cell in the Bahia Larga Prison in Santiago. Prison authorities ordered his punishment there because he had refused to stand at attention for the visit of a general to the prison and had refused to cut his hair and shave.72 Also in 1995, Omar del Pozo Marrero spent eight months in a punishment cell at the Guanajay Prison in Havana. While the guards called this step a "security measure" (medida de seguridad), they provided no evidence to justify this claim. During the same period, prison authorities also psychologically pressured him with threats to end his visits, beat him, and cause his family members to lose their jobs.73
Prison guards or groups of common prisoners known as prisoners' councils, which act under the orders or with the acquiescence of prison authorities, punish outspoken Cuban political prisoners with beatings, according to the prisoners, human rights activists, prisoners, family members, and journalists interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In the first half of 1998, Guantánamo Provincial Prison authorities reportedly ordered beatings of political prisoners who denounced prison conditions, including Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, Jorge Luis García Pérez, also known as Antúnez, Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía, and Orosman Betancourt Dexidor.74 Since Antúnez commenced his seventeen-year sentence for enemy propaganda, sabotage, and "evasion" in 1990, prison guards reportedly have beaten him severely on numerous occasions and responded to his hunger strikes, in protest of prison conditions, by denying him family visits and medicine. In October 1998,prison authorities reportedly transferred Antúnez to another prison, without notifying his family.75
In September 1997, Guantánamo prison guards beat Antúnez, Francisco Díaz Echemendia, and Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina.76 Prison guards at the Kilo 8 Prison in Camagüey repeatedly beat Jesús Chamber Ramírez, who was sentenced to ten years for enemy propaganda in 1992. He suffered deteriorating health due to the beatings, periods spent in punishment cells, insufficient medical attention, poor nutrition, and denial of access to sunlight for months at a time.77 In November 1998, Cuba announced that it would release Chamber Ramírez on the condition that he go into exile in Spain.78 Upon his arrival there in December, he stated, "I've been through everything: I had my head cracked open, my legs smashed up and they put me in a corridor for six months to try to drive me mad."79
On April 11, 1998, two state security agents, Capt. Hermes Hernández and Lt. René Orlando, reportedly beat Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, a journalist serving a six-year sentence for contempt of authority at the Ariza prison in Cienfuegos. The officers, who apparently were angered after finding anti-government materials inside the prison, reportedly beat him with a wooden baton on the head, neck, and abdomen, while shouting at him and calling him a "worm" or traitor. In a positive step, Cuban military prosecutors are said to have accused both officers of wrongdoing in early May.80 Arevalo Padrón remained in an isolation cell, where prison guards confined him shortly after the beating, until September. His familymembers alleged that Lieutenant Orlando had refused to allow them to leave medicine for him, despite his complaints of severe stomach problems.81 Other prisoners also reportedly stated that they had suffered beatings by Ariza guards.82
On April 5, 1998, common prisoners at the Canaleta Prison in Matanzas reportedly beat Jorge Luis Cruz Arencibia. Prison authorities reportedly refused to provide Cruz Arencibia with medical care for his injuries.83
On November 9, 1997, the reeducator at the Kilo 5 ½ Prison in Pinar del Río, known as Osiri, and a state security official at the prison, Lt. Mario Medina, reportedly beat Raúl Ayarde Herrera because he had commenced a hunger strike to protest prison conditions. During his transfer to the Pinar del Río Prison from the Pitirre Prison in Havana, on April 30, 1997, two state security officials, Col. Wilfredo Velásquez and one with the last name of Vargas, beat Ayarde Herrera throughout the trip. They also are said to have thrown all of his belongings and clothes out of the car window. Three days after his arrival, a common prisoner known as Veltoldo also reportedly beat him. Ayarde Herrera said that Veltoldo later approached him and said, "Damn, political prisoner. Forgive me. I had to do it." Veltoldo explained that Lt. Mario Medina had ordered him to beat Ayarde or risk losing his right to be transferred from the maximum security prison to a work camp (correcional).84
On several occasions, prison guards beat Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, an outspoken human rights advocate who faced numerous other punitive measures while imprisoned. In June 1997, several prison guards entered Infante Estrada's isolation cell to cut his hair and beard, as they had done several times in the prior months. He had let his hair grow to protest his prolonged detentions in punishment cells and other human rights violations. Led by the prison's chief of internal order, Sec. Lt. Emilio Villacruz, several guards pinned down Infante Estrada, forcibly removed his clothes, buzz-cut his hair, and shaved his beard. When Infante Estrada tried to stop them, the guards beat his back with their batons. On July 13, 1997,Maj. Pedro López, a member of the state security political unit at the Agüica Prison, waved his pistol at Infante Estrada and, referring to a string of recent hotel bombings, said, "If anything else like this happens inside Cuba, I will come here to your cell and kill you myself." Before leaving, he accused Infante Estrada of being responsible for the bombings, called him a counterrevolutionary, and smacked him.85
In April 1997, the chief of internal order at the prison, Major Abreu, ordered Omar del Pozo Marrero out of his cell so that guards could search it for knives and drugs. Del Pozo Marrero refused, explaining that he was a political prisoner. Guards pulled him out of his cell and dragged him for about fifty meters while beating him.86 In May 1997, Lieutenant Carrales at the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana handcuffed del Pozo Marrero and threw him on the ground because he did not want the official to search his prison cell.
