by Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

On Monday August 11, six of the 12 Cuban refugees that the Bush administration so swiftly returned to Castro were brought for the typical kangaroo trial in Havana.  They were charged with “hijacking.”  But every Cuban knows that, especially for high-profile cases, the regime carefully chooses the charge that will maximize the intimidation effect for the population.  Actually, this group of 11 men and one woman overpowered a crew of three men taking a Cuban mapping and geological research vessel on July 15.  The next day the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted their trip to freedom off the Bahamas.

As swiftly as Bush returned them, they were tried and sentenced by Castro on August 12 (barely a day later) to 7 to 10 years in jail.  This was part of an “agreement” concocted by the Bush administration with the ruler-for-life of a country designated by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist country.  Although the last several administrations has said they don’t make deals with terrorists . 

The Bush administration’s consistent, inhumane practice of returning Cuban refugees to Cuba is a continuation of a secret agreement former president Clinton made with the terrorist Castro regime.  It has received a lot of criticism not only from the Cuban American community (and not only in Miami but through out the country) who condemned the policy from the beginning, but also from his own brother, Jeb, Florida’s Governor, as well as American columnists.

President Bush seems to have forgotten to whom he owes his small-margin-victory in Florida and he should not be confident on the Cuban American vote for the next presidential election.

The betrayals to the principle of freedom and democracy for Cuba that began with President Kennedy have left a bitter taste and a disappointment in the hearts of the Cuban Americans for ignoring what this country really stands for.  Apparently economic greed takes precedence over sound moral principles.

And, if we can escape the politics and finally get to the human side of this, making a deal with a terrorist for a 10-year sentence in Castro’s dungeons for a human being whose “crime” was to try to escape a tyranny to live as a free man is unconscionable.  But, that is what this is really about.

Prisons in Cuba are not the picnic, or “country club” they are in the U.S., so below find a few details of the hundreds of thousands of men and women now languishing in that forgotten hellhole.  The estimate is that more than one million Cubans have suffered imprisonment under Castro’s regime.

On August 1, 2003, Vladimiro Lugo Leyva, 42, a common prisoner died of tuberculosis in the Prison Center Kilo 8 in the province of Camagüey.  Due to overcrowding, total lack of hygiene and medical attention, tuberculosis is prevalent among prisoners in Cuba.

His mother says that he did not receive the proper medical attention for the disease that he contracted while in prison and he just wasted away.  She requested a meeting with First Lieutenant Julio Derive Suarez, in charge of the wing where her son was and with the Chief of the Prison, Mayor General Osmani Roca Morales, demanding hospital care and a proper diet for her son to no avail.

Finally, when her son was experiencing labored breathing, fever and malnutrition, he was taken to the hospital where Vladimiro Lugo Leyva died 24 hours later.  The refusal to give medical attention and the meager diet is a common practice in Castro’s prison system in order to exterminate prisoners. This information was smuggled out of Cuba and distributed by www.CubaNet.org.

Leonardo Miguel Bruzon Avila, 49, is a political prisoner.  He had been president of the human rights movement “24 of February” and was jailed on February 22, 2002, but he has not been taken to trial.  Castro’s regime charged him with “public disorder” and “desacato” [saying something bad about Castro or his regime].

He entered prison a healthy man, now a year and a half later, according to Alcira Avila, his mother, he is showing signs of pseudoparkinsons disease with a speech impediment.  In a punishment cell at Combinado del Este Prison in Havana, he says he can no longer walk, has lost mobility in an arm and hand and he is loosing his vision.  The last time his mother was allowed to see him was on July 14.  He told her that he doesn’t have light in his cell, nor a mattress or sheets.  He is not receiving needed medication.  All in keeping with the technique of wasting away the prisoners to death.

Mrs. Avila has written letters to various government departments and to Castro but has received no response.  She is appealing to the International Red Cross but Castro’s regime does not allow visits to prisons by that organization or other human rights organizations.  Appealing to the American public opinion is impossible because the U.S. media doesn’t report these violations of human rights in Cuba.  This information was received from Cuba and distributed by www.CubaNet.org.

Independent journalist Fabio Prieto, 39, a political prisoner, is serving a 20-year sentence at the Guanajay Prison in Havana.  He was recently sentenced in the ongoing crack down in Cuba.  During the week of July 25, 2003, he was transferred to a cellblock housing common prisoners who are serving 30-year sentences for such crimes as drug trafficking, murder and rape.  Mixing political with violent common prisoners is another well-documented technique in the study of prisons under Castro’s regime.  These situations have resulted in the death of political prisoners by suicide or murder at the hands of the criminal inmates.  This information was smuggled out of Cuba and distributed by www.CubaNet.org.

Black political prisoner Omar Pernet Hernandez, 58, has, since June 21 been kept half naked in a punishment cell at the Guanajay Prison in Havana.  He is also one of the recent victims of Castro’s crack down that began in April 2003.  He was the director of the “20 of May” independent library and also a member of the “National Movement for Human Rights Mario Manuel de la Pena.”  He was given a 25-year sentence.

