Escape to Eternity


-Painting by Lori Mcnamara

December 16th 2006 could have been a day just like any other in detachment No. 1 of the Sancti Spiritus provincial prison. But that day we awoke, in addition to a requisition, with the news that Javier had just injected petroleum in his legs with the aim to have them amputated in order to receive a possible release from prison. Just two months before, Pedrito, another recluse of that same detachment, had just done the same just to find himself being confined to a wheelchair.

However, “luck” was not on Javier’s side. Apparently, he managed to pinch a vein. Since he was not attended to with the urgency that was needed, the infection grew to the point that it contaminated his whole body and he died one week after. He was only 37 years old when he died and had spent 19 years in prison. The crime for which he was sent to prison for at the young age of 18 was that of selling jewelry which he had found buried and which the government had decreed that they belonged to the national patrimony- according to one of his unfortunate companions. He was sentenced to 6 months of jail just for that act, yet he was never again released. Just before completing his entire sentence he escaped and robbed again. For this he was condemned to several years more in prison. Later, he repeated these acts on several occasions. His situation just seemed to be getting more and more complicated, and at the time of his death he still had 15 more years of jail time to serve.

But Javier is not the only fatal case of this prison. Just a few months ago a recluse of another detachment swallowed some wires, and because he was also not attended to with urgency, he died just a few days later. Self-infliction in Cuban prisons is a very common practice. Prisoners regularly lacerate their own bodies, they sew their own mouths shut (sometimes with wires), they inject petroleum into themselves (like Javier), or they even inject their own excrement, and I have also heard of some pretty unimaginable self-inflictions, like inserting wires up a urethra, poking ones eyes out, or even injecting oneself with HIV.

Before this grim scenario, which I was a witness of in more than one Cuban prison, the question arises: Why do prisoners in Cuban jails hurt themselves? I really do not know if this also happens in jails in other places of the world, but in the ones found in my country, this phenomenon was something that impacted me greatly. The reasons for such self-inflictions, in most cases, stem from the decisions made by the prison authorities to deny the prisoners the rights to certain benefits which they are supposed to have access to after having spent a certain amount of time in jail, and in accordance with good conduct, as is outlined by that very prison system. Some of these benefits include being moved to a farm or a camp where prisoners would enjoy more freedom, or also being moved to a jail situated closer to their original place of origin.

But lying behind these reasons are other ones that deserve to be analyzed on a deeper level. Perhaps, you might say, it is work that can be done by a psychologist or a sociologist. Meanwhile, according to the way I see it, these self-inflictions are greatly motivated by the feelings of desperation and impotence felt by the prisoners upon facing such a prison and judicial system that imposes long sentences for childish crimes, all the while leaving the prisoner with little or no time to occupy their minds. If prisoners were allowed to work, at least for a while, in prison, this could become a source of revenue for the recluse. Such a case would allow them to send money to family members or even to make enough to buy certain nutritional products or supplements that would provide healthier personal alternatives, which are things that are very limited in Cuban prisons. In the farms, common prisoners are allowed to work and are sometimes rewarded.

Ingenuity and creativity among Cubans is widely acknowledged, and perhaps many of these prisoners would have never engaged in criminal behavior if a free economic system existed in Cuba. In the multiple penitentiaries which I went through, I saw some prisoners put together some real pieces of art, made just by using disposable materials. However, the authorities, instead of promoting and stimulating such activities, they discourage it and prosecute it, as they confiscate, as in most cases, all the pieces of art, or prevent such objects from being handed to family members during visits. In Cuban jails the only form of entertainment allowed by the authorities is the TV. And even then, prisoners watching TV have to do so while crammed tightly in a small room along with many other prisoners- in many cases, one TV is set up for over 100 recluses. Meanwhile on the other hand, while pointing out that the majority of the penal population does not have an avid reading habit, there is very little material available to read anyway. Although libraries hypothetically do exist in these prisons, prisoners do not have access to them. I remember that in a detachment I resided in while my confinement in the provincial prison of Guantanamo, there was a room with a sign that read “LIBRARY” , but it was completely empty of books or people. It was the same room used to dispose of any garbage collected from the dining areas.