Criminal Charges for Denouncing Prison Abuses
Cuba's prosecutorial efforts to stifle criticism reach inside prison walls as well, where prisoners protesting inhumane treatment face criminal charges, trial, and additional years added to their prison terms.
In September 1997 a Havana tribunal found Maritza Lugo Fernández and Raúl Ayarde Herrera guilty of bribery for allegedly paying a guard at the Pitirre Prison in Havana to bring a tape recorder into the prison.87 The court sentenced Lugo Fernández to two years and Ayarde Herrera to three years on top of the sentences they were already serving. In April 1998 the Cuban government forced Ayarde Herrera into exile in Canada. Lugo Fernández served several weeks of hersentence in the Havana Province Women's Prison, known as Manto Negro, and then was ordered confined under house arrest.88
In September 1996 a Camagüey tribunal convicted Jesús Chamber Ramírez, who already was serving ten years for enemy propaganda at the Kilo 8 Prison, of contempt for the authority of the commander-in-chief and sentenced him to four more years. Chamber Ramírez, whom prison guards had repeatedly beaten, had shouted "Down with Fidel" and denounced human rights abuses in the prison. During his six years in Cuban prisons, prison authorities routinely punished Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada for being an outspoken advocate for the rights of political and common prisoners. As detailed above, he spent most of his sentence in isolation cells. To further discourage his criticisms, Cuba turned to the Criminal Code. On December 10, 1996, a Matanzas court sentenced Infante Estrada to an additional year in prison for contempt for the authority of a prison guard. The trial arose from Infante Estrada's November 1996 denunciation of a Combinado del Sur prison official, Lt. Juan Araña, for beating a common prisoner who later was found hanging dead in his cell. Infante Estrada recalled having told Araña, "I don't respect assassins, and I don't respect your authority." After the trial, Infante Estrada closed himself in his cell and commenced a hunger strike. Araña threatened him, saying "you could wake up hanging, too."
In April 1997 Infante Estrada protested the prison's failure to treat his high blood pressure by writing anti-government slogans on many sheets of paper (including "Down with Fidel" and "Down with the Dictatorship"), attaching them to the end of a broomstick and waving it out of his isolation cell so that the sheets flew onto the prison grounds. Shortly afterwards, a state security official at the prison, Lt. Fidel Relovu, threatened to beat him and notified him that he had enemy propaganda charges pending against him. He recalled that Relovu said "against the Commander [Fidel], you cannot do this." Guards ordered Infante Estrada held twenty-one additional days in his punishment cell, removed the mattress, and seized all of his belongings.
In June 1997 several Agüica Prison authorities beat Infante Estrada. His effort to defend himself from the guards' rough handling resulted in Infante Estrada's being charged with "resistance."89 When Cuba forced Infante Estrada into exilein Canada in early 1998, telling him it was his only option if he hoped to get out of prison, these charges were pending against him.
Denial of Medical Treatment
While the medical treatment afforded all Cuban prisoners is poor, prison authorities discriminatorily deny medical care to political prisoners. The refusal to treat sick prisoners is particularly egregious when guards or prisoners' councils are responsible for inflicting injuries. Due to the extremely difficult conditions in Cuba's prisons, the denial of medical care leaves prisoners with serious and sometimes life-threatening conditions. Cuban failures to provide medical care for political prisoners led to a number of prisoners' deaths while imprisoned and left scores of former prisoners suffering severe health problems.
On February 19, 1997, Aurelio Ricart Hernández died in the Micro 4 Prison in Havana. He was serving a fifteen-year sentence for enemy propaganda and espionage. Marcos Antonio Hernández García, who was imprisoned with him, recalled that he had been sick with a liver ailment for a long time and that his skin had turned yellow. He was hospitalized on February 15, when he began vomiting blood. Hernández García said that the prison doctors had said many times that they would treat Ricart Hernández "next week."90
Cuban authorities released Pedro Armenteros Laza, who had been condemned to six years for enemy propaganda, on July 12, 1996, when he was in a coma. He died shortly afterward.91
Cuba released Sebastian Arcos Bergnes, the vice-president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights who had been serving a four-year, eight-month sentence for enemy propaganda, in May 1995. When he was examined in Miami in September 1995, his physician noted that he had a sizable rectal tumor that had been growing for well over a year that would have been detected by a standard medical exam for men his age. Due to the failure of Cuban prison doctors to treat Arcos Bergnes, his cancer only was detected in a terminal, untreatable stage. Sebastian Arcos Bergnes died on December 22, 1997.
