They cut the phone time

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Image: The Creation of the World by Bosch

On June 8th of this year, a new law was instituted to govern the telephone schedule here in Canaleta Prison, in Ciego de Ávila. The vice Chief of the prison, Major Orlando Fernández confirmed to this blogger that the number of telephone lines would increase in Sections 3 and 4 since they are only to be used every three days and only between 8 am and 5 pm, completely shattering the promise of 120 minutes a month promised to us by ex-Chancellor Felipe Pérez Roque in his press conference in 2003 to which I’ve already made mention.

Now with this new regulation, so many prisoners are now unable to speak to their loved ones not only because of the new schedule but because of the number of prisoners here from Havana and all other provinces in Cuba.

It is also important to mention that Section 3 has also reported problems with the telephone lines on several occasions, the most recent of which was this last Monday, when one of the lines was cut as of 2 pm and, as of today the 15th, it still has not been restored.

Through this frustrating circumstance with the telephones being disconnected, we can take solace in one thing: not only are the prisoners here punished without this service but at the same time the ETECSA loses money day by day as prisoners are not buying the prepaid phone cards they sell to use the phone. A small slice of justice!

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Ceballito tells his story

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Image: Chagal

Life, without warning, is full of surprises and involves stories that we can almost not even imagine. But we as human beings take advantage of the blessings that God gave us, a trait that puts us at the top of the animal kingdom. But if we look harder at life, it’s easy to on our guard.

The following is a true story and one I am reasonable sure does not differ all that much from the stories of my brothers from the Group of 75. It’s a story about that one day when everything changes, about being happy and free and not thinking about even the possibility of being jailed for such crimes that in other civilized worlds do not exist.

Hundreds of miles from our homes, in jail cells, reduced to a state one could barely call human. In these long 6 years and 3 months I have seen almost everything. From the first dawn of the day I entered this dark dank cell at Agüica, in Matanzas, the so-called Athens of Cuba, I promised myself I would tell as much as I could about the lives of prisoners, stories unknown even to our own people.

Due to ferocious censorship imposed but the hard-line Communist Party, the story I tell is sad and harsh, one that cold easily have come straight out of the Hollywood silver screen, filled with violence, coarse language and definitely rated R.

Yosvany Ceballo Oliva was born in the province of Ciego de Ávila. By his own admission knowing of course what he knows now of his life, he would rather have died in the moment the dr delivered him. Ceballito, as he was later called, came into the world on the 21st of April, 1980, the same year as the mass exodus from the port of Mariel, in Havana.

He soon found himself in the clutches of the real world. At only 7 years of age, his mother’s flame was extinguished and his father, having never looked after him, was a stranger. He remained therefore an orphan, one abandoned to the mercy of juvenile delinquency. There was little or nothing his grandmother could do.

When he was 10, he joined a school of conduct in Ciego de Ávila known for its violent ways. Int his case, it is true what they say about the cure being worse than the disease itself. This is where he joined the ranks of true crime. One cold evening in February, eager to smoke and drink rum, he decided to rob a provisions warehouse in his neighborhood.

Once inside, with careful consideration, he took only bottle of Palmas rum and one carton of Popular cigarettes. When Ceballito began almost immediately to feel the affects of the alcohol, he decided to take a sack and fill it with a couple of bottles of liquor, several cartons of cigarettes, small containers of chicken broth, some spices and seasonings, a package of cookies and some sugar.

He returned home where he stashed his stolen goods from his grandmother. Later when he was caught, due to the thoughtlessness of this crime, the punishment was much more severe than usual. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. He was sent to Canaleta Prison though he was only 16 years old. At the height of immaturity, he has already lost his freedom.

Being employed at a farm during his incarceration, he escaped for 8 hours to go and visit his grandmother, probably the only person on earth who loved him. For this ephemeral absence, he had a year and half added on to the end of his sentence. Ceballito, who now shakes continuously and moves spasmodically as if he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and who has gone years without seeing his daughter, was scarcely a teenager himself then.

He feels weary and indebted to his grandmother. He’s takes way too many drugs. He’s addicted to narcotics, just like so many others here in this island prison. Also, he suffers from chronic Asthma.

