Freed dissidents expose Castro's brutal regime
By Graham Keeley in Barcelona
Last Updated: 3:32pm GMT 23/02/2008
Four dissidents freed this week after five years in inhumane conditions
in a Cuban prison have revealed the dark side of Fidel Castro's regime.
The four – José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Omar Pernet Hernández, Alejandro
González and Pedro Pablo Álvarez – described regular beatings,
humiliation and arbitrary punishment with long periods of solitary
confinement in cramped cells with cement beds.
They said they were deprived of food and water in conditions which
resembled "a desert".
Arriving in Spain to be reunited with their families, they exposed the
routine abuse of political prisoners which marked Castro's five decades
The four were part of a group of 75 dissidents who were jailed in 2003
by Castro's regime in a move which caused an international outcry. The
official reason given for their release was "health reasons".
But behind the scenes pressure from the Spanish Government on Havana is
believed to have been the key to setting free the long-term opposition
activists, who all have relatives in Spain.
Mr Castillo, 50, a journalist who wrote articles critical of the regime,
told The Sunday Telegraph: "It was terrible. It was like being in a
desert in which sometimes there is no water, there is no food, you are
tortured and you are abused.
"This was not torture in the textbook way with electric prods, but it
was cruel and degrading. They would beat you for no reason even when you
were in hospital.
"At other times they would search you for no reason, stripping you bare
and humiliating you. There was one particular commander at a jail in
Santa Clara who seemed to take delight in handing out beatings to the
Mr Castillo, who claims he was denied proper medical aid for diabetes
and heart problems, added: "We are nothing more than a reflection of the
human cost of the fight being waged by the Cuban people."
While the dissidents tasted freedom, 58 of the original 75 jailed for
long terms in 2003 are still behind bars.
It is estimated another 250 political prisoners languish in Cuban
prisons. Mr Castillo was not hopeful that the departure of El Comandante
from the helm of power would bring great changes.
"Nothing will change with the resignation of Castro. He will still be
manipulating things behind the scenes," he said.
"His resignation could be a small step but I have my reservations. We
were only released because (Castro) wants to clean up his image as a
human rights violator. He is still present. He is a ghost governing the
Omar Pernet, a steel worker also in his fifties, was jailed for being an
opposition activist, suffered an accident while being moved from one
jail to another in 2004.
He also suffered lung problems in jail, a broken leg, a broken collar bone.
He said he was kept in solitary confinement in a cell measuring four
metres square with a cement bed.
In all, he has spent 21 years behind bars for opposing the regime. Mr
Pernet was jailed for 20 years after being accused of aiding the US
secret services – a charge he says was trumped up.
In a statement, Amnesty International called the release of the four a
"positive step" but called on Raul Castro, who has been Cuba's acting
president since his brother, Fidel, fell ill in 2006, to also release
all other political prisoners held by the regime.