In June and July 1998, Cuban authorities detained Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello in a prison section of the Carlos J. Finlay Hospital, where doctors examining her determined that she had a gastric ulcer. Apparently, they failed totreat her initial complaint of lumps in her breasts. Her hospital stay reportedly proved particularly stressful due to the fact that she was forced to share a hospital room with another detainee who suffered from serious psychological problems. The detainee reportedly attempted suicide while confined with Roque Cabello, adding to Roque Cabello's stress.92
Dr. Dessy Mendoza remained in the Boniato Prison in Santiago serving an eight-year sentence for enemy propaganda until November 1998, when he was released from prison on the condition that he go into exile in Spain.93 His wife, Dr. Carmen de la Caridad Piñón Rodríguez said that her husband suffered from severe high blood pressure and heart disease (hipertensión y cardiopatía) and that his condition has worsened since his imprisonment. She noted that his heart disease was often symptomatic (se descompensa frecuentamente), causing pain and weakness. Cuban prison authorities raised his stress levels by placing him in a cell with a man convicted of homicide in an area of the prison reserved for 119 common prisoners. Due to his worsening condition, prison authorities hospitalized him for four days in April. Yet, the government failed to provide him with appropriate medicines, and his health has slipped further due to the poor prison diet and difficult physical conditions. Like many other Cuban prisoners, Dr. Mendoza survived on the food and medicine that his wife provided him.94
In May 1998 Boniato prison doctors' continued refusal to treat Marcelo Diosdado Amelo Rodríguez apparently resulted in his reaching a critical state. Amelo Rodríguez, the president of the Gerardo González Ex-Political Prisoners Club serving an eight-year sentence for rebellion, suffered from high blood pressure, poor circulation, and vision loss, and apparently risked the amputation of his left leg. His wife, Raisa Lora Gaquín, reportedly said she had provided prison authorities with medications and vitamins for her husband, but they had refused to give them to him. The prison guards also insisted on Amelo Rodríguez's continued detention in a punishment cell, where they had first confined him in July 1997.95 The same month, authorities at the Manguito Prison in Santiago refused to treat Orestes Rodríguez for four days, despite his complaints of severe pain in his shoulder that prevented him from sleeping.96
Francisco Pastor Chaviano González, who is serving a fifteen-year term in the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana for revealing secrets concerning state security, has reportedly been denied medical treatment for his high blood pressure. The hostile conditions of his confinement, where he receives minimal food and brief visits only every two months, have aggravated his illness.97
Dr. Omar Del Pozo Marrero suffered severe hypertension during his prison term, due to poor prison conditions and the failure to provide him with medical treatment. In response to an international outcry about his declining health, he said that Cuba minimized his ailments and misrepresented the medical treatment he received. In May 1995, a delegation led by the French organization France-Libertés and joined by Human Rights Watch examined Dr. del Pozo Marrero at the Combinado del Este prison. After that examination, Cuba promised to provide him with medical treatment. But Dr. del Pozo Marrero said that his "treatment" consisted of one month of examinations at the Carlos J. Finlay Hospital that concluded by minimizing his ailments. His health concerns included high blood pressure, kidney stones, a duodenal ulcer, and an abnormal prostate. He also had gone from 140 pounds to between 105 and 110 pounds during his confinement. Dr. del Pozo Marrero said that the doctors were treating him "politically and not medically" (políticamente y no medicamente). Acknowledging that some Cuban prison doctors treated their patients well, Dr. del Pozo Marrero said that most medical treatment in the prisons was only for appearance. He observed doctors only treating minor ailments, while disregarding more serious health concerns.98
In September 1997 Marcos Antonio Hernández García complained to the Las Tunas Provincial Prison authorities that he felt severe pain from a hernia. The prison's medical staff told him he did not feel any pain and refused him pain medication. When he continued to complain of severe pain and swelling, the prison authorities allowed him to see a urologist. He said that when the doctor learned that he was a "counterrevolutionary," he refused to treat him. Prison guards allowed his family to provide him with some pain medication. On February 2,1998, the prison authorities permitted him to have the hernia surgically corrected. Hernández García said that the medical staff had an "anti-prisoner" (anti-preso) mindset.99
Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, who did not receive sufficient treatment for his digestive problems, vomiting, and ulcer throughout his prison term, said that the prison doctors were "more soldiers than doctors. They receive orders, they don't have ethics."100 Raúl Ayarde Herrera recalled asking for medical assistance at the Pinar del Río Prison in 1997 for pain due to an intestinal blockage. Maj. Inocente Delgado, known as El Chino, told him that for counter-revolutionaries, there was no medical assistance.101
Prison authorities frequently move political prisoners to a variety of prisons throughout the duration of their sentence. The transfers penalize prisoners by forcing them to reestablish themselves at a new facility, making contact with family members more difficult, and impeding prisoners' opportunities for gathering and disseminating information about prison abuses. In the course of his four and one-half years in prison, René Portelles, who was exiled to Canada in early 1998, was confined in eleven different detention facilities. The transfers typically followed Portelles's protests over prison conditions or expressions of political dissent.
Cuba's pressuring political prisoners to work while imprisoned, discussed at Labor Rights: Prison Labor, violates the International Labor Organization's Abolition of Forced Labor convention, which was ratified by Cuba.
Restrictions of Visits
Cuban prison authorities provide political prisoners with minimal opportunities for visits from their family members and often restrict these visits further as a punitive measure. Prison transfers also impede family contact. These practices violate the Standard Minimum Rules' provisions urging the preservation ofcommunity ties through regular visits.102 As detailed above, at Restrictions on Religious Visits, political and common prisoners often are denied their right to meet with religious advisors as well.