Omar Pernet Hernandez refuses to wear the common criminal uniform.  He says that he is in jail because he opposes Castro’s regime, which he says is not a crime.  He suffers from pulmonary ailments and because of a weakened immune system, often gets pneumonia.

His sister, Mirtha Pernet Reyes says that because of the infrahuman environmental condition of her brother’s cell, the lack of medical attention and meager diet, she expects his ailments to worsen.  She and the rest of the family blame the Cuban authorities.  This information was received from Cuba and distributed by www.CubaNet.org.

In the article “Dissidents’ Tales of Abuses Begin to Emerge From Cuban Prisons” by Tracey Eaton published on July 7, 2003 by the Dallas Morning News, she says, “In a dog-eared diary smuggled out of prison, journalist Manuel Vázquez, 51, said he sleeps on ‘an old, dirty, hard-stuffed mattress' in a jail infested with rats, scorpions and other creatures.  The food is hard to describe, he writes. ‘Meals include soy meal, roasted corn meal and sugar water, and a white paste made from wheat flour and other, unrecognizable substances.

‘The toilet is basically a hole regurgitating its stench 24 hours a day.  There are no sheets, no pillows no radio or TV, no newspaper or books, no eating utensils, no cup, no towels.’”  And he describes, “his cell, No. 31, measures about 5-by-10 feet.’  It 'floods daily with effluent from the hallway,' he writes, and the pock-marked ceiling leaks freely when it rains.  Other inmates complain of beatings, solitary confinement and poor medical care.  Conditions are ‘harsh and life threatening,' a U.S. human rights report said in March.”

Eaton talks about “La Pendiente prison near Santa Clara, about 170 miles east of Havana.”  She reports that the wife of one of the inmates said that prison is “overrun with bedbugs,” and that the inmates cannot sleep because the constant bites.

She mentions the case of former National Bank of Cuba economist and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 62, sentenced to 20 years and who “is suffering from liver disease, gastrointestinal bleeding and other symptoms.”  His family “fears he's not getting proper medical care in prison and may die.”

Black political prisoner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, 42, founder of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, an admirer and follower of Dr. Martin Luther King, was sentenced to 25 years.  He has been in “Kilo Cinco y Medio Prison,” a maximum-security facility in the province of Pinar del Rio since April 23, 2003.  He also has refused to wear the common prisoner uniform, because dissenting from any regime is not a crime in the civilized world.

In a letter from prison dated June 1, 2003, smuggled out of the Cuba he says that he was confined half naked in a dark and dirty cell.  The only ventilation was the smoke and soot from the prison kitchen.  He was sharing his cell with two dangerous criminals.  He was disoriented in the dark.  By his pulse rate and bleeding of his gums he detected that his blood pressure was high.  He stayed in that cell for 36 days until May 29 when he was transferred to a 3-by-6 feet solitary confinement cell where he sleeps on the floor with no running water, a hole on the floor for a toilet.  He has no access to fresh air or sunlight.  He is not allowed to keep any personal belonging (including his bible) or to receive visits, access to reading or writing materials or receive mail.

Economist Martha Beatriz Roque, 58, political prisoner, who has already served a sentence of 3 ½ years for being part of an study group in Cuba that published a document titled “The Fatherland Belongs to All,” was sentenced again to 20 years in the latest massive crack down.  She is the only woman among 75 pro-democracy activists, independent librarians and journalists, tried and sentenced in summary processes in Castro’s Cuba last April, taking advantage of the international distraction with the war in Iraq.

Held in solitary confinement in the infamous women prison “Black Mantle” in Matanzas province, she shares her small cell with rats and cockroaches.  There is no window or running water.  A hole on the floor serves as a toilet.  She is not allowed any reading material.

Martha Beatriz has not received the medical assistance she needs for her rheumatic and ulcer conditions since last April.  In addition, she presently has an uncontrollable arterial hypertension and the left side of her body is numb.  She has lost about 40 pounds in less than three months.  Due to an international outcry mainly from Europe and other countries (but, not the U.S.), she was transferred to the Military Hospital Carlos J. Finlay.

On August 2, 2003, her niece, Maria de los Angeles Falcon was able to visit her at the hospital.  Although she was unable to see or speak with the doctors, according to the information provided by Martha Beatriz, her diabetes had been confirmed, and the doctors were treating the condition with medication.

The added that she is being given an anti-coagulant.  Since her arms are purple and badly bruised, they have begun injecting her in the abdomen.  Her blood pressure is now very low (90/60 and 90/40).  She is confined to Bed # 17 in a single room, where two women prison guards remain with her 24 hours a day.  The room has all its windows covered.

So Mr. Bush, 10 years in a Cuban prison is not a nice proposition to negotiate with anybody, especially when you are locked up for wanting to be free or wanting freedom and democracy for Cuba.

© 2003 ABIP

Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries

COVERING CUBA, CUBA: The Pearl of the Antilles, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation & COVERING CUBA 3: Elian presented at the 2003 Miami Latin Film Festival.

Author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.