By Café Fuerte Staff
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.