Boniato Prison authorities placed Dr. Dessy Mendoza on the prison's "severe regime," only allowing him one two-hour visit every two months from no more than two immediate family members. Due to these extremely restricted opportunities for visiting, Dr. Mendoza's children only saw him a handful of times after his arrest. His wife said that their one-year-old son, who was born shortly before his father's detention, mistakenly called his thirteen-year-old brother "Daddy."103
On December 10, 1997, a prisoner at the Combinado de Guantánamo Prison, Alberto Joaquím Aguilera Guevara, also known as Carlos, who was serving a fifteen-year sentence for enemy propaganda, contempt for authority, and assault, went on a one-day hunger strike to honor international human rights day. In retaliation, when his mother arrived three days later for her end-of-the-year visit, the prison guards denied her entry and refused to let her leave him a fifty-pound sack of food.104
Prison authorities only permitted Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada one two-hour visit every two months with immediate family members. Infante Estrada, who was forced into exile in Canada when the Cuban government offered him no other way to avoid serving his full prison term, said, "There are several family members, my aunts and uncles and cousins, that I never saw again."105 From June 1996 until February 1997, Micro 4 Prison authorities denied Yonaikel Baney Hernández Menéndez the right to visit her father, Marcos Antonio Hernández García.106 When Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz was detained in the Bahia Larga Prison in Santiago, he refused to wear a prison uniform so he would not be mistaken for "onemore rapist." In response, on November 24, 1994, prison authorities suspended all of his visits for two years.107
Hardships for Family Members
Cuba's efforts to intimidate political prisoners extend to their spouses, children, and other family members. Families who have lost breadwinners struggle to make ends meet and to ensure that their imprisoned relatives have enough food and medicine. The material and emotional toll of a dissident's wrongful imprisonment is high, and government harassment creates additional difficulties for family members, raising the cost of opposition even higher.
Adriano González Marichal's mother, Adelaida Marichal Martínez, has been arrested five times. Throughout her son's imprisonment, she dealt with harassment from prison authorities. In late 1997, guards at the Valle Grande Prison in Havana strip-searched her as she was leaving the prison to try to find denunciations of human rights violations.108 This abusive measure, designed only to squelch free expression and cover up human rights abuses, clearly did not arise from legitimate security considerations.109
Edelmira Matamoros Espejo, the wife of political prisoner Edelberto Del Toro Argota, was humiliated by prison guards who strip-searched her and forced her to do deep knee bends naked whenever she went for conjugal visits to the Holguín Provincial Prison. When the couple's daughter Keñia was twelve, female prison guards strip-searched her prior to one visit with her father. Capt. Héctor Hernández Escobar, a state security official who had beaten her husband in July 1995, called Matamoros Espejo into his office on two occasions. During those interviews, he revealed that he had received information that she had been traveling to Havana to visit a human rights activist. He warned her that things would get worse for her husband if she continued these trips. During her husband's imprisonment,Matamoros Espejo encountered considerable difficulty maintaining a job.110 She said, "I feel like I was a prisoner myself."111
Omar del Pozo Marrero's wife, Martina Guzmán Arias, said that prison visits were humiliating because guards usually forced her to strip completely. She recalled that an older aunt was strip-searched when she went to visit and felt so degraded that she never returned. Prison guards also arbitrarily delayed or denied her visits. She said that she was fortunate to have had economic assistance from outside Cuba and because her neighbors had not denounced her for being married to a political prisoner. She noted that "the machinery is so perfect, so subtle, that they can completely destroy a family."112
Ernesto Ferrándiz Aliat was only five and his sister Dailyn Robert Aliat fourteen when state security agents arrested their parents, Luis Alberto Ferrándiz Alfaro and Xiomara Aliat Collado in January 1993. The two young children were left to fend for themselves. Robert Aliat said that she was frightened and fainted when she first saw her mother at the Versailles detention center. She said she tried to get money to bring her parents food at the prison, but that it was "tremendously difficult," and that sometimes the guards did not give her parents what she had brought. She also had difficulty feeding and taking care of her brother. She commented that putting up anti-government flyers, as her parents had done:
... is no justification for sending a person to prison. They had never mistreated anyone. Having two young kids, and him only five and traumatized, they [the Cuban government] should have thought in a better way.113
Ferrándiz Aliat, twelve years old at this writing, said that he was very sad while his parents were away and that he and his sister went hungry most of the time. Prison guards let him visit his father occasionally, but he remembered that they usuallybrought his father out when it was time to go. Of his exile to Canada, he said, "I feel good because I am here with my parents. ... I like it better here because now Fidel Castro cannot govern me."114
Repressive measures adopted in Cuban prisons leave detainees with few avenues to express grievances. As detailed above, efforts to denounce human rights violations often result in beatings, solitary confinement, or restrictions of food or visits. Since the prison system tightly controls their liberties, political prisoners often turn to hunger strikes as a means of calling attention to prison abuses. Unfortunately, prison authorities typically respond by penalizing the prisoners for having carried out a hunger strike, failing to address the underlying problem, and refusing to provide appropriate medical treatment.
