Writer Angel Santiesteban Denounces Violence and Suicides in Cuban Prison

By Café Fuerte Staff

Angel Santiesteban seen in Havana, shortly before his incarceration.
Angel Santiesteban seen in Havana, shortly before his incarceration.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban, currently serving a five-year prison term on the island, has asked the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to put an end to abuses against Cuba’s penal population.

“You alone have the power to put an end to the agony of a vast penal population, which endures the cruelest food privations and torture, both physical and psychological,” Santiesteban wrote in a public letter, divulged last Wednesday on his blog, “The Children Nobody Wanted” (“Los hijos que nadie quiso”).

The missive is being published days before Cuba is to be subjected to the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review, on May 1 in Geneva. Last Tuesday, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) officially submitted the report that Cuban authorities are to present at the meeting, a report which offers a very favorable evaluation of the country’s human rights situation, its legal framework and the programs which guarantee these at all levels of society.

In an unanticipated move – part of the preparations for the presentation of this report – Cuban authorities opened the doors of some of Havana’s prisons to the press on April 9.

Santiesteban reported that, that day, he was transferred from the La Lima center to Prison 1580, to prevent him from speaking to foreign journalists during the visit.

“I was taken out the back door and transferred to another prison, Prison 1580, where forms of abuse and debasing mistreatment reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp are perpetrated,” the writer declared.

Food Deprivation and Torture

Santiestaban reported that Cuban inmates are subjected to “the cruelest food privations and torture, both physical and psychological.”

In addition to alleging acts of violence against him, Santiesteban declared that, in recent months, two large-scale fires have broken out in the prison and no explanation has been offered by penal authorities. He also reported that suicides are a common, everyday occurrence in the prison.

“The lack of proper food and sanitation are just some of the realities that make this prison resemble a concentration camp,” the author stressed.

The 47-year-old Santiesteban was convicted on charges of “breaking and entering and causing injuries” to his former spouse in a rather controversial trial. He was imprisoned on January 28 and has since gone on several hunger strikes to protest over prison conditions.

Santiesteban is considered one of the most important writers of his generation and has received Cuba’s most prestigious literary awards.

The open letter Santiesteban addressed to the UNHRC is transcribed below.

Open Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council 

I write you in the midst of profound despair, the result of being a prisoner of conscience in one of the horrific prisons of the Castro regime. You alone have the power to put an end to the agony of a vast penal population, which endures the cruelest food privations and torture, both physical and psychological.

To conceal the truth, I was transferred to a different penitentiary on April 9, before the foreign press arrived at the La Lima prison. I was taken out the back door and transferred to another prison, Prison 1580, where forms of abuse and debasing mistreatment reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp are perpetrated.

The lack of proper food and sanitation are just some of the realities that make this prison resemble a concentration camp. The most basic rights of inmates and their families are being trampled on. Prisoners are packed into overcrowded cells and endure continuous acts of violence.

In recent months, two large-scale fires have broken out in the prison and no explanation as to their causes has been offered by penal authorities. Suicides are a common, everyday reality in the penitentiary.

Following my arrival in the prison, after I had been on hunger strike and spent several days in a dark solitary confinement cell without water, clothes or personal hygiene items, I was physically abused by several guards who, holding my arms and plugging my nose so as to force me to draw air through my mouth, poured a foul-smelling soup into my mouth which choked me. They repeated this until I was left lying on the floor of the cell, covered in the soup which I could not help but regurgitate.

I want to officially press charges against Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Quintana, Chief of Havana’s Provincial Penitentiary Headquarters.

I also wish to point out that my situation is far from being the worst in the prison. I would like for you to hear the testimony of those who suffer these abuses directly, so that they can personally describe the hell that they live in to you. I fear my declarations will strike an unrealistic note and will not adequately expose the horror and cruelty we must endure on a daily basis.

This dictatorship must be made to understand, once and for all, that it cannot continue to maintain its nefarious power on the suffering of its people.

I beseech you to consider this first-hand testimony, which I write as if under the strictest oath, and we ask God to extend a merciful hand to this country, forsaken by the international community, that you may be able to read the testimonies offered by the inmates without being intimidated beforehand, as is usually the case.

We demand that Cuba sign the UN conventions and adhere to its human rights declarations. Should it fail to do so, we ask that pertinent measures be taken to expel Cuba from the community of free nations, where it hopes to co-exist with others by concealing the barbarism it has brought upon us.