He tells me that Maria, his grandmother, had filed an appeal with the court of Ciego de Ávila, but the appeal has been turned down. Though both had hope that with the transfer of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl and believing that Raúl was more benevolent than his brother, their hopes were dashed.

But we can only hope that his story will have a happy ending. Ceballito continues on in his story by telling about a time when he threw a pot of wheat germ on a civil servant of the minister of the interior as a prank, but when he saw the situation escalating he decided to assault the man’s car.

He needed so many blood transfusions after the mighty beating he received from the prison guards. This merciless attack is indelibly marked on him forever. As he shows the enormous scars left on his entire body to me I count more than 20.

It is a hellish drama. To the point that he was tied up all day and night to the famous chair of punishment, located in the isolation section of the prison. This ‘genius’ was the work of the director of the jail, Major Ricardo Díaz Perez, chief of rehabilitation in Canaleta in those days.

Ceballito longs every day for his conditional release to be able to re-enter society, a world he hasn’t been a part of for more than a decade. He says he wants to be able to work, to help his grandmother and to dote upon his daughter the love she deserves.

He looks up to the sky through the cell bars, as night falls over our little piece of Earth and he even adds that he wishes he had the opportunity to go to the US to work and send even more money to his grandmother and to his daughter, whom he barely knows.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Villa Clara, the Soul of a Giant

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Image: The Cyclist by Goncharova

It is our game: we tried four times to play but we kept getting rained out by May showers. But with an inexhaustible effort, we were finally able to have Villa Clara qualify for the Cuban national baseball finals.

Without a care, experienced manager Eduardo Martin helped his team beat the current island champions, Santiago de Cuba, in 7 games. This all accomplished even without such stellar players as Eduardo Paret (family issues) and Juan Yasser Serrano and Dayán Viciedo, both of whom escaped Cuba to play in one of the best leagues in the world: the US Major Leagues.

After Santiago de Cuba, they faced down Ciego de Ávila, and the task turned out to be even easier as they eliminated the team in only 5 games. Though both teams truly went head to head, there could be only one winner. The fans exploded in cheers where in the middle of the ninth inning Ramon Lunar hit a hard ball straight to Vladimir García, thought of as the best short stop in the league. Garcia tied the record for most saves in a season at 39. Morón’s pitcher, who let loose 96 and 98 mile-per-hour strikes and walked a player on an 85 mile-per-hour pitch, lost three out of the four games in that series.

For many people this was a total upset. Ciego de Ávila was one of the best teams, having 64 wins this season. But when it came right down to it, they just didn’t have what it takes to win. Once again, Ciego de Ávila will have to watch the playoffs from the sidelines.

I’m not sure the fans will be satisfied with Third place in the standing, although it’s certainly the best they’ve done in years. We al thought this was their year. All year, it was the best team in the three regions for pitching, runs, everything. But the playoffs are a whole different ballgame, as they say!

Now, as it stands Villa Clara are in the championship series opposite Havana’a best, who themselves beat the favorites in their semi-finals, Pinar del Río, in fours games of a best of seven. To predict who will be Cuba’s new champion is not an easy task. But I’m taking a stab at it: I think that the best pitcher being with Havana will certainly tilt the scales in their favor. Now let’s sit back and see!

Pablo Pachoco: Canaleta Prison

Selling out or trading up?

daumier_entreacto_2Iamge: “Entracte” by Daumier

History has taught us that those who persevere, triumph. Unfortunately, sometime the trophy ends up being a double-edged sword. The government of Havana has launched a never-before-seen campaign in opposition of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its allies have only added to the crusade.

Forgetting, once in a while, that they are members of this same world organization and whatever plagues one of them plagues them all. I hope that the government of the Brothers Castro does not forget the opportunity offered to them when the clause that expelled them from the OAS in 1962 was revoked.

The authorities in Cuba must look at the future of this with a clearer vision. And there is a golden rule that should never be forgotten: you can only help those who want to be helped.

I do not refer to enemies within our midst, for here we are all Cubans and we are all equal. But I can perhaps figure out the reason. A few weeks ago, I listened to several government civil servants, included among them was the Republic President Raúl Castro Ruz saying, he probably believing it too, that when political prisoners are liberate it is a gesture of good will.. with the United States. What an ingeniously mischievous statement.