In accordance with this partial panoramic view of daily life in a Cuban prison, I think that it is not difficult to understand the level of insanity that could drive a prisoner to use self-inflictive methods as a form of escape, though sometimes, as in the case of Javier, it could be an escape to eternity.

Omar Ruiz Hernandez
Ex-political prisoner of conscience
Black Spring 2003

The White Man and the Black Man


-Painting by Sharon Cummings

“The White Man and the Black Man”

I have known two men who have risen to power, one was black and the other was white.
The white man achieved it through violence, the black man used reason.
The white man made it while young, the black succeeded as an old man.
The white man enslaved his people, the black man gave freedom.
The white man promoted hate, the black man favored love.
The white man built an execution wall, the black man use forgiveness.
The white man stained the ground with blood, the black man planted flowers.
The white man became a dictator, the black man turned into a president.
The white man never listened, the black man spoke with everyone.
The white man carries Latin American blood in him, the black man harbors African blood.
Their names will go down in history for being notable rulers: the white man hated by many, the black man respected by all.
The white man is named Fidel Castro, the black man is called Nelson Mandela.

Omar Ruiz Hernandez
Ex-political prisoner of conscience
Black Spring 2003

Beating a Prisoner


Ciego de Avila. The inmate Pento Ariel Garcia received a beating, August 16, 2010, by the two heads of internal order, subordinates of the Minister of the Interior Roberto Mesías y Rigoberto, who is better known as El Indio. Both have stood out for beating prisoners while they are handcuffed. Pento García, 34, resides at No 7612 Ave 105, between 76th and 78th streets in Güines, Havana Province, and has been beaten by officers on several occasions and confined in solitary confinement even though he suffers from psychiatric disorders.

Report: Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.

Lion Prophet


“Confusion Painting” by Keenya Woods

After nearly 200 years since humanity has known a prophet, the earth has one, his name is: Fidel Castro Ruz. This aged prophet is trying to write an epilogue to the Apocalypse, although much more catastrophic. To do this he called an extraordinary session, on August 7, of the one-party National Assembly, of the so-called People’s Power, and met with four Venezuelan journalists the following day. This allowed the official communist organ, the newspaper Granma, in its August 10 edition, to devote seven pages to the interview.

At the same time, said organ of the State press has been publishing for some months the so-called “Reflections of Comrade Fidel.” Here he analyzes the problems of the entire world, expect the urgent — problems of every kind — the Cuban ones.

Also this neo-prophet tries to present himself as a champion of peace, but he forgets that in the early years of the decade of the sixties of the last century, during the October Missile Crisis, he then asked the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to launch a first strike nuclear attack against the United States of America. That during the sixties, seventies and eighties of the same century, he tried to export the socialist revolution to different cardinal points, sending Cubans into guerrilla wars or training guerrillas here in Cuba, and providing them medical care. He also sent regular troops to the Republic of Angola and to Ethiopia in Africa, just to cite two examples. Perhaps now the prophet Castro would like to get another Nobel Prize, this time for peace, along with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he got years ago for turning the entire country into scrap metal.

Pedro Argüelles Morán, from the group of 75, from Canaleta provincial prison in Ciego de Avila.

Open Letter to Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo

The following letter was written by Reynol Vicente Sanchez, a common prisoner who is currently in Combinado del Este.


To Mr. Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo:


To classify the conditions which you were subjected to as torture is not only irrational but also very cynical on behalf of the Castro regime, for these inhumane conditions we prisoners on the island live under are truly abusive and degrading, and this has been happening for more than half a century. Here I am sending you a short description so that you could draw your own conclusions.

In any of the three buildings of Combinado del Este in the city of Havana, as in any of the many prisons throughout the island, the regime condemns its prisoners with the poorest diet any prisoner could be subjected to. It consists of 30 grams of rice and, as the main dish, a mix of flour with soy ground beef in a portion that is approximately 15 grams, and it is handed out between lunch and dinner with an egg which you realize is just a piece of yolk with remnants of shell when you’re done peeling it. Furthermore, a watered down and insipid pea soup is given to us by force along with more bread flour. Every fifteen days we receive a small quarter of chicken.