We are a devastated country which, despite fifty-four years of slavery, still dreams of becoming a prosperous nation.

I thank you in advance for your time and attention.

Angel Santiesteban Prats
Prison 1580. San Miguel del Padron, Havana, Cuba.


19 thoughts on “Writer Angel Santiesteban Denounces Violence and Suicides in Cuban Prison

  • May 3, 2013 at 1:21 pm
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    I did not know that they were lawyers or judges.

  • April 30, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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    Thanks

  • April 30, 2013 at 7:59 am
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    There is no clear solution in that situation legally, morally or otherwise. For instance, US force-feed prisoners in Guantamo bay, not only to prevent the international embarrassment of a prisoner dying from a hunger strike but to avoid losing the intel the alleged terrorists may have and its all good and dandy.

    Personally, I consider life a fundamental right that must be preserved, but as with all rights, the individuals can forfeit them if thats what they want. I don’t have a problem with people committing suicide (as long as they don’t endanger anyone else of course) nor with suicide assistance in people suffering from terminal and painful diseases.

    To me, right to preserve their dignity is more important than the right to life itself, so I wouldn’t force feed someone in a hunger strike, nor I would allow them to blackmail me by doing so. If I where in the Cuban government shoes, I would document the while process to show my hands are clean and provide medical, psychological and spiritual assistance to the person, but if he decides to persist and dies as result, I would consider it plan and simple suicide.

    In a side note, I’m kind of cynic and Santiesteban presents himself as a Christian. If thats the case, by dying as a result of a hunger strike, he is committing suicide, something that is heavily frown upon in the bible and almost a sure ticket to hell:

    1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
    “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

    So he can’t be possible serious about the hunger strike, either he don’t intend to follow it to the last consequences or he is not really a Christian. Either way i would call his bluff and enroll a fire and brimstone priest to enlighten him about his choices before is too late.

  • April 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm
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    depends on who`s discussing

  • April 29, 2013 at 4:51 pm
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    Thanks, ac.

  • April 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm
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    AC: agree with you but one thing: 7 : should they let him starve to death. I mean this not very funny game has been going on with the most professional starver Farinas all the way down to its absurdity. You give them food, they complain that they are tortured. You do not give them food, they complain you let them starve to death and everybody outside tries to tell the world afterwards that this oh God so cruel sistem had murdered them. So food or not food? Let them starve to death or feed them?

  • April 29, 2013 at 4:06 pm
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    Yes, and thats precisely the point of Godwin law. Informally, the first one to bring an argument ad hitlerium in a discussion loses it and thats a strong cue to close the thread if the forum is moderated.

    The idea is that once a discussion degenerate to that point, is no longer adults debating but kindergarten kids throwing random baseless arguments unrelated to the topic and nothing productive will come out of it.

  • April 29, 2013 at 2:59 pm
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    Nothing was lost. Simply not relevant. However, any discussion involving Fidel Castro will invariably devolve into comments regarding Hitler or Nazis.

  • April 29, 2013 at 1:50 pm
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    I think the problem is that Godwin’s law is only well known in a rather small (and quite nerdy) circle, so the irony simply got lost on him. You should have either explained the law or added a link to the wikipedia article so he can understand what were you talking about.

    Here is the wikipedia article, for those who are not familiar with it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin_Law

  • April 29, 2013 at 11:04 am
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    “The fact that despite of all that he got himself caught in a domestic violence scandal and served himself in a silver plate to the Cuban authorities tells me that he is simply a fool. Twice the fool by crying wolf in something that has been common occurrence for a lots of Cubans for a long time, and thrice for singling himself out of the crowd.”

    Perfect definition, ac.

    The Cuban opposition think they are ‘untoucheable’ because they live in an ‘evil country’ according to the global media and thus, can get away with anything wrong they might do – in this case stalking and violence against women. And he got only 5 years for that, normally such a bastard gets a much longer sentence.

  • April 29, 2013 at 10:55 am
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    And you do exactly the opposite, ‘genius’ Your writing style is the same of a US State Department propagandists.

    I just said ‘Godwin detected’. And I don’t trust those who appeal to Godwin. It’s a very, very weak (non) argument. Even more if he’s a wife-beating coward who’s obviously trying to get attention just because he’s Cuban and, therefore, must get special treatment.