The Santa Clara Pro Human Rights Party activists undertook prolonged hunger strikes to call attention to their plight.115 Unfortunately, their success in garnering international attention apparently contributed to heavier government repression. The hunger strikes also caused physical deterioration. Iván Lema Romero, for example, carried out a water and broth hunger strike from October 1997 until February 1998, during which he lost forty-seven pounds, and continued to suffer its effect into mid-1998, without receiving sufficient medical care.116
Heriberto Leiva Rodríguez went on a one-week hunger strike in May 1998 to protest Nestor Rodríguez Lobaina's continued detention. At the time, both were serving terms arising from their activities with Youth for Democracy (Jóvenes por la Democracia).117
Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz undertook several short hunger strikes during his prison term. From August 13, 1994, until September 22, 1994, some 100 prisoners at the Boniato Prison in Santiago carried out a hunger strike to protest prison conditions. During this period, prison guards put Sambra Ferrándiz in anisolation cell, naked. He said that the degrading prison conditions had pushed him to take drastic action. He recalled telling prison guards that he was on hunger strike because, "you have humiliated me. I want you to realize the magnitude of the damage you are doing." On the positive side, he said that carrying out hunger strikes fortified him, "Before I was imprisoned, I felt like a rat, an insect. After I revealed myself to be a [government] opponent, I could breathe freely."118
Cuba's treatment of political prisoners violates its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it ratified on May 17, 1995. Prolonged periods of incommunicado pretrial and post-conviction detention, beatings, and prosecutions of previously-tried political prisoners—where those practices result in severe pain or suffering—constitute torture under the convention. Cuba's heavy reliance on incommunicado detentions rises to the level of torture in some instances and contributes to the perpetuation of torture, since isolated prisoners are not able to ask for help.119 Moreover, the Convention against Torture clearly prohibits retaliation against individuals who denounce torture. The convention, which Cuba is bound to uphold, defines torture as:
any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescenceof a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.120
The practices detailed in the discussions above, particularly those measures taken to retaliate against prisoners' attempts to report human rights abuses, fall within this definition.
The Convention against Torture requires Cuba to "take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction" and to "ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law."121 To date, Cuba has not made torture a crime. While Cuba has some encouraging laws that prohibit practices associated with torture, none explicitly penalize torture. This may be due in part to Cuba's denial that torture is a domestic problem. Cuba told the Committee against Torture that in Cuba, "there are no cases of persons who have been tortured or disappeared and no other grave and systematic violations of human rights."122
Disturbingly, Cuba's ratification of the Convention against Torture included reservations to key provisions allowing oversight by the Committee against Torture. Cuba said that the committee's authority to investigate well-founded reports of torture; to designate members to conduct confidential inquiries; and to conduct visits to the territory in cooperation with the Cuban government, must "be invoked in strict compliance with the principle of the sovereignty of States and implemented with the prior consent of the States Parties."123 The committee's 1997 report concluded that it could not properly assess whether or not Cuba was complying with the convention because Cuba had failed to respond to allegationsof torture and failed to provide adequate information about investigations of or reparations for torture.124
Despite Cuba's disdain for international oversight, it remains bound by the provisions of the Convention against Torture. The suffering endured by Cuba's political prisoners highlights the urgency for Cuba concretely to address the problem of torture, rather than deny its existence or dismiss the issue by referring to unenforced legislation. Under the convention, the government has an obligation to ensure that statements resulting from torture are not introduced as evidence in any proceeding.125 The long-term pretrial detentions detailed above, which included severe physical and mental suffering inflicted during interrogations and resulted in convictions, violate this provision. While Cuban law bars the introduction of statements at trial obtained by coercion or violence, these cases demonstrate that Cuba has failed to guarantee this protection.126
The convention requires Cuba to ensure that an individual alleging torture is "protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint...."127 Cuba's beatings, prosecutions, and isolation of prisoners alleging mistreatment violate this provision. Under the convention, Cuba also must conduct prompt, impartial investigations of allegations of torture and ensure that a victim of torture has an "enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation." To date, Human Rights Watch has not found information of any government prosecutions of torturers, nor of any restitutions provided to torture victims. Forcing political prisoners into exile certainly does not exempt Cuba from this requirement. The convention also bars "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Cuba's denial of medical treatment to prisoners arguably constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which also merits investigation and, where appropriate, punishment under the Convention against Torture.128
Cuba reported to the Committee against Torture that penal officials receive training in:
the standards and rules set forth in the main international conventions and covenants, as appropriate, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture [and] the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination....129
If true, Cuba's provision of training on fundamental human rights and detention standards would represent an important acceptance of the primacy of these standards and satisfy, in part, the convention's requirement for educating law enforcement and prison officials.130 However, serious rights violations in Cuban prisons, along with Cuba's continued prosecution of non-violent activists for violating the freedoms guaranteed in these instruments, show an unwillingness to comply with these norms. Even if officials received sufficient training, Cuba's failure to prosecute torturers and its lack of transparency about the prison system would undermine its effect.
When prominent international figures appeal for Cuban political prisoners' freedom, Cuba occasionally releases prisoners prior to the conclusion of their sentence, often on the condition that they leave their country forever. In an October 1998 interview, President Fidel Castro frankly discussed Cuba's approach to prisoner releases, stating:
Cuba cannot be a country that is being pressured all the time from all directions. We are willing to accept some suggestions and requests for clemency made in another spirit; but we are not willing to collaborate with those organized and perfectly structured campaigns that follow a plan.
