CUBAN POLITICAL PRISIONERS
CUBAN POLITICAL PRISIONERS
(38TH Annual Conference of the International Organization of Human Rights)
Rolf Beller, International Organization of Human Rights
ISHR Annual General Meeting – Year 2010
Since the seizure of power of the Castro brothers in the year 1959, the
press was at first controlled and then censored so that work for
journalists has always been hazardous, not to say impossible as media in
Cuba is limited to state controlled radio & television broadcasting
networks and their official Newspaper Granma.
Latest in March 2003, the friction between the Government and the Press
openly broke up with the arrest of 75 people, of which 27 where
Journalists. All these people received a so called "express trial" with
prison terms between 6 and 28 years.
This, together with the inhuman treatment dissidents were being dealt
with in Cuban prisons, have been important reasons why ISHR decided,
roughly 6 years ago, to install an electronic data file containing all
imprisoned dissidents. In this file: age, date of birth, marital status
and contact person as well as day and reason of arrest, charge, years of
imprisonment, name of jail, health status and personal information is
registered and actualized.
In accordance to this data file, there are actually 208 political
prisoners in Cuba, of which 22 are independent journalists.
From which sources does ISHR obtain their information? ISHR maintains a
close contact to Miscelaneas de Cuba, Mothers Against Repression, to the
Ladies in White, to Reports from the Christian Freedom Movement through
Oswaldo Paya, from Directorio Democrático Cubano, Payolibre, Miami
Herald, Solidaridad Española in Madrid as well as a number of individual
persons in Cuba, Miami, Washington and other important US and European
A further reliable source of information is the Cuban Council of Human
Rights Reporters based in Havana, an organisation that gives detailed
monthly information and a years summary report stating the number of
arrests and their charges, number of deaths and suicides in Cuban
prisons as well as detailed information regarding the inhuman handling
of political prisoners.
A further source of information is the since shortly active ISHR Working
Group in Cuba lead by Jorge Luis García Antúnez, a Cuban Human Rights
Activist who has been repeatedly imprisoned, the last time in March 1990
for 17 ½ years due to his open criticism towards the Cuban Communist
Party and attempted escape from the Island.
After fulfilling his sentence, he was released from prison in August 07,
but much to the annoyance of the Cuban Government, Antúnez remained an
active human rights defender and has since been arrested in several
One was on July 3rd 2008 to prevent him joining the US Independence day
festivities organized in the US Missions Office in Cuba and a year
later, on July 23rd, he was arrested together with Dr. Darsi Ferrer.
Antúnez and his wife – Iris Tamara – were released after having been
interrogated for several hours, however their whereabouts are since then
unknown. Juan Carlos Leiva is a further member of the ISHR Working Group.
He also is a very courageous blind activist, accused of insulting Fidel
Castro and for having promoted enemy propaganda but really due to his
activities as independent journalist and human rights activist. He was
charged in March 03 with a 20 years prison term but due to his fragile
health, Leiva was lucky to receive a "limited" freedom in December 05.
From the registered 208 political prisoners:
81 received imprisonment between 01 and 10 years;
68, 11 and 20 years;
41, 21 and more years.
Just for the sake of comparison: in Germany life imprisonment is 15
years. With what charges are political prisoners usually accused?
Breaching Law Nr. 88 108 prisoners
Piracy, flight threat, illegal cross border 39
Disrespectful handling of officials 29
Danger for Society 26
What actions breach Law Nr. 88?when foreign telephone numbers are found
registered in the accused private phonebook;
- when foreign books and magazines found in the house of the accused are
the court subversive;
- when the accused has been interviewed by Radio Marti and/or foreign press;
- when the accused openly defends human rights and/or requests their
-when the accused is charged to have endangered the national
sovereignty or endangered the economy of Cuba.All of those 22
Journalists that are actually registered in the ISHR data files, with
the exception of 3, have received prison terms between 20 and 25 years
for breaching the stated Law 88. In 1 case the journalist has been
charged of piracy and the other 2 journalists have been charged as
dangerous for society.
What is considered "piracy"?
All those who try to escape from the island, or arouse suspicion by
being owners of a boat or any other floatable object, are accused with
the offense of piracy. This infraction usually carries prison terms in
the region of 20 and more years.
The journalist Luis Campos Corrales was condemned in August 1994 to a
prison term of 25 years, person who is actually incarcerated in
Combinado del Sur Jail in the Province of Matanzas where, in accordance
to his mother Georgia Corrales, he is being treated "worse then a dog".
The offense "Danger for Society" is applied when the court has no
substantial proof or evidence against the accused, but arouses suspicion
of being a possible opponent. The 39 political prisoners that have been
charged with this verdict registered in our data bank, were condemned to
terms between 18 months and 4 years, a relatively mild sentence for
Most of these charges would probably be unsustainable under normal trial
conditions. Actually the prosecuted person in court has practically no
chance to prove his innocence, as the accused cannot request witnesses
nor can he or her rely on a defending lawyer.
