Inhumane conditions of Cuban prisons by Oswaldo Paya
Posted: 05 August 2008 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]
Total Posts:  992
Joined  2005-11-19

Below is a brief summary of the inhumane living conditions of Cuba ’s prisons to which the penal population is subjected, composed in part by prisoners of conscience. It is they who inform us of how they are daily victims of harassment, intimidation and deceit. They tell us about a number of different issues, including:
Medical attention:
Little primary medical care is provided, and in the majority of the cases when it is, it is accompanied by a lack of ethics and human sensibility. Medical visits are supposed to happen periodically; however, if and when they do happen, doctors arrive not knowing which medicines are available at the prison, consequently delaying the treatment of many illnesses until the next visit which may itself be delayed. In some prisons, medicines are given to prisoners without instructions, leading to dangerous self-medication. Many times the person delivering the medicine forgets or delivers it at random hours resulting to ineffective treatments, increased pain or deteriorating health conditions. A prison in Pinar del Río, for example, relies on only one doctor and one nurse for every 400 prisoners and two dentists for every 200 prisoners, not to mention terrible working conditions and scarce medicines and equipment. A prisoner may have to wait up to 12 hou rs in pain for a doctor’s or nurse’s visit. The medical quarters themselves do not even meet minimal hygienic conditions. Many of them lack water and sheets for beds. Some even lack a bathroom.
Doctors do not conduct routine inspections, nor do they assess the quality, quantity, or preparation of meals, nor their distribution. They disregard the hygienic conditions of the dormitories. Regarding specialized medical attention, there are few doctors with specializations. Those who do visit the prisons in improvised consultations do so without privacy or proper conditions to carry out their work. At times a prisoner is taken to a hospital to see a specialist, but several days go by from the time these visits are announced to when they take place. Due to inadequate coordination, the person in charge of accompanying the prisoner may not show up, the prisoner’s past medical history is not presented, or the necessary exams requested by the specialist are not conducted. As expected, a great number of t hose taken to hospitals return without resolving their health problems. The dental service is equally deficient, though some more than others, because of problems related to electricity, water, anesthesia, fillings, sterilization of instruments, dilapidated seats or simply vacations, courses, and lack of preventative care. This poor service has frequently led many desperate prisoners tortured by pain for weeks or even months to attempt suicide or extract their own teeth with electrical pliers or string.
Although we received many cases denouncing the inhumane living conditions of prisoners, let us highlight one:
Noel Soto Long Díaz was 46 years old when he died on December 16, 2007 at the prison of Pinar del Río. During a check-up in the afternoon of December 15th, he complains to a guard about chest pain and nausea. At 10 pm, he alerts the guard that the pain had increased in intensity. The guard once again ignores him. At 3 am, as the pain becomes unbearable, he alerts another prisoner who in turn alters the guard. Noel is then taken to the nurse who takes his pulse, gives him aspirin and sends him back to his quarters. At 5 am, he unsuccessfully attempts to lift himself and falls out of bed. Convulsions and lack of respiration set in. He is then taken to the medical quarters where his fellow prisoners attempt to resuscitate him. He dies at 6:13 am, minutes before the arrival of the medical team. The diagnosis proved his death could have been prevented. Similar cases take place almost on a daily basis in all Cuba prisons.
Provision of Food:
Both the condition of the kitchens in which prisoners’ food is prepared and the food itself meet no acceptable standard.  The schedule of food preparation is sporadic. Frequently there are long time lags between the food’s preparation and its consumption, the food is allowed to spoil, and in some cases the food is prepared with unsafe water.  It is then served to prisoners who suffer from frequent digestive problems and severe stomach infections.
The utensils with which food is served are unhygienic, as are the personnel that prepare the food.  They use the prisoners’ own buckets to serve milk at breakfast; these same buckets are also used for bathing, washing, and emptying latrines.  The kitchen does not have washbasins or sinks with water, and the trays on which they serve food are dirty and covered with grease.
The containers for solid waste do not have lids, and this allows insects, bacteria, and all types of vectors of disease to proliferate.  If the prisoners’ food manages to avoid the dangers of preparation mentioned above, which is rare, the food is still prepared with no attention to taste.
The fundamental characteristic of the dormitories is extreme crowdedness.  There is no supply of potable water. The sewage system is in very bad condition due to blockages and the seepage of sewage water through the walls of the cells, particularly in the lower floors of the buildings. Very few have ventilation systems to extract hot air.
Apart from the literary censorship that is imposed upon prisoners, censorship of opinion and criticism are standard on the eve of any visit, inspection, or meeting with the commanders, the bosses of internal order, in which the prisoners are told the rules that will govern them during their stay in prison.  Any prisoner that complains during the inspection can be removed from their area.  Moving them once they are already established and connected to their environment can emotionally destabilize the prisoners.
Inspections are used as instruments of harassment and intimidation, and the authorities employ inspections in order to take from the prisoners objects such as letters, books, reports, and pencils, and to search through all of the prisoner’s effects.
Prison Personnel:
Everything indicates that prison personnel is neither chosen appropriately nor trained adequately for work in the prisons:  the authorities do not take into consideration the personnel’s moral integrity, their sense of humanity, or their intellectual or professional adequacy.  The bad treatment and violent acts that the officials commit against the prisons are many and persistent, and widespread enough that it would be possible to make lists of both victims and victimizers.  Prison personnel constantly use brute force; they generally attack in groups of 5 or 6 against one prisoner who has previously been handcuffed and immobilized.  Such attacks damage both the personal dignity and the physical integrity of the prisoner.  Prison personnel harass, torment, and torture, causing all types of suffering and pain to the prisoners, and they have never faced charges in front of a tribunal for their excessive, and illegal, abuses.
This environment has caused both the physical infirmities and permanent suffering of the prisoners of conscience found in Cuba’s prisons today, but in addition to being victims they are also individuals, capable of denouncing all of the arbitrary acts and abuses to which they, and the rest of Cuba’s prisoners, fall victim.


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