Skip to comments.Dissident study calls Cuban prisons 'tropical gulag'
Posted on 05/12/2004 8:07:33 AM PDT by SmithPatterson
HAVANA : Cuba has 100,000 prisoners behind bars, though just 4,000 were imprisoned before Fidel Castro came to power 45 years ago, according to what dissidents call the first study of the "tropical gulag."
The president of the Cuban Human Rights and Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo Sanchez Santa Cruz, told journalists the "huge statistic" was "the bitter fruit of the totalitarian system."
Sanchez, a former political prisoner, said the year-long study was done with the help of prisoners' families who tallied the numbers of inmates across the country.
Cuba's population roughly doubled since 1949, from 5.5 million to the current 11 million.
With a prison population of 100,000, 0.7 percent to 0.9 percent of Cubans are behind bars, Sanchez reckons.
Because official figures are not available, he said, there is a margin of error of 20 percent.
"There are no exact numbers," he said, calling Cuba's lack of transparency "unfortunate."
Cuba's prison system is "the only one in the Western Hemisphere that keeps at bay any sort of national or international oversight," he said.
Sanchez, 58, showed two maps of Cuba, one with 14 prisons in 1958, the year before Castro's rebels took Havana. There are 200 now, 45 of which are high-security prisons, he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross last visited Cuban prisons in 1988, but the visit yielded a report that did not please the authorities and which is still "highly confidential," Sanchez said.
The number of prisoners of conscience is more than 300, he said. The toll jumped in March 2003, with the round-up of 75 dissidents who were later sentenced to as many as 28 years behind bars.
"Gulag" refers to the Soviet system of forced labor camps.
"Physical torture is not the rule in Cuba," he said. However, "psychological torture is routinely practiced," he said, by isolating prisoners in small cells, with "extremely high temperatures," in poorly ventilated cells without running water and sleep deprivation if authorities seek a confession.
"I remember having killed 5,374 cockroaches in a few weeks," said Sanchez, who spent eight years in prison.
"I counted them."
In 1958, there was only one prison for the 150 or 300 women imprisoned, he said. Today, there are about 10, with 2,000 to 3,000 prisoners. Another 10 or are detention centers for "hundreds" of young women "completely innocent" yet accused of prostitution, the activist said.
Under Cuba's Law 62, article 11, the women have 'a special leaning ... toward crimes (that are) in manifest contradiction of socialist morals'," the study said.
As for minors under 16, "between eight and 10" reform centers place Cuba "among the foremost places in the world -- or maybe the first -- in the number of incarcerated children and school-age adolescents" per 100,000 inhabitants, the report said.