Posted on Wednesday, 03.14.12
Cuban inmates complain of poor conditions, food in video smuggled from
By Juan O. Tamayo
Ten videos smuggled out of Cuba's biggest and reputedly worst prison, in
an unusually daring operation by a dissident, show grotesquely dirty
toilets, grimy walls, leaking sewage and food described as worse than
"Show this video to the international community, how this miserable
dictatorship commits cruelties against humanity," says the videos' main
narrator, an India citizen serving a 30-year sentence in Havana's high
security Combinado del Este prison.
Havana dissident journalist Dania Virgen García, who writes the blog
"Cuba por Dentro" — Inside Cuba — said the videos were shot in late
January with a digital camera smuggled into the prison "so that everyone
can see Cuba's reality." They were provided exclusively to El Nuevo Herald.
The videos — which also showed several inmates, including a U.S. citizen
complaining about prison conditions — appeared to be the first ever
smuggled out of Cuba's 200-plus prisons. Their views of prison buildings
matched those of the Combinado del Este prison.
Human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz said the prison is
"one of the worst in sanitation" in a system marked by "inhuman and
degrading conditions" that is one of Latin America's worst because Cuba
is the only nation in the region that does not allow the International
Committee of the Red Cross to inspect its prisons.
Built by prisoners in 1975 with deficient construction materials, Cuba's
largest prison at an estimated 5,000 inmates has many broken pipes that
spew raw sewage, said Sánchez Santa Cruz, who spent nearly three years
in Combinado del Este.
The videos show a string of almost unimaginably filthy toilets, little
more than holes on the floor of prisoners' cells, many of them with
walls so moldy from the humidity of the leaking sewage and water that
they were nearly black.
One inmate used a blue plastic 55-gallon drum in his cell to capture the
leaking water and use it to flush the toilet and bathe. He also had
rigged an electrical wire to heat up a five-gallon bucket of water for
Also shown were a couple of empty six-man punishment cells known as
tapiadas, or sealed, because their doors are solid steel rather than
bars and they have no windows, just a row of slits about two inches wide
and two feet high.
Several clips show a prison yard described as "dirtier than a chicken
house floor" and dotted with pieces of masonry that fell from the
surrounding cells. One narrator says inmates are allowed outside for
only one hour Monday through Friday.
The prison hospital, shown only from the outside, has no medicines at
all and is known as "the slaughter house," says Dalvinder Singh Jagpal,
who appears to have been the main videographer and narrator.
Singh describes Fidel and Raúl Castro in several clips as "worse than
al-Qaida" and adds, "They are anti-human. They are monsters."
The videos also showed several prisoners, including a dreadlocked inmate
who talks to himself incessantly. "This man is completely crazy," says
the narrator. "He came in healthy, and this miserable dictatorship
ruined the life of this man."
A U.S. citizen who identifies himself only as Douglas Moore and said he
was jailed since 2003 on a drug conviction, is seen walking slowly with
a cane, showing bruises on his left leg and calling prison conditions
"subhuman" and the food "unfit for humans."
As an American, he adds, he's been "singled out for abuse, and I cannot
count all the times that I have been chained by my hands and legs and
beaten mercilessly, then robbed of my meager possessions" by prison guards.
"There is not justice in Cuba under the regime of Fidel and Raúl
Castro," Moore says. "The Marxist brothers are not funny."
Another video shows Marcos Damian Rafael Fernandez, a Cuban man who has
no hands. García said he lost them in 2000 when he tried to sneak into
the U.S. navy base in Guantánamo and hit a land mine. He eats with a
spoon attached to a homemade cuff.
The most voluble of the inmates shown on the videos is Singh, who says
he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2002 on a charge of corruption
of minors, then 10 months later to another 20 years on a drug charge. He
denies both charges.
Held in a wing reserved for foreigners, he criticizes a Cuban-American
inmate whose name is unintelligible as a "petty criminal who cooperates
with State Security" and swears at the Castro brothers in heavily
Singh also complains strongly about the food, which he compares to
animal feed. Breakfast is a roll and the only other daily meal is
another roll and a plate of rice with either fried eggs or "ground beef"
made with nothing but soya.
Prisoners get no fruit or vegetables, he says, but can buy extra food at
extortionate prices — a box of corn flakes costs $8 — that require his
relatives in India to send him money and turn Cuba's prisons into "a
Guards give each inmate two bars of soap per month and a tube of
toothpaste every three months, Singh adds.
John Alexander Serrano, 31, a Colombian jailed on drug charges that he
denies, said he had just arrived at the Combinado del Este prison from
the "torture center" known as 100 and Aldaboz — a notorious police
interrogation center at that Havana address.
Four inmates were jammed into a cell only three by nine feet, he said,
and were allowed outside for only 10 minutes every three days. Serrano
added that he planned to declare a hunger strike and wore a white shirt
with the hand-written words "Liberty or Death."
Dania Virgen García said she knew the risks of smuggling the camera into
the prison and smuggling out its memory cards. In 2010, her dissident
work earned her a 20-month prison sentence for a minor fight with a
daughter. It was cut to a $13 fine on appeal.
The prisoners stopped filming in early March because the camera broke,
she claimed, and the guards heard that the prisoners had been making videos.