That is where our resistence is, to all kinds of pressures; but without pressures we have freed many people.
In relation to the pope's visit, we released...prisoners for counterrevolutionary crimes—as we call them—[and] prisoners held for common crimes, because they [the Vatican] stated that what interested them was the humanitarian action and not the type of crime.... We wanted to give special attention to the pope... keeping in mind that he did not act on anyone's behalf, even though many people sent him names.... But the pope acted on his own behalf and out of his traditional humanitarian policies....131
Castro's emphasis on the "spirit" in which requests for prisoner releases are made, rather than on the fairness of their prosecution and imprisonment reveals the calculated, political nature of Cuba's response to requests for prisoner releases. Castro's describes his responses to international appeals as humanitarian gestures yet avoids acknowledgement of the human rights violations that gave rise to wrongful detentions.
The government released some 100 political prisoners in early 1998, following Pope John Paul II's appeals for prisoner releases during his January visit to Cuba. Most of these had served the majority of their sentences and a few had completed their sentences. Seventeen of these prisoners were released on the condition that they be exiled to Canada, despite the pope's explicit plea for the reintegration of prisoners into their community.
Cuba repeatedly has refused to grant a general amnesty for political prisoners. Most pleas to release individual political prisoners have been refused, regardless of the character and motives of the supplicant. In his January 1998 visit, the pope specifically requested the release of the four members of the Internal Dissidents' Working Group, who had been in pretrial detention for six months. Castro took no action to release them. Months later, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien solicited their release during his April 1998 trip to Havana. Afterwards, he described President Castro's reaction. "I don't think he was very happy. He wouldhave preferred I did not mention it."132 Cuba tried the four dissidents in March 1999, finding them guilty of inciting sedition.133
Dr. Omar del Pozo Marrero, a former prisoner released in 1998 on the condition that he go into exile in Canada, was the subject of international appeals for years. He remarked to us that:
The government always wants currency to exchange. The more a prisoner is asked for, the more he's worth. They don't want to use all their currency now.... In Cuba, there's also a code of revenge. For example, there's a need to punish [political prisoner Francisco Pastor] Chaviano [González]. They want him to suffer some more. And they want to keep him off the street.134
In measures that appear to be purely punitive, Cuban officials continued to mistreat and harass the political prisoners destined for exile in Canada even after they had transferred them to the state security headquarters in Havana, Villa Marista, in preparation for their departure. Alberto Joaquím Aguilera spent almost sixty days in a sealed cell with twenty-four hour lighting in Villa Marista, from his arrival there on February 16, 1998, until his departure to Canada.135 Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada also was held in solitary confinement. However, he recalled that during his detention at Villa Marista, several state security officials briefly took him and several other prisoners who were being forced into exile out to a field for a stroll while the guards videotaped them. Infante Estrada wasconcerned that the guards were attempting to create "picturesque" images to cover up their abusive treatment of the prisoners.136
Cuba routinely invokes forced exile as a condition for prisoner releases and also pressures activists to leave the country to escape future prosecution, in violation of international norms ensuring citizens' rights to remain in their own homeland.137 In November 1998, for example, Cuba released two prominent political prisoners, Dr. Dessy Mendoza Rivero and Jesús Chamber Ramírez, who had suffered serious physical deterioration while incarcerated, on the condition that they go into exile in Spain. In a trip to Cuba, Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes had requested their release along with that of several other political prisoners.138 Armando Alonso Romero said that state security agents at Villa Marista forced him to sign papers saying that if he did not leave Cuba, he would have to complete the remainder of his sentence. He said, "this isn't liberty, it's forced exile" (destierro).139
The "choice" between continued prison terms or exile left the prisoners with no good option. The released Cuban prisoners were extremely reluctant to leave their homeland and their families. Officials at the Cerámica Roja Prison in Camagüey repeatedly called José Miranda Acosta to their offices in March and April 1998, insisting that he leave the country. But Miranda Acosta told them that he wanted to stay in Cuba. He recalled the prison's security director telling him that he could not remain in Cuba because he "had maintained a hostile attitude toward the revolution." The officials brought his brother to the prison to try and convince him to leave and stressed that exile was his "only option." Finally, Miranda Acosta acceded on the condition that he would be able to meet with some family members before leaving. But the government provided Miranda Acosta with minimal time to visit with his family prior to his exile on May 4, 1998. Although he had not seen his daughter during his imprisonment, the state security agents at Villa Marista allowed him only five minutes with her on April 29, in the presence of a state security investigator. They did not allow him to see her again before his departure.140
Although Adriano González Marichal, who was exiled to Canada in April 1998, mourned the loss of his homeland and his inability to see his elderly mother, he noted that "I am proud that we panic Fidel Castro, that he is terrified of twenty people that he's had to deport."141
Conditional Releases and Harassment
Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina's February 1998 statement that "the pardon has not been made to stimulate acts of internal dissidence" diminished the positive impact of the prisoner releases following the pope's appeal.142 Several released political prisoners, including the president of the Democratic Solidarity Party (Partido Democrático Solidaridad), Héctor Palacios Ruíz, expressed concern that they may face prosecutions and a return to prison if they continue to express their political viewpoints. Authorities in Santiago reportedly told several prisoners upon their release that they should not engage in opposition activities and that they must check in on a monthly basis to a local police station.143
Exiled prisoners expressed concern about their relatives and friends remaining in Cuba, particularly those serving prison sentences, like José Antonio Rodríguez Santana's brother José Manuel. Omar del Pozo Marrero said that government agents had harassed his brother, Miguel Jesús del Pozo Marrero, since the doctor had been exiled to Canada. Miguel Jesús also had been unable to find work and believed that he was under close government surveillance.144
53 American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Breaking of Bodies and Minds: Torture, Psychiatric Abuse, and the Health Professions, edited by Eric Stover and Elena O. Nightingale (New York: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1985), pp. 62-69.
