HAVANA TIMES — I watched a number of reports shown on Cuban television prior to the date when Cuba submitted its official report to the UN Human Rights Council. The series documenting what life is like in Cuba’s prisons was particularly interesting for me.
The news emphasized the broad range of occupations that inmates can become involved in while in prison, the work-related education options made available to them and the crafts they can learn.
In these reports, a number of the officials and prisoners interviewed referred to the possibility of working in the prison, and one of the superiors even said that the Labor Code was fully applied in these places of confinement.
I studied this Code as part of my degree program in Law, and one of the articles that made the deepest impression in me establishes that workers may freely, and without “previous authorization”, organize themselves into unions.
I would be interested in knowing whether people in prison who work also have the right to form unions.
Another official interviewed said that, even though all inmates had the right to work, not all were guaranteed a job, as there was a limited number of posts available.
I wonder, therefore, if we should be speaking of a “right” when not everyone has access to the object the said right is supposed to entitle one to.
In the reports documenting the workings of prisons and other penitentiary centers located in different parts of the country (highly professional in this sense, for they break with the “Havanocentric” bias characteristic of the news), the inmates and officials interviewed stressed that the salary earned through their work (established in accordance with criteria similar to those that govern work outside the prison) was sent to the prisoners’ families, as no money is allowed to circulate within prison walls.
A friend who works in Cuba’s penitentiary system explained to me that inmates are not allowed to carry money. This is the reason cigarettes become a kind of virtual currency used to exchange goods, services and favors.
It remains to be seen whether the issues surrounding this thorny topic will begin to be addressed more openly and transparently.