Rotten Food


Image: Bird Headed Monster by Bosch

At lunchtime on July 8, we, the prisoners of Sections 3, 4 and 5 reported to the dining room of the prison where we were met by Unit Chief Orlando Major Fernández Fernández and Michael Vesalles, Kitchen Chief, here at Canaleta in Ciego de Ávila, where they admit that the meal they were to serve us today had actually gone rotten. Several other prisoners confirmed to me that, fearing reprisal for letting this happen, Fernández Fernández ordered that the rotten fish be replaced by ham hash. The inmates where able to eat soon after. Of the 350 prisoners that live in the three sections combined, quite a few confirmed this isn’t the first time this situation had occurred.

To conclude, the reasons behind this situation are still unknown.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

Mysterious thefts


Image: Luis Trapaga

In February of this year, the warden of Canaleta Prison in the province of Ciego de Ávila stopped allowing us to wear our own clothes and introduced a uniform that all prisoners are required to wear, consisting of two undershirts, one pair of shorts and one pair of pants. Several weeks later, a common prisoner,* Ernesto Jiménez Aragón, reported for his new clothing and was advised that it would not be delivered until visiting day. Because of this surprising response, Ernesto’s family asked again, on visiting day, for the clothing, but this time they were told that someone had robbed the prison warehouse. With this new development, the family, distressed, spoke with the Chief Prison Warden, General Marcos Hernández Alcalá, who assured them that the pieces of clothing would either turn up or be paid for by those who are responsible for the warehouse. However, according to Ernesto, neither one of these things happened, and he ordered five shorts, five pants, five pullovers and four undershirts. But the worst part of the situation is that even though there is a severe penalty for theft, these things can happen. Aragón alleges that his mother cannot afford to buy him any more clothes, since she is sick with cancer of the throat and does not have enough money for this anomaly.

Moreover, other prisoners assert that recently, in this same provincial prison, someone robbed the workers’ pay, and they still have not caught the responsible party.

Shakira in Canaleta


Perhaps this title brings hope to those set apart from society in the Canaleta provincial prison, in Ciego de Ávila. Thinking about the performance of the famous Columbian singer this afternoon, I appealed to the good humor of those men who, because of mistreatment, live day after day hoping for freedom, and those out of prison, the living dead, existing in a world designed for power and evil.

The prisoners here, witty and funny by nature (perhaps because they are Cuban), baptized the chains they have to wear to go to doctor appointments as “Shakira.” Really funny because they don’t have hair and are extremely mean. Not until today, July 9, did I have the bad luck of having my turn to go to the provincial hospital, Antonio Luases Iraola. There were Jorge Toledo Ortiz, Heriberto Castillo Sánchez and Luis Alberto. The first one missed his appointment because of the guards’ delay. They told the reporters, Toledo Ortiz and Castillo Sánchez, we “looked like the supposed Taliban terrorists that are seen on Cuban television.” With every movement of the jeep I feared an accident, because of the abysmal quality of the driver. In addition, the heat was unbearable; nothing seemed more like torture: inside a makeshift van and shackled to the teeth, someone finally said it was better to miss the appointment with the medical specialist.

This story is sad because whenever something disgraceful happens, the high-ranking officials wash their hands of it. I confirmed this with Gamboa, the Chief of Interior Order, and he showed me that the instructions came from above. He concluded by saying it took a lot of work for Toledo Ortiz, who is completing a seven-year sentence, to go see a specialist for a cyst on his brain, and he missed his appointment. Also, the official with the Department of Technical Inquiries almost ruined his humble tennis shoes while patting down the prisoner. And for now, he doesn’t want to know anything about Shakira even from television, though she is a beautiful woman, very different from the chains they make us wear while inside a rolling oven.

Pablo Pacheco, Canatela Prison, Ciego de Avila

Fear is much greater than pain


Image: Millet

In Cuba, during the last 50 years, I believe that the fear has been greater than the pain. And there is no more convincing reason than the last weeks of living here in Section 3 of the Provincial Prison of Canaleta in Ciego de Ávila. It’s also known that tradition is stronger than love, although I believe this adage serves more for those with the souls of slaves and cowards by nature than for courageous men.