54 The right to a fair trial in Cuban courts is discussed above, at Due Process Denied.
55 Their case is detailed above, at Political Prosecutions.
56 Using public transportation, the approximate travel time between Havana, where Roca's family resides, and the prison where he was held, is eight hours each way. Cuban authorities often assign prisoners to prisons that are extremely remote from their families, diminishing the families' opportunities to visit them and to provide them with home-cooked meals.
57 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Magalys de Armas Chaviano, Havana, July 2, 1998.
58 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Odilia Collazo, president of the Pro Human Rights Party, Havana, January 11, 1999.
59 Unfortunately, those prisoners who did not spend long periods in pretrial detention were tried in such an expedited fashion that their ability to prepare and present an adequate defense was compromised. The rapidity of their trials, of course, was only one of many obstacles to their receiving full due process guarantees. These impediments are detailed above, at Due Process Denied.
60 Human Rights Watch interview with José Antonio Rodríguez Santana, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
61 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Toronto, May 8, 1998.
62 Human Rights Watch interview with Xiomara Aliat Collado, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
63 Human Rights Watch interview with Luis Alberto Ferrándiz Alfaro, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
64 Human Rights Watch interviews with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998, and Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
65 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with René Portelles, Toronto, April 21, 1998.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with José Antonio Rodríguez Santana, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
67 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Raúl Ayarde Herrera, Toronto, April 21, 1998.
68 Human Rights Watch interview with Armando Alonso Romero, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
69 Human Rights Watch interview with Marcos Antonio Hernández García, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
70 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with José Miranda Acosta, Toronto, May 7, 1998. The prosecution of another MCL member, Enrique García Morejón, is discussed above, at Political Prosecutions, while the challenges facing the MCL and other religious groups are discussed below, at Limits on Religious Freedom.
71 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
72 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Toronto, May 8, 1998.
73 Human Rights Watch interview with Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
74 Luis López Prendes, "Maltratan a Presos en Guantánamo," El Nuevo Herald, June 29, 1998.
75 Olance Nogueras, "En Paradero Desconocido un Veterano Disidente," El Nuevo Herald, October 4, 1998.
76 United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Cuba Submitted by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Carl-Johan Groth, in Accordance with Commission Resolution 1997/62 (E/CN.4/1998/69), January 30, 1998, para. 60.
77 Ibid., para. 59(c).
78 His release is detailed below, at Political Prisoner Releases.
79 "Spain: Released Cuban Political Prisoner Arrives in Spain," EFE distributed by the BBC Monitoring Newsfile, December 2, 1998.
80 Olance Nogueras, "SIP Protesta por Golpiza a Periodista en Prisión," El Nuevo Herald, April 29, 1998, "Juzgarán a Oficiales que Golpearon a Preso," El Nuevo Herald, May 7, 1998, and "Journalist Assaulted in Prison," IFEX-News from the International Freedom of Expression Community, April 29, 1998.
81 Marvín Hernández Monzón, "Enfrenta Problemas Periodista Independiente," Cuba Press, September 29, 1998.
82 Marvin Hernández Monzón, "Seguridad para los Presos Políticos," Cuba Press, October 3, 1998.
83 Ariel Hidalgo and Tete Machado, "Presos Políticos Hostigados," Infoburo, May 20, 1998.
84 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Raúl Ayarde Herrera, Toronto, April 21, 1998.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
86 Human Rights Watch interview with Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
87 This case is discussed above, at Political Prosecutions. Cuban courts also had prosecuted Fernández's husband, Rafael Ibarra López, the president of the 30th of November Party. At this writing, he was serving a twenty-year sentence for sabotage in the maximum security Kilo 8 Prison in Camagüey Province. Mercedes Moreno, "Irá a Juicio Joven Opositora," Agencia Nacional de Prensa ANP, September 2, 1997.
88 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Raúl Ayarde Herrera, Toronto, April 21, 1998. Julio Martínez, "Condenada a Dos Años de Privación de Libertad la Opositora Maritza Lugo Fernández," Habana Press, September 7, 1997.
89 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
90 Human Rights Watch interview with Marcos Antonio Hernández García, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
91 Manuel David Orrio, "Oposición Recuerda a Opositor Fallecido," Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes, October 26, 1998.
92 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Magalys de Armas Chaviano, Havana, July 2, 1998.