I’ve been in Building 1-2 North, in Detachment 3 company 1223 of Combinado del Este for exactly 6 months and 21 days.  I live alongside 8 other prisoners.  We are all basically living on top of each other in a jail cell that is 3 meters in width by 6 meters in length and 2 meters in height.  The three single-person beds, which are separated by a mere 50 centimeters from each other, barely even fit in the cell.  They are so closely placed to one another that one could even try to squeeze in a fourth one, as is done in many other cells.  Furthermore, there is a tiny space for the foods that are brought to the recluses by their relatives (through much sacrifice) in order to prevent death by hunger.

It is normal for us to share our living space with roaches, rats, and mosquitoes.  The roofs are sealed up with nylon in order to prevent bathroom residues to fall down on us from the floors above.  That permanent dripping sound follows us all night long, every night, as if it was a musical backdrop.  All prisoners are full of all kinds of parasites and bacterias.  The water is not drinkable and it is scarce, and lack of hygiene is immense.  Cleaning the cell consists of cleaning the beds only.  The small hall between any of the bed bunks is barely ever cleaned, and the times that they are, it is very little and with dirty old rags which are so worn out that they can’t even dry a body.  Yet, here we value them (the rags) as if they were treasure and we lend them to our companions or we ask prisoners from other cells for them.

In the very tiny spaces below our beds we keep our belongings, which are kept in bags or suitcases that often do not even fit down there alongside with our shoes, sandals, plastic water bottles, and our plates and spoons that we use daily to eat in an atmosphere of  the worst imaginable hygienic conditions where we are constantly pestered by flies, roaches, and rats.

At the back of the 6 meter long cell lies the bathroom, which is 3 meters by 1.60.  It is divided by two walls that create three very small spaces- one for showering, a latrine full of filth and sediments, and a washing room which consists of a tube without a sink.  The tubes are plastic and are the same ones used to pass electric cables and together they conduce water towards the space where we shower where there is an old tank that is completely rusted and has been fixed at the bottom with cement.  That is where we fill up our bottles, which we guard with our lives due to scarcity of water.

We don’t have any disinfectants, for the authorities of the jail do not give us any and they don’t let our families bring them when they visit.  They also do not engage in any form of pest control, just like there is no mass effort to collectively combat rodents.  This explains the presence of large bugs, rats, and mice, and also is the reason why roaches crawl over us while we are sleeping or even while we are awake.  All the excrement and waste from the bathrooms in each cell do not circulate through a pipe system.  Instead, it falls on the ground by the back walls of the building.  There they produce gases which are carried upwards, producing scents that we constantly smell minute by minute, day by day.

You were in the hole for only 13 days, subjected to temperatures of up to 34 degrees.  We live under similar temperatures during all the summer months on this island- a climate which you are very well familiar with.  They don’t allow us to have fans, and much less any radios, and even if we had any it would be pointless because the country is going through one of its worst economic crisis ever, and for approximately one year now, they have prevented any form of flow of electricity to us, keeping us in our cells in pitch darkness.  They don’t allow us to have any electric razors, yet they want us to constantly be well shaved.  They sometime take us to get our hair cut before the chief of the building.  As punishment, they remove our sentence reductions which are normally 2 months each year, alone with the allowed visits we have every 45 days and the conjugal meeting that we are permitted every 2 months.

In such meetings our families finds themselves forced to use the little they have in order to bring us bags of foods which normally contain crackers, sugar, milk in powder, and anything else that can be preserved and that is allowed during visits.  If they bring us cooked meat we have to eat it within the first two days because we have absolutely no access to any sort of refrigeration.

With all the sincerity in the world, I must tell you that you have not traveled to any country in the world to fight against terrorism, but instead you have gone with the purpose of collaborating with this state-sponsored terrorism under which 11 million Cubans suffer.  We live under an awful dictatorship which attempts to perpetually remain in power.  Neither many kilometers of paper, or liters upon liters of ink, can ever be enough for me to narrate, with much detail, just how much Cuban prisoners suffer in this giant prison, the largest one in the universe.