Further, trials are usually held with a limited number of people but
usually with the presence of a family member as in these trials, not
only are the accused charged with prison terms, but also their family
members are affected with surveillance and unwelcome search-warrants of
their property executed by the state security, their children are
observed and tormented in school and friends threatened to end their
friendship with the family of the accused person.
They are also victims of so called Rejection Demonstrations through a
mob, organised and executed by agents of the state security. Usually
revolutionary slogans and insults are shouted out to harm members of the
family and objects thrown against their houses to scare their occupants.
The inhuman prison conditions, the complete lack of hygiene,
indigestible food and the unscrupulous behaviour of the prison guards,
are crucial factors that endanger the prisoners health and are often
cause of their death. It is not seldom that political prisoners are
placed into cells, sometimes completely naked, together with 100 and
more ordinary prisoners who are induced by the state security, to injure
or threaten him with death or just simply terrorise the victim.
Most of the political prisoners start their terms in a healthy
condition, however many today are seriously ill. The usual ailments are:
stomach lining and stomach – intestinal inflammation, under nourishment,
high blood pressure, eye diseases up to blindness, Kidney and liver
insufficiency, heart problems, parasites, amoeba, arthritis, allergies,
depression, dizziness, epilepsy and insomnia. Inhuman is, that when
medical help is requested, this is often ignored by the prison guards.
Should the prisoner be lucky and taken to the medical station, ailments
normally cannot be treated as medicine is scarce or simply not
available. It is estimated that 500 prisoners have died in Cuban prisons
during the last 4 years. This figure shows a growing trend as well as
the number of suicides, registered with 99 deaths in the last 2 years, a
alarming figure. Both figures are dark figures, however ISHR has
recorded 74 deaths since 2008 in Cuban prisons.
An effective but dangerous method used by political prisoners to draw
attention to their cause is the hunger strike. In accordance to the UN
Human Rights Commission, 12 prisoners have, since the Castro Brothers
took over power in 1959, died as consequence of their action.
The latest casualty was Orlando Zapata Tamayo who, after 83 days of
hunger, died on February 25th. Presently 2 dozen political prisoners are
on hunger strike in different Cuban prisons, many with shattered health
and in mortal danger, as in the case of the 46 year old Ariel Siegler
Amaya, arrested in March 2003, charged with a prison term of 25 years
for having endangered Cubas independence. He was, at the time of his
arrest a gym teacher and in perfect health condition.
Today he is a very sick man, he has lost a lot of body weight, has to be
transferred often to a hospital where nothing has been achieved to
improve his medical record. Also the health of Ricardo Galván Casals is
shattered, person that decided to go on hunger strike on March 8th after
prison guards rejected handing him his medicine.
After he had pronounced himself on hunger strike, he was put 5 days in
an isolated, dark and damp cell, like many before him, where he had to
sleep on the bare floor and his drinking water was severely controlled.
Since February 25th Dr. Guillermo Fariñas, a independent journalist and
psychiatrist living as a free person in Santa Clara, declared himself on
hunger strike to obtain the release of 26 seriously ill political prisoners.
One of these persons is Juan Carlos Acosta, a 43 year old metal worker
and independent journalist who is in jail, condemned to 20 years in
March 2003, accused of supplying Guatemala and the USA with damaging
reports with the intention to discredit the Cuban Government. Due to his
suffering in prison, Acosta has lost 20kg weight. In the mean time,
Guillermo Fariñas suffered a breakdown and had to be rushed to Hospital
on March 11th .
As can be concluded, there are a number of Cubans who are prepared to
risk their Health, and even their lives, to end their desperate
situation in jail but also to protest against Castros censorship. More
pressure then this is impossible and further measures can only be
generated in overseas. But what could these be?
Not only is Miami the most numerous Cuban city after Havana, but also
other important US cities have today a large Cuban community. All over
the US, but particularly in Miami, a number of NGOs and other
organisations are working hard to help the Cuban people "survive" their
desperate economical situation and in preparing Cuba for the time after
tyranny. However, the majority of these organisation are "cooking their
own soup" and are not "in one boat" speaking with one single strong voice.
Although there is hardly a dictatorship that is freely prepared to give
up censorship, the weight of this one voice could probably have more
influence to ease censorship then the hard work of all the individual
Cuban Organisations in exile. From the EU governments, similar procedure
must be expected and not, as is presently the case, that countries like
Spain, which is constantly prepared to make compromises with the Cuban
Authorities, jeopardizes EU policies.
This has also been reason why the success of EU policies has been
modest. No doubt, even the longest dictatorship has a biological end and
fortunately the Castro Dictatorship is not exempted from this fate.