  • April 29, 2013 at 9:48 am
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    This isn’t that hard to believe, but his complaints are kind of pointless. His large tirade can be resumed in the following points:

    1. He was transfered to another prison to prevent him from contacting the international visit to his former prison. Fair enough, but nothing particularly nefarious in that.

    2. He complains about lack of food and sanitation. Again, fair enough but again he is in prison, not in a vacation resort, so food sucks badly (but not more than, lets say intern schools) and the sanitary services are provided by the inmates (and are usually better that said intern schools). Comparing this to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany is a blatant exaggeration, after all I don’t see any report of Cuban inmates starving to death.

    3. Cells are overcrowded and inmates commit acts of violence. Again, fair enough, but is the same in all prisons around the world.

    4. Undisclosed basic rights from inmates and their families are being violated. Nothing we can do until he states exactly what rights and how are being violated and some evidence backing his statements.

    5. He reports two fires and complains that the causes wasn’t provided. Thats a valid concern, but they don’t have to provide an explanation as long as they evacuate all prisoners and make sure that nobody dies in his cell.

    6. Suicides are common occurrence. Again thats the same everywhere except maximum security prisons, where the inmates are strictly confined and monitored. Yet the reports that leak to the press doesn’t make the situation as bad as he describes.

    7. He said he was in a hunger strike and was force feed by the guards. Certainly a form of abuse, but is standard procedure to prevent people dying under confinement.

    Thats it. He claims violation to the UN convention for treatment to prisoners, but he either fails to present evidence of such violations or he simply don’t understand said convention. Here is the convention, in case you want to check by yourself:

    http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r111.htm

    Being imprisoned is though. More sore in a poor, third world country and thats something that every dissident should know already. Their political preferences are not going to shield them from the harsh realities of prison, quite the opposite and as an intellectual thats something he was supposed to know very well.

    The fact that despite of all that he got himself caught in a domestic violence scandal and served himself in a silver plate to the Cuban authorities tells me that he is simply a fool. Twice the fool by crying wolf in something that has been common occurrence for a lots of Cubans for a long time, and thrice for singling himself out of the crowd.

    His future is bleak indeed and is not uncommon for many people that get in prison to get themselves in more trouble and get extended additional sentences.

  • April 29, 2013 at 8:58 am
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    Yeah dear fighter for human rights. Wgy dot you object your prisons in the uS, where people are chained? Yo`d jave a lot to do.And tell me. objective as you pretend to be, what`s wrong by stating that abuses might happen in any country? But of course you hve to start your anti-cuban gunfire. Are you paid by SINA or the CIA?

  • April 29, 2013 at 5:48 am
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    You and Luis always appear to struggle to believe any negative commentary regarding Cuba. Or when you absolutely are forced to accept it, you justify it by saying “it happens everywhere”. Your writing style is characteristically Cuban propogandists. It is well-known that Cuban gulags are styled after the old Soviet models. Moreover, there are thousands of Cuban ex-inmates to corroborate Angel’s story. They are not all internationally-known writers able to express themselves as effectively but they say essentially the same thing. Where is the surprise for you? The International Red Cross has asked to visit prisons in Cuba and has been denied every time. If law-abiding Cubans on the street are subjected to unconscionable abuses of their basic human rights, should anyone be surprised that inmates are worse off?

  • April 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm
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    I mean to me he sings the same song as Berta and la Y. Cuba should be expelled from the community of free nations. If Cuba were sucha a dictatorship as he claims, how could it be possibly expelled from the “free” nations, where it would not be in to begin with. 50 years of slavery????Well haven`t noticed anything of that during my stays in Cuba.Well to me, although I agree that prisons are certainly not the gayest places in the world, and abusive and sadistic acts might happen – and of course if it were so , Cuba would not be the only country. The rest makes me very thoughtful, whether this is really the way he describes it. What I want to say, if he denounced abuses in the prison, if they should have happened, ok, he should, but this abuse of his situation for political propaganda in the usual known way, makes me doubt his credibility.

  • April 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm
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    “I was taken out the back door and transferred to another prison, Prison
    1580, where forms of abuse and debasing mistreatment reminiscent of a
    Nazi concentration camp are perpetrated”

    Well, Godwin and plain old opportunism detected.

  • April 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm
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    Could be true, could not be true. Never saw any funny prisons ( I mean I never saw any prison), abuse can happen anywhere. I just wonder why he did not report it first to the Cuban authorities and why was just published some days before Cuba presented its Human Right Report. Is this all by accident? Hard to believe.

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