The afore-mentioned section in which I reside is no better than the 11 others that exist in this prison with more than 150 men, and we continue to have problems with the telephone service. This benefit, available until 10 pm, offered before the 8th of the current month, now is allowed only from 8 am to 5 pm, because, according to Mayor Orlando Fernández Fernández, Deputy Chief of the unit, some prisoners contacted high-level functionaries at the Ministry of the Interior to complain about unresolved issues in the prison.

Life shows you that if you don’t like soup, you’ll get three bowls. And this saying fits like a ring on a finger to the punishments in our section. Today, July 6, while I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment at Antonio Luases Iraola provincial hospital, the “re-educator” ordered that televisions must be turned off between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm, as a new rule to conserve energy and thus help the country in the campaign of energy saving. Anyone disobeying this order would spend time in his cell, even if he had a good excuse.

Now most of the convicts criticize the order, but they were afraid to tell Joel, the re-educator, to his face. If they come and ask me, “Political teacher, tell us what to do now,” I have no other option but to write this commentary.

To conclude, I must add that for the five barracks in our section, the troughs where we bathed at 1 pm and collected water to flush the furrows we use as a toilet, have been drained. Water is piped in only at 7:30 pm and at 6 am. Consequently, there is a bad smell in the bath, and the flies are our faithful companions along with the terrible food.

As a child of God, I can only pray that we don’t fall victim to some contagious disease, so common this time of year.

To be imprisoned in Canaleta


Image: Claude Monet

During the night of June 16, the inmates of Canaleta Prison in Ciego de Ávila began a massive protest because there was no water to bathe in, let alone to drink. In addition, most of them had spent the whole day of terrible heat without access to the telephone, and they were banned from watching television from 10 am until 6 pm – a new regulation from the Ministry of the Interior.

Around 10 pm, you could hear catcalls and hisses, accompanied by shouts of WATER, WATER, WATER. In our division things worsened when the prisoners asked Despaine, the functionary in charge, about the absence of the precious liquid. And he continued walking, turning his back on them, a kind of blackmail.

Twenty minutes later, Captain Alberto, two other high-ranking officials, and two other functionaries arrived. The soldiers immediately explained that as a result of a shortage of electricity on the national network, the turbine that supplied the water was not on, and that only when the electricity was back would the water situation would be resolved.

The angry prisoners continued to complain from one military bureaucrat to another. Finally the water returned to our section at 12:25 am There are more than 1,200 inmates in Canaleta prison, and they remained without electricity and water for more than 17 straight hours.

Pablo Pacheco

The Case of Heriberto Castillo Sanchez

abst20-60x70cmacrilicolImage: Abstract by Luis Trapaga

On the afternoon of June 7, Andres Licea, the interior order agent, told Heriberto Castillo Sanchez that they would not take him to his appointment with a gastroenterologist at the Antonio Luaces Hiraola provincial hospital because there was no available car.

Castillo Sanchez told me that this is another cock-and-bull story from the police to destabilize him psychologically. He asserts that on June 9, he was escorted to the hospital in shackles similar to the ones we see on television on the supposed terrorists at Guantanamo naval base, those shackles that are known as “Shakira” in this prison. He adds that the guards allege in his prison file that he is a “flight risk” because he wants to be a permanent resident in the United States.

Heriberto Castillo Sanchez states that the Hepatitis C they detected was acquired in Cuban prisons, since before his arrest for supposed human trafficking, without any other human on his boat, he was a healthy man. Castillo Sanchez is serving a 15-year prison sentence, and in recent biopsies the specialists said there were important changes in the fat levels in his liver. This prisoner, 42 years old, has to go every month to consult with his doctor and have his health evaluated. Now he finds himself in Section 3, Barracks 43 of Canaleta Prison, unable to keep his appointment.

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

One more blog


Image: Fernand Léger

Inevitably, information technology generates space. Day after day, also inevitably, closed regimes suffocate in the little space they guarantee themselves to remain in power. Yesterday, Darais Reyes, the wife of Norman Hernandez Gonzalez, director of the College of Independent Journalists in Camaguey and arrested during the Black Spring of 2003, told me that those in exile were helping this excellent social communicator create his own blog.