It is true that any measure taken in benefit of a Cuban is indeed a gesture of good faith, this is an undeniable fact. But not for a foreign government, only with Cubans.

Favorable conditions exist in America’s future. Many governmental powers are of a leftist mindset and are friendly to Cuba. Places you wouldn’t see or hear the insolent moniker ‘The Motherland or Death, we shall conquer’.

Perhaps I can add that plenty of governments espouse socialist values, but not those exported from the now defunct Soviet Union to this tiny island in the Caribbean.

Now we sit and wait for Cuba’s response: will Cuba agree to rejoin the OAS, reproachable for its behavior, though influenced by unlucky dictatorships from the past, and the ideologies it proclaimed?

Cuba must then also accept the democracy established in the Magna Carta of the organization. And, in addition, in the times that are ahead, allow the OAS to decide what is best for this beautiful island and all Cubans.

Havana, not that it has to, could accept the challenge. I reiterate my previous opinion: it has to accept help, it has to change. We have spent too many years being isolated for one reason or another. We have seen it before, with Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and others, countries with their success and their failures, but aiming ultimately for the good of their people.

With the help and sponsorship for these friendly nations, our government may feel like they are selling out, but that can only benefit 11 million Cubans, starving for freedom and prosperity.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Leftovers, pay dirt

06_20canastadefrutasImage: Canasta de frutas de Botero

Here in Canaleta Prison, in the Cuban province of Ciego de Ávila, as in the prison in Morón where I was previously housed, an excellent deal exists, for some. I have become aware that some of the guards prevent, at all costs, the prisoners taking their food from the galley.

The prisoners are in the habit of trying to take the disgusting food from the galleys so that they can find ways to improve it, adding flavor, spices, slices of tomato or anything else, just to make it digestible. So when I became aware of the guards’ practice, I became suspicious of this extreme behavior!

Besides being deprived of our freedom, the food here is unpalatable and the prisoners are only trying to find ways to stomach it. But the answer to my suspicion was right in front of my eyes. After every shift, I saw the civil servants leaving with their slop buckets full of the leftovers.

As it turns out, the food that is wasted or left uneaten becomes bribes for the warden. Since it happens quite often that there are leftovers, owing only to it’s truly inhuman foulness, the civil servants get free reign over the leftovers and they are used to feed their ‘darling’ pigs.

It’s important to mention too that in this jail, ‘supper’ is served at 4 pm forcing many prisoners to take it as is. This is also the time when the day guards are getting ready to leave.

Thanks to my curiosity I given my fellow captives something to meditate on. I have figured out how the guards have managed through the financial crisis that permeates Cuba, making out of it a very lucrative business for them. I know it is extra money on top of the pittance the guards make working at the prison, since I know many of them sell my leftovers. So, in 2009, leftovers have become a lucrative enterprise in Canaleta Prison. If I didn’t blow the whistle on these people, who would?

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Inspection under the Sun

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Image: Salvador Dali

Early in the day, the guards announced we should prepare our cells for an inspection. In addition, the warden would update us on new disciplinary measures. We all assumed that the inspection would take place in the morning. To our surprise however it began at 11:25 am in the scorching hot sun and with no shade. They grouped us all together and the second in command, Major Landis, took the microphone.

He began by saying that, because we were the biggest section of the prison, this was the only time that would work for the inspection. There they go, further punishment for us. Also, he said that as of the 8th of June, prisoners only have access to the telephone from 8 am to 5 pm, and have also prohibited handicrafts, causing of course the number of prison riots to rise.

Immediately I put up my hand to reserve to discuss the new telephone schedule. Scarcely had the major finished speaking, was I called into the warden’s office. Here I explained to him that in a celebrated press conference in the second quarter of 2003, ex foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque proclaimed that every one of the prisoners from the uprising of the 75 were entitled to, on the basis of human rights, 120 minutes per month telephone access. And now this rule was infringing on that right.

Likewise, I took the opportunity to mention to him that in Cuban government reports, on the topic of human rights, or lack thereof, where exposed by the chancellor. The major assured me that as of June 8th, the number of telephones in the prison would be increased and we may be able to use then every day, not every three days as we had up until now. After our little chat, I was returned back to the other two hundred inmates out in the blazing hot sun.

