Hunger strike in Cuba
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April 2013
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    Calixto, the Resolute

    Calixto, the Resolute* / Lilianne Ruiz

    Posted on April 15, 2013

    This past Tuesday, the Cuban authorities finally acknowledged Calixto R.

    Martinez Arias's right to go free, after he had served more than six

    months in prison, initially for the crime of "insulting the leadership

    figures of the Revolution." He had no trial.

    Martinez Arias twice engaged in what is known in the post-1959 history

    of Cuban political prisoners as "taking a stand" (literally, "planting

    oneself"): he declared a hunger strike. In the first, he went 33 days

    without eating, the second, 22. Until, after the second strike, it was

    reported by state security that his case had been reviewed and they had

    "understood" his demand for freedom.

    "I started the first hunger strike to protest my stay in the Combinado

    del Este prison," Martinez Arias said. "I also refused to wear prison

    garb. When an inmate declares a hunger strike, the guards use many

    methods to make them quit. The first thing they say is that you are

    committing a disciplinary infraction, which hurts your eiligibility for

    rights such as conditional parole, and for family and conjugal visits.

    And ultimately they take you to the infirmary where the doctor will take

    your vital signs and issue you a "suitable cell" notice, which means

    just that: you are fit to be taken to the punishment cells."

    "The punishment cell measures about 6 by 8 feet. It has no light. It has

    a "Turkish" toilet, and a water basin you can access twice a day, when

    the guards allow. There were days when they refused me water because a

    captain who claimed to be the second-in-command of Building 3, where I

    was detained, said that I could not drink water and took it away from me.

    "By day you have to lie on the floor or stand. To that end, they remove

    the mattress. They left me my clothes, but took away anything with which

    I might cover myself. I spent very cold days, especially during the

    first strike. The cells are very wet and very cold, deliberately

    prepared to be that way. There were times when I had to sleep sitting on

    the floor, up against the wall, because the guards would come very late

    to give me the mattress. Lying on the floor you can contract a lung

    disease from the cold and moisture. The floor is very dirty because the

    cells are not cleaned. There are many insects: enormous rats, droves of

    cockroaches. It is a sacrifice that you have to make, convinced that it

    is all designed to psychologically torture you.

    "During the second hunger strike, of 16 days, they took me to what they

    call 'the increased' area, which is more severe. Then they took me out

    of there after one day to an even harsher cell. There the conditions

    were more brutal. They kept a surveillance camera on me at all times;

    they never turned off the light."

    In the second hunger strike, Martinez Arias started bleeding profusely

    from his gums and his teeth began to fall out. He lost 45 pounds. But he

    says: "I became a lot stronger."

    The "Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba," the newspaper

    Granma, on Wednesday April 10, published an account of the "good

    conditions" in which prisoners live in Cuban jails. Regarding this,

    Martinez Arias said:

    "This is an absurdity. I can assure you that they began preparing this

    article in December. In the month of December they informed us that

    journalists from the national and foreign press accredited in Cuba were

    going to visit the Combinado del Este prison. Major Rodolfo, who is in

    charge of the building where I was, a building for 'pendings,' explained

    to us that the visitors would not be given access to our building

    because of the appalling conditions. Prisoners there live in a state of

    overcrowding, because every day many 'pending' prisoners enter.

    "It also has many leaks, and the bathrooms are in an extremely

    unsanitary condition. The building should be declared uninhabitable.

    Rodolfo explained that he was not going to take visitors there, because

    of these conditions, and that this was not a bad decision because, and I

    can almost quote him verbatim, 'when a visitor comes to your house, you

    want to show him the best, not the worst parts.' For that reason, he

    said, they were going to repair a wing of building No.1. The foreign

    media should not be allowed to have access to the punishment cells. In

    fact, in none of the pictures they showed are these cells seen."

    In Cuba, the exercise of the right that everyone has to seek, receive,

    and distribute information, by any means of expression, without

    limitation by borders—as stated in Article 19 of the Universal

    Declaration of Human Rights—may be considered a crime. But on occasion,

    to put an independent journalist in prison, as in the case of Martinez

    Arias, the authorities bring charges of common crimes against him, to

    deflect the political nature of the arrest.

    On September 16, 2012, Martinez Arias had been inquiring of some

    terminal-workers near Jose Marti International Airport about a batch of

    medical aid provided by international humanitarian organizations to

    address the outbreak of cholera and dengue and that, because of official

    mismanagement, had spoiled.

    On leaving the airport, as he and others took shelter from the rain,

    perched on the benches of a bus stop to avoid the puddles, a patrol car

    arrived and gave them all tickets; but Martinez Arias was transferred to

    the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas on the charge of being

    "illegally" in Havana, having an address of the province of Camagüey.

    Martinez Arias claimed in his defense that "the brothers Fidel and Raul

    Castro are natives of the province of Oriente."

    "Immediately" said the self-described activist "the police handcuffed

    me, took me to a dark hallway, and beat me hard."

    The police who detained and beat him then accused him of "insulting the

    figures of the leaders of the revolution." He was automatically moved to

    the Valle Grande prison, and from there, as punishment for continually

    denouncing through his colleagues the human rights abuses of the prison

    population, he was taken to the maximum-security Combinado del Este prison.

    During the first hunger strike, State Security informed Martinez Arias

    that the prosecutor's petition stated that he had been "insulting" and

    "resistant", for having offended a policeman.

    "If I had reacted during the beating they gave me by dodging a blow, or

    by landing a defensive blow to the policeman who was giving me the

    beating, I would have been accused of 'attacking,'" Calixto said. Police

    in Cuba can feel "offended" and "attacked" if you don't react with

    absolute passivity to their arbitrariness and brutality, and then they

    fabricate the charges of "insult" and "attack", respectively, resulting

    in the person's imprisonment.

    Martinez Arias believes that the visibility conferred by having been

    declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, together

    with the solidarity of human-rights activists, independent journalists

    in Cuba, and many foreign media with the participation of Cubans living

    abroad, managed to send a message to the government of Raul Castro that

    a person imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression

    is not alone, and you cannot keep them in prison subjected to cruel,

    inhumane, and degrading treatment without paying a high political cost

    that limits your room to maneuver with impunity.

    *Translator's note: Literally "the planted one"

    Translated by: Tomás A.

    This post appeared originally in

    12 April 2013

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