The project fits perfectly and would be a responsibility with freedom for all those who can help the journalists imprisoned in 2003 have their own blogs, or for those who have an aptitude for writing. I don’t believe that creating a blog for each one of us, or for the most possible, will democratize this country.  But it’s an opening through which we can talk about our reality. I am convinced that news, commentaries, chronicles and articles will get out to those in charge and available to post them on the Web. There are many, very many prisoners who are ready to help. If it works, a deep divide will collapse.

It’s true that some people feel suspicious of the blogger movement in Cuba. I am not one of those who believe that this evolution of information confines the independent press, not at all: free information that other good Cubans founded by force of valor, dedication and patriotism is the pillar attained up to now. But the world is in motion, and we with it. Truthfully, right now there are many competent independent journalists whom I admire and respect, as I also admire and respect other good journalists who are limited in what they would like to write for obvious reasons. And saying this, I say something else: I can’t make heads or tails of the unauthorized attack on the current blogger movement, and I want someone to guarantee that if this movement had existed in March 2003, many of my colleagues in independent journalism would not be suffering suspensions today.

I’m not saying this to criticize what others write. This is a fundamental right that God gives us. And only the Communist regime that today imprisons free thought is responsible for deciding who can or cannot write for the information media available to the Cuban people. I know of other colleagues who were part of the 75 arrested who have now attained their freedom, enjoying their own blogs. Congratulations to them. Also, I congratulate Normando, and I think now of when I decided to accept help from those I admire to create my own blog. I did not need to ask permission, nor did I need permission to join the dissident movement. And today I give thanks to God for feeling I am the most free man in this world that is sometimes very ingrained with prejudices and taboos that go against a true democracy

Pablo Pacheco: Canaleta Prison

The Power of Solidarity


It is known throughout history that solidarity is what really brings men back to life. When the idea of creating my own blog emerged and Ivan offered to help, I thought it would be something with a fictional flavor. I knew very little about what a blog was and even less about the Internet due to the ferocious restrictions imposed on us by those who think they own thought and seek at all costs to fetter the thinking of Cubans.

Of course totalitarian systems will always have men like Boris Pasternak, who once declined the Nobel Prize for Literature in order to continue suffering the poverty of his Russian people.

Recently, Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo informed me that my blog is now being translated into English and Portuguese, and it is being set up to be translated into French.

The curious part of this story is that I went to the capital to know Ivan in person, and I couldn’t meet him. This was March 14, 2003, four days after I was arrested during the repressive wave of that year known to the world as the Black Spring.

I have known Claudia only a short while and only by speaking to her on the telephone. Incredibly, I feel like I have known both Ivan and Claudia our whole lives. I will always feel gratitude, as it seems my mother taught me well when I was a young boy.

From the first moment I offered my blog to my compatriots who were arrested with me on that fateful day, through their relatives, of course the ones I know and communicate with. In my opinion, the blogger movement in Cuba has become an excellent alternative for the free communication that is so badly needed by those living in despair here on the island, fulfilling for a moment the role of the foreign press with regard to news from the internal opposition and the dissident movement.

Now it seems to me that everyone with a blog is also a dissident, with the option of not being part of the independent press and dissident movement, and, of course, without trying to compete with the foreign press agencies.

In conclusion, let’s all work to report the news, even with different viewpoints, as happens everywhere in the world. For the time being I consider myself to be the voice in this dismal prison of those who don’t have a blog. I think I can also say without fear of being wrong that the voice that has been the most tightly muzzled among the 11 million Cubans is that of the prisoners.

Because of this it is our duty to help them, since Cuba needs them, and let’s convert ourselves by cape and sword into the voice of those with a blog or without, since this is the true face of the power of solidarity.

