Address to the U.N. Human Rights Commission by Sebastian Arcos Bergnes

Address to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland April, 1996

Mr. President: Members of the Commission:

My name is Sebastian Arcos Bergnes, and I am the Vice-president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization founded in Cuba in 1976 to observe the respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the island.

On the 15 of January 1992 I was arrested in my home by the Cuban political police; the second time in ten years. On October of that year I was sentenced to 4 years and eight months in prison for the sole crime of reporting to this Commission the violations of human rights committed by the government of my country. The labor of those volunteers of this Commission inside of Cuba are considered by the government as "enemy propaganda."

I will not enter into the details concerning the multiple irregularities of the judicial process always against me, nor about the conditions that I had to tolerate for more than three years. I will refer solely to one aspect of this my last experience in Cuban prisons.

When I was arrested in January of 1992, I enjoyed excellent general health for a man my age, 60 years then. I weighed around 170 pounds, and ran 5 to 6 kilometers every morning. Eight months later, when after a campaign of denunciations of my family I was transferred finally to a military hospital, I'd lost over 30 pounds and suffered from multiple ailments.

My stay in the hospital was not long. In December of 1992 I was transferred to the Prison of Ariza in the Province of Cienfuegos, over 300 KMS from my home and my relatives. All of the medical treatments indicated by specialists of the military hospital were immediately suspended. During the next 30 months that I spent in Ariza my state of health worsened considerably, and I was systematically denied access to the medications that my family sent me.

During those 30 months only occassionally did I see inexperienced doctors that gave me incomplete medical exams and additionally lacked the medication to prescribe me. I have in my posession a detailed chronology of my repeated denunciations concerning the abandonment of my health by the Cuban authorities.

In February of 1994, in an attempt to refute my denunciations, the Cuban government presented before this Commission a strip of video filmed without my knowledge, in which I appeared to be undergoing a medical exam. That was the second and last time that I was taken to the hospital, that time for a cardiological exam which had been ordered with urgency on three previous occasions.

In mid - 1994 I commenced to suffer pains in my left leg, which later spread to the rest of my extremities. After a rapid examination, a doctor in the prison determined that I suffered from polineutritis -a deficiency illness very common in the Cuban jails, and he prescibed treatment with vitamins. The pain continued with me for nearly a year later when I was liberated as a result of a gesture of the humanitarian organization France Liberte.

A few days after being liberated the pain worsened suddenly. Many weeks later I had to be urgently admitted to the hospital, were a doctor (friend) discovered that I had a malignant tumor in the rectum. Finally I had to leave Cuba to recieve medical treatment in Miami, where my children live. The medical team which examined me in Mercy Hospital diagnosed a rectal tumor of 8 cm of diameter, with more than a year and a half of growth, with mestasis in the bones of the pelvis. At only 4 cm from the anal sphincter, the tumor could have been easily detectable with a simple feel of the area which is included in a basic medical exam for any man over 50 years old. Attached here are medical diagnosis which confirm what I've been saying.

These conclusions put the Cuban government in a difficult juncture. Or the Cuban government didn't know of the existence of the tumor, and in that case they recognize that they did not give me adequeate medical assistance; or I'm lying and the Cuban government did know about the tumor and hid that knowledge for more than a year. Or the Cuban government recognizes itself guilty of criminal negligence in my case, or it recognizes itself guilty of an attempted premeditated homicide against my person.

Mr. President:

Before I finish, I would like to make clear that mine is not an isolated case, but only an example of the regular practice of Cuban authorities in their treatment of prisoners of conscience. Out of the group of 6 political prisoners liberated by the Cuban government after the requests of France Liberte, only two enjoyed good health. In addition to my own case, Reinaldo Figueredo has cancer in his vocal chords, Luis Enrique Gonzalez Ogra has pancreatic cancer, and Ismael Salvia Ricardo is nearly blind. Terrible nutrition, crowded and unsanitary cells, housing with common violent criminals, violent repression, and reluctant medical assistance - if any- are the norm and not the exception in Cuban prisons.

Because of all this, Mr. President, it is urgent that this Commission demand of the Cuban government that it permit without restriction the access of the International Red Cross to all the Cuban prisons, and that Cuba comply with the international statutes about prisoners and the treatment of prisoners. This is the least we can do in the short run to avoid that cases like mine be repeated, in which medical assistance came-tragically-when it was already far too late.

Thank you very much,

Sebastian Arcos Bergnes


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