A true example of torture is the case of the Cuban-American Yamil Dominguez Ramos, who as of today, has been carrying out a 118 day long hunger strike as he protests his unjust confinement.  With pure conviction about his dignity and his values he has declared himself innocent of a false accusation of “human trafficking”- an accusation which has caused him a sentence of ten years of prison.  What they cannot accept is that Yamil accepted the nationality of another country that has lent him a hand and given him the chance to grow and feel like a truly free man, something that continues being just a Utopian ideal for all of us Cubans.

I just hope that you are able to read this letter which I have written in my jail cell, number 1223, where I reside along 8 other companions and together, we are witnesses of each and every one one of my written words.

Without further adieu,

Reynol Vicente Sanchez

Waking up from this Lethargy

At 40 years of age, I have finally understood that the international community does not see the sad ruin that today is CUBA as being a consequence of the inefficiency of a system of government that has promoted hate, intolerance, and an out of proportion level of evil. However, the blame has always systematically fallen upon supposed internal and external enemies. This is so because those who are the true culprits, those who have resided in power for more than 50 years through ostentation and impunity, have encouraged divisions and dislikes among Cubans, perfectly playing the role of Pontius Pilate as they wash their hands off of blame during each crisis.

The island is going through a total crisis in economic, political, social, and also humanistic, terms. There are visible clues that a witch-hunt may unfold in Cuba. It’s no secret that totalitarian systems that are on their final phase lash out and attack their own people, producing irreparable damages for families. That is how they behave and that, amongst other things, is what sharply separates them from the civilized world. It is the responsibility of all the Cuban people to avoid a human catastrophe of such unmeasurable damage, especially for the sake of those who live in the island. If we do not prevent such a disaster, we run the risk of making our children, our grand-children, and further descendants not forgive us.

With the grave problems that Cuba currently faces, the least important news hailing from within the island has to do with the former Commander-in-Chief. Yet, these news reports are the ones that dominate the most powerful media slots, further attempting to increase his inflated ego. Now, he is the new Messiah of the Apocalypse. What Fidel Castro doesn’t know, or wishes not to know, is that at this point in the game nobody pays attention to him, not even his followers or imitators. The time has come for us to stand up for the interests of Cuba, not have Cuba stand up for our interests.

Pablo Pacheco

Here I Am


Photo: Pedro Arguelles Moran

This past July 10 I chose not to travel to Spain because I do not wish to abandon my country — I am Cuban, and very proud of it. I was born here, as were my sisters, relatives, parents, and my paternal grandparents. My maternal grandparents were not born here, they were Spanish, however, they are buried here, as are all my other loved ones, and I shall also be buried here one day.

I could have accepted to depart to the Iberian peninsula after that option was presented to me on the telephone by Cardinal Ortega, but due to the love that I have for my country, my history, my culture, my individual character, and my traditions, I have decided to stay and continue with this peaceful struggle for freedoms and rights that are inherent to the dignity of human beings, as long as I have the strengths to continue the noble and dignified civil struggle, or until that long awaited democratic transition occurs in Cuba. Perhaps, upon not accepting the offer of exile, I will be kept as a hostage of the totalitarian Castro regime as a form of punishment for not fleeing from my own country. Back in mid-1992 I joined the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Committee, and I was well aware of all the risks and sacrifices I would have to face, for I knew I was going to more than likely be a victim of all sorts of beatings, whether physical or spiritual. I could, and would, be treated as something other than a human by those who perpetuate themselves in power through terror and strength.

Here I am, and I will continue being here because this is where I belong. This is my totally sovereign decision and comes from my personal desire, which through wind or rain, will continue moving towards promoting the ideal shared by Marti, “Freedom is very expensive, and it is precise — either give in and live without it, or make up your mind and pay the price for it.”

Pedro Argüelles Morán
Grupo de los 75
Prisión Provincial de Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila

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