93 This release is discussed below, at Political Prisoner Releases.
94 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Caridad del Carmen Piñón Rodríguez, Santiago, June 25, 1998.
95 Margarita Yero, "Preso Político en Crítico Estado de Salud," Cuba Press, May 8, 1998.
96 Margarita Yero, "Le Niegan Asistencia Médica a Preso de Conciencia," Cuba Press, May 13, 1998.
97 Human Rights Watch interview with Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with Marcos Antonio Hernández García, Toronto, April 13, 1998.
100 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Toronto, May 8, 1998.
101 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Raúl Ayarde Herrera, Toronto, April 21, 1998.
102 Articles 61 and 37.
103 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Caridad del Carmen Piñón Rodríguez, Santiago, June 25, 1998.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with Alberto Joaquím Aguilera Guevara, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
105 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with Yonaikel Baney Hernández Menéndez Toronto, April 13, 1998.
107 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Toronto, May 8, 1998.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with Adriano González Marichal, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
109 The issue of strip-searching is discussed in detail above, at General Prison Conditions: Visits.
110 Government efforts to pressure dissidents by removing them from jobs and other harassment in the labor sector are detailed below, at Labor Rights.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with Edelmira Matamoros Espejo, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
112 Human Rights Watch interview with Martina Guzmán Arias, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
113 Human Rights Watch interview with Dailyn Robert Aliat, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
114 Human Rights Watch interview with Ernesto Ferrándiz Aliat, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
115 Their prosecutions are detailed above, at Political Prosecutions.
116 Marvin Hernández Monzón, "Ex-Ayunante de Santa Clara Enfermo en Prisión," Cuba Press, May 18, 1998.
117 Ana Luisa López Baeza, "Fin del Ayuno de Heriberto Leiva Rodríguez," Cuba Press, May 13, 1998.
118 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Guillermo Ismael Sambra Ferrándiz, Toronto, May 8, 1998.
119 "Detention incommunicado facilitates the act of torture or improper interrogation because the detainee has no access to individuals to notify them of his mistreatment. And, if the detainee is detained long enough, his wounds from the torture will heal and make it more difficult to prove his mistreatment." Paul R. Williams, Treatment of Detainees (Geneva: Henry Dunant Institute, 1990), pp. 73-74. The U.N. Human Rights Committee 1996 comments on Peru noted "... incommunicado detention is conducive to torture and that, consequently, this practice should be avoided." Human Rights Committee, Comments on Peru, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant,U.N. CCPR/C/79/Add.67, July 25, 1996.
120 Article 1, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Resolution 39/46, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987.
121 Arts. 2(1) and 4(1), Convention against Torture.
122 Para. 25, Committee against Torture, Consideration of Report Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention against Torture, Cuba, U.N. CAT/C/32/Add. 2, June 18, 1997.
123 Convention against Torture, Declarations and Reservations, Cuba, reservations upon ratification, May 17, 1995.
124 Concluding Observations of the Committee against Torture, November 21, 1997.
125 Article 15, Convention Against Torture.
126 Article 59, Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, 1992.
127 Article 13, Convention against Torture.
128 Ibid., Article 16.
129 Cuban Report to the Committee against Torture, June 18, 1997, para. 97.
130 Article 10, Convention against Torture.
131 "Estamos Dispuestos a Discutir en Condiciones de Igualdad, de Respeto Mutuo y de Trato Recíprico entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos: Entrevista Concedida por el Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, Primer Secretario del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba y Presidente de los Consejos de Estado y de Ministros, a Lucía Newman, de la CNN en el Hotel Porto Palacio, Portugal, el día 19 de Octubre de 1998, 'Año del Aniversario 40 de las Batallas Decisivas de la Guerra de Liberación,'" Granma Diario, October 24, 1998. Transcription by the Cuban Council of State. Translation by Human Rights Watch.
132 "Canadian Premier Asks Castro to Free Four Dissidents," Agence France Presse published in the Miami Herald, April 28, 1998.
133 Their case is detailed above, at Political Prosecutions.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, April 14, 1998. Dr. del Pozo Marrero was the subject of numerous international appeals for his freedom, as was Adriano González Marichal, who also was exiled to Canada in April 1998. Despite these campaigns, Cuba apparently delayed their release because both men supported the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Human Rights Watch interview with Adriano González Marichal, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
135 Human Rights Watch interview with Alberto Joaquím Aguilera, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
136 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, April 14, 1998.
137 Cuban pressures on independent journalists and activists to go into exile are detailed below, at Routine Repression.
138 "Prisioneros Políticos Liberados Tramitan Viaje a España," EFE, December 1, 1998.
139 Human Rights Watch interview with Armando Alonso Romero, Toronto, April 12, 1998.
140 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with José Miranda Acosta, Toronto, May 7, 1998.
141 Human Rights Watch interview with Adriano González Marichal, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
142 Frances Kerry, "Cuba: Cuban Pardons do not Mean Opening to Dissent-Minister," Reuters News Service, February 15, 1998.
143 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mirna Riverón Guerrero, Santiago, Cuba, July 3, 1998.
144 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Omar del Pozo Marrero, Toronto, June 25, 1998.
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