After about an hour, they called my name and I followed the procession of prisoners back to my cell. I was visited by an a very nice official who shook my blanket, looked at the two beds in the cell and checked my uniform, gray with a lateral stripe, to be worn by all the prisoners. That was it. Almost two hours spent dehydrating in the midday sun to announce these unfair rules, check our uniforms and shake my blanket.

It can be said that there is a very fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime. Just as the same can be said of humiliation and torture. The saddest part of the whole story is that when they finally allowed up back inside, the prison populous look exhausted and beaten down. For this I feel a deep sorrow for my fellow sufferers and yet, I feel the same.

They longed to rested and get out of the burning sun. And yet we also noticed we were in the midst of a blackout. Ripples of conversation began and some of them inquired, ‘Politically, something must be going on: with no telephone after 5 pm, no more crafts, but members of the guard walking around with new walkie-talkies, rescheduling visit, something political has to be going on”.

Pablo Pachco: Canaleta Prison

The return of a political prisoner

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Image: Depósito de agua de Picasso


On the afternoon on May 30th, Antonio Díaz Sanchez was returned to Canaleta Prison in the province of Ciego de Ávila as a political prisoner after almost a year of specialized treatment in the Cuban capital military hospital.

Díaz Sanchez was moved to Havana in September 2008 due ulcerated colitis, a condition that forces blood into the colon. This disease, the doctors assured him, was due stress caused by the malnourishment and mistreatment he received in the prison.

Díaz Sanchez, sentenced to 20 years of incarceration, belongs to the Christian Liberation Movement and was one of 75 dissidents arrested during Black Spring in 2003.

According to military sources, Díaz Sanchez is currently in isolation for refusing to wear standard prisoner dress. His current condition is unknown. When he was arrested he was a healthy man, according to several accused being housed in galley 43 in the third detachment of the prison, and he lived in the municipality of Marianao, a suburb of Havana.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Tedium of Life

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Image: Dios juzga a Adán, de Blake

Only three years have transpired since the inception of a new politico-administration for revolutionary Cuba, where supposedly we all believe everyone is create equal, when, in 1978, there is born to the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud, Luis Alfonso Montero, who wonder over and over again why they replaced the name of the Isla de Pinos memorial, recognized by Cubans in memory of El Apóstol and where Jose Martí suffered the rigors of political imprisonment, along with many other Cubans.

Alfonso Montero, at the ripe old age of 29, continues against reason to love his Isla de Pinos. The boy with the sad face yet cheerful disposition remembers that his biological mother left there when he was 4 years old and his father at the time was already in prison.

As usually happens in these cases, the paternal grandparents took custody of the child and in their overindulgence, allowed the child to get away with everything. Even with school, he skipped classes again and again. It was fun for him first to start stealing carrier pigeons, later stealing bicycles and then horses.

He began to realize that while riding the horses through the countryside of the island, though he enjoyed the landscape, he was despising the damage his own actions were doing to him. At the age of 11, he was sent to study at a school for etiquette in his town.

It can be argued that, far from becoming re-educated, little by little he was turning into a monster of a person. By the time he was thirteen, his older friends had seduced him into smoking marijuana. For someone like Montero, always fascinated by the new and unknown, smoking marijuana was becoming more and more pleasurable.

At the age of 16, arrested for a quarrel with the police, he was sentenced to 3 years in prison for contempt and disobedience. He was incarcerated at Combinado del Este, a prison in the suburbs of the Cuban capital, though he was merely a child. He found himself, beyond comprehension, in one of the biggest prisons in the country made to house 6 thousand prisoners, in maximum security.

At this point, Luis Alfonso Montero begins committing one crime after another, from attempted murder to facial disfigurement. Already he would never be free, at least from prison. And Montero is one of those prisoners that believes in jail you must be ‘bold and violent’, especially if you are jailed young, otherwise ‘you become prey to any number of predators, some of which will sodomize you and take you as a lover’.

