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August 2012
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    Cuban Prisons: History Repeats Itself

    Cuban Prisons: History Repeats Itself / Iván García

    Iván García, Translator: Unstated

    One cold evening with a persistent drizzle, the poet and journalist Raul

    Rivero in his apartment in the Havana neighborhood of La Victoria, told

    me that the worst thing in prison was when it came time to sleep.

    Every night, while sleeping in his damp prison cell in Canaleta, Ciego

    de Avila, he was a free man. In those late nights he would fantasize

    jumping the wall and quietly drawing back the Chinese bolts.

    Then he drank coffee with friends, and suddenly relaxed and happy

    moments shared with his mother, wife and daughters returned

    All the charm was broken when the bell went off and the passage of

    military boots hitting the floor or announcing a search deep into the

    cell. For Rivero sleep was the hardest.

    To the 75 prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003, those years in prison

    seemed like centuries. They were not criminals. Or terrorists. They had

    not broken any law that would endanger national security.

    In summary trials they fabricated a string of nonsense useful to the

    government of Fidel Castro. Their weapons were the pen and the word. The

    incriminating evidence presented to the prosecution were books,

    typewriters and laptops.

    Oscar Elias Biscet, slept many years in a dreadful punishment cell. Upon

    release, the independent journalist Jorge Olivera looked to be twenty

    years older and carried a string of illnesses. Orlando Zapata died in

    prison as a result of a prolonged hunger strike. Ariel Sigler crossed

    the threshold of his cell turned into a human wreck.

    When a straight and honest man knows who has committed no crime and the

    truth is on his side, it is very difficult to break him. And usually he

    is not bent by questioning in the style of the KGB, with threats,

    humiliation and corporal punishment.

    In the prisons where they served their sentences, the dissidents never

    failed to report the brutalities that occurred within the prisons. I

    remember Pablo Pacheco, from his galley in Canaleta and with the help of

    friends, started a blog where he told stories had seemed taken from a

    book of horror.

    The history of political imprisonment in Cuba is terribly painful.

    Someday, an important day, we will hold a minute of silence for the

    political prisoners who died in prison on the island.

    If jail is rigorous for the opponents, what about the abuses common

    criminals receive. Yoilán, 26, has suffered from the severity of the

    Cuban penal system since age 14.

    Yoilán does not consider himself to be innocent. He was a thief. He was

    stealing money or items of value to tourists. Being a teenager he was in

    a juvenile rehabilitation center.

    "The prison guards, for any discipline, handcuffed you to the fence and

    kicked and beat you with batons. Sometimes using high-voltage electrical

    appliances. No matter that we were barely children," recalls Yoilán.

    In adult prisons, beatings and abuse are almost a norm. One would like

    to know the number of common prisoners killed as a result of beatings by

    the prison guards.

    Prisons are not hotels. But corporal punishment and verbal abuse by

    those who care for the punished should be prohibited. It is enough that

    these men and women who committed crimes serve their punishment behind

    the bars of a cell.

    If we speak of activists like Sonia Garro, Ramón A. Muñoz or Niurka

    Luque, imprisoned since mid-March, then the injustice is twofold. Their

    only 'crime' was to claim a handful of rights in peaceful street protests.

    Fortunately, in most nations of the planet you cannot go to prison for

    being a political opponent. China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Burma

    and some African country or other as well as Cuba. It's a shame.

    August 12 2012

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