Faces of Cuba’s Political Prisoners: Jessica Torres Calvo

Jessica Lisbet Torres Calvo. Photo: Courtesy: Ana García Ramos / Alas Tensas

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – Jessica Torres Calvo is one of 15 artists suffering political imprisonment in Cuba, according to a list by the Cultural Rights Observatory. Torres Calvo and Maria Cristina Garrido are the two Cuban creators sentenced by the government for participating in the July 11, 2021, protests.

The 29-year-old visual artist, graffiti artist, and tattoo artist is serving a ten-year prison sentence for sedition and receives biweekly visits. She is the mother of a 6-year-old boy.

11J, the Turning Point

On July 11, 2021 (11J) Jessica joined the protests that occurred throughout the country. She peacefully demonstrated alongside hundreds of Cubans in Holguín. When the protest turned violent, she urged others not to throw stones, according to Artists at Risk Connection.

Seven days later (July 17), political police agents arrived at her home without a court order under the pretext of “talking” to her. She was taken to the criminal instruction room in Holguín for interrogation and spent 24 days without being able to communicate with her family.

Initially, she was accused of inciting violence during the protests. Later, she was released on bail.

In November 2021, she learned that she was accused of sedition, for which Cuban prosecutor Fernando Sara Planas requested a 27-year prison sentence. She was also accused of abandoning her son to engage in sex work, an accusation that Artists at Risk Connection said was false.

Her trial was held from January 9 to 13, 2022, at the Provincial Court of Holguín. Several people who attended the trial reported a high police presence at the site.

On February 14, 2022, Torres Calvo was sent to prison after receiving a sentence, which she appealed, of 15 years in prison for sedition. She was taken to prison without prior notification, “despite the fact that the sentence ratified the precautionary measure of bail for her until the sentence was final, after presenting an appeal,” clarifies the magazine Alas Tensas.

After appealing the sentence, Jessica was sentenced to ten years in prison instead of 15, “due to her condition as a young mother.”

Artists at Risk Connection maintains that Jessica’s only crime was, “as in the case of hundreds of young people on the island, portraying the everyday life of her homeland, betting on a different aesthetic, and taking to the streets to demand democracy, justice, and freedom.”

Jessica is part of the graffiti artists of the Undergraff project that intervened on several walls in the city of Holguín. Her works were signed under the artistic name Akin.

Her Current Situation in Prison

Currently, Jessica is serving her sentence in the women’s prison in Holguín. At the moment she has problems with one foot, but her health is stable.

The Cultural Rights Observatory states that the political prisoner has been able to go home on leave and that she has a biweekly family visitation regime in prison.

The non-governmental organization Cubalex maintains that gender violence in Cuba, in many cases, comes from the state, as evidenced by the arrest of dozens of women during the July 2021 protests and the abuses against them.

People close to Jessica claim that in her case, it was easier to blame a tattooed woman, who does not fit within the macho patterns of Cuban society, for violence.

Poet Ana García Ramos said: “It could have been me instead of Jessica. I was there, but the punishment fell on her. I believe the State Security thought it was easier to blame a tattooed woman who does not fit the feminine and macho stereotype, which made her more vulnerable. Her and others (…), I think a lot about that.”

The underreporting of the Justicia 11J program clarifies that there are at least 62 women imprisoned for political reasons on the island. Fifty-six were detained for participating in anti-government protests, 47 of them demonstrated on 11J, while the others were arrested in subsequent protests (2022 and 2023). Six are serving sentences for exercising their freedom of expression.

Among the political prisoners are 30 mothers separated from their children and 17 activists belonging to civic, political, or human rights groups. Many have been sanctioned, while others await sentencing or are being held without formal charges.

Two of the most severe sentences (14 years in prison) fell on Lizandra Gongora, a mother of five children, and on Brenda Díaz, a trans woman confined in a men’s prison where she suffers harassment and violence despite her health problems.

Since 2012, at least 279 women have been imprisoned for political reasons in Cuba. Of them, 171 regained their freedom, 30 went into exile, and one died.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

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