From there, as the story goes, in June of 2004, while sunbathing together with other prisoners on the patio in the courtyard of Quivicán prison, he took advantage of a whole in the guards’ watch, escaped in a garbage container and had now become a wanted fugitive.

He refused to give himself up, despite the continued requests from his mother, who up to this time had remained in contact with him, as she no longer has any influence over him. It is curious that, when his grandparents died, she tried to get back into his life but it was too late. Much too late.

Luis Alfonso commits egregious misdeeds all over Cuba, from its very tip to its bottom, East to West. Every time someone asked him his name, he would use a false identity. He had heard of doing this nonsense once in prison, but it was actually working in real life!

On May 7th, 2008, the fugitive dream ended for this misbegotten young man. He was apprehended by the police in Ciego de Ávila, riding a bicitaxi that had he had stolen from the area around the bus terminal.

He was accused of armed robbery and intimidation, spent one week under further investigation and finally confessed to his false identity and a string of other crimes committed after his escape.

And so he was returned to that world he so hated, though because of his actions, a world that had become his mistress: jail. Again, Luis had a devilish plan. During his time on the run, in the province of Matanzas, he had met a homosexual, a confessed AIDS patient, a man with whom he had had sexual intercourse.

He planned on contracting the disease and therefore being sent to a prison for HIV patients, where the living conditions where much better than in the maximum security prisons on the island. Even though the symptoms had not surfaced, several bloods tests confirmed he was ailing. He had no idea of the devastating consequences that came with having AIDS. Hopefully he didn’t pass it one to anyone else!

Sadly, the prisoners tell me, Luis Alfonso Montero is not the only one who has had this idea. Other preferred contracting tuberculosis as they are completely isolated and the food is less putrid. Only a truly sick person, who is truly unhappy with his life, would seek to contract AIDS.

Montero doesn’t have any children and doesn’t expect to have any either. He still has ten years left of his sentence and faces possible hanging. He doesn’t believe he will ever again see freedom from jail. All he sees is his uncertain and empty future and despises the Cuban Revolution for its cruelty.

On his body he has two distinctive tattoos: “Against Communism forever” and “I shit on the communist world”. He is forever marked by the abandonment of his mother, and he doesn’t believe he deserves to live anymore. He hates this world and would, then, rather die of AIDS.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison.

Condolences

It with great grief and sorrow that we just watched the news report concerning the tragic accident of Air France Airbus 330 on Sunday May 31st, 2009, where 228 lives were lost. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the victims of the disaster and we join in the mourning of the international community, praying to God for the souls of the missing.

Félix Navarro Rodríguez, Adolfo Fernández Saiz, Pedro Argüelles Morán, Pablo Pacheco Ávila,  all send their condolences.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Women’s Prison 43

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Image: El suicidio de Dorothy Hale de Frida Kahlo

At birth, God instills in us the right to be free. But this freedom has been adapted by humans since Adam and Eve. Throughout the course of history there have been laws and I do not believe that we always have justice but I think we have tried to bring a sense of order in the eyes of God to this crazy world.

It’s been a week since I decided to try and understand the motives behind the 26 inmates living here with me in this living tomb. My first conclusion would have to be that rehabilitation clearly doesn’t work because of our 27, 23 of us are re-offenders. Only 4 of us are first-time offenders.

Another fact I could call attention to is how many of us have actually been raised by our biological parents. There are 6 who have and the rest of he 21 have grown up with the absence of at least one parent, most often the father. There are four of us who have been raised by grandparents and interestingly enough, those are the one who were jailed at the youngest age!

Eighteen of us are white, leaving 7 black. Do not forget that this little island is not of the Congo, we are Calabar. 9 of these men have been through either etiquette schools or juvenile detention centers.

There is another curious facet to prison life. The government who, in it’s propaganda-fueled desire to provide a positive view of its prison system, requires inmates to study. If they don’t, they lose some of the very few privileges. Here only three have made it to the Bachelor’s level, two of them have completed the equivalent of a college education and the rest barely have high school.

Those who have completed the 9th grade before they were imprisoned, here have to go back to school unless they provide a Certificate of Secondary Education. Some of them even prefer to almost start back at the first grade since it is, by their own admission, a way to emerge from this dungeon and breathe a cleaner air.

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