Pablo Pacheco

Crisis, scams, and other pills they want us to swallow

07_09estrellaImage: Estrella de Luis Trapaga

The effects of the global crisis affect a good part of Cuban society. I am not sure, since I believe that no one can assert that the whole population will be whipped without mercy by the economic difficulties we currently face. We can see here in prison a small part of the aristocracy of revolutionary Cuba, those who are called thieves in neckties.

With the exception of those prisoners and others with family abroad, the crisis is palpable in this world of convicts. I have begun observing with interest the decrease in packages brought by relatives to the prisoners every 30 days, sacrificing to the maximum.

The most tangible example is the last visit to Section 3 of Canaleta Prison in Ciego de Avìla. Before, during each family visit, the prisoners sold, or asked others to sell for them in the corridors, refreshments, bags of powdered milk, packages of coffee, cookies and other types of food.

So, during the last visit, I saw them sell only one package of cookies. And with this, we get to the real heart of the matter, and I don’t believe it’s different in any of the other prisons in the country. The scams among the convicts have increased, which can cause serious problems.

In my barracks, number 43, they have been selling deodorant sticks stuffed with condoms, perfume bottles without cologne, empty toothpaste tubes, boxes of cigars filled with little pieces of paper in the shape of figs, and the most dissimilar objects necessary for personal hygiene and human consumption.

Even a bad observer like me notices the running theme in all prisoner conversation, “Brothers, times are getting harder and it seems now we are worse off than in the decade of the 90’s”. However, very few take an interest in the news, since they argue that it’s all just more of the same.

On this point I believe that the bulk of the responsibility falls on the official press for writing what only a few want the people to read. As an end to this commentary I want to add that all of us who today dissent from the official party dogma understand why this country has spent so many years in crisis, a crisis that is more than economic: it’s principally a  crisis of values.

My greatest satisfaction is that six years and four months ago, we were imprisoned for speaking out and writing about what the Cuban people were experiencing. And although you wouldn’t think so, it makes me happy to read the tiny articles they permit in the official press, since it’s the opening through which the people can grasp true freedom. This means that speaking out and being imprisoned when the majority were silent has not been in vain.

Pablo Pacheco

Democracy Hijacked


Image: Multiplication of the Arcs by Yves Tanguy

The Western World endured a rude awakening this past Sunday. At least this is the impression I got when watching those few channels on television I get here, being a prisoner of conscience, and a few I try to keep track of because of how much I enjoy the idea of democracy.

I do not understand how, in the 21st century, we are still seeing video clips of cout d’états, images of the peoples’ will being trampled. What has become of Latin America? Perhaps it is that there is the almost limitless power handed to those in charge. Today, with this power, we witness the ousting of Manuel Zelaya Rosales from the presidency of Honduras, tomorrow perhaps another issue.

I believe that the heart of Latin America is in mourning, for this I will be honest and true to my own conscience: I do not agree, nor do I support the system of the Zelayan government, as also I would like to clarify that I have nothing against those who think more to the left, though that terminology in itself has been distorted. Today I saw on televisions nation’s sadness and pain for its people. The poor soldiers are probably living through the scariest moments of their lives right now. Having seen some of the same moments, I am reminded of my own experiences in forced military service: if an order given to you does not exalt your superior, it is best not to follow it. Thank God I was not faced with such a decision.

It is possible that this situation in Honduras will be escalated to outside federal organizations or even to the UN for arbitration, however the outcome will most likely not change. Will we forever live in countries where those in power have to continuously worry about the axe coming down on them, as in the story of Damocles? It is a difficult but necessary dichotomy if we want to grow in the ways of freedom.

Those who oppose Zelaya can refute accusations of misconduct all they want however the presence of the military on this political stage strikes quite a blow to their attempt at validating their actions. Also, if I can say so happily, no one has officially recognized Roberto Micheletti as the new president of Honduras. Let us pray for the Honduran people and to them all my solidarity, especially those members of the press whose rights are not being upheld.

The most important thing in these moments of political instability is to return to the institution of democracy by respecting the will of the people, in spite of all the powerful people behind those in power. We should all feel ashamed that though everyone seeks freedom and honor, all the Hondurans endured was the hijacking of their democratic rights.

Pablo Pacheco; Canaleta Prison


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