Armando Valladares XXX Edition Ischia Price for Human Rights

The hell of the prisons of Cuba

Torture has always existed in political prisons

I was in Cuba’s political prisons when 10 of my companions died during a hunger strike.  The recent death/assassination of Orlando Zapata Tamyo has shaken the world. The world’s media, but above all the internet, ensured that the tragic news reached the most remote corners of the planet within a few minutes.

I cannot avoid sad memories when thinking of the other prisoners who shared cells and horrors with me.  Roberto López Chávez was little more than a boy when he announced the start of a hunger strike there in the Isla de Pinos prison, south of Havana.

They carried him to the punishment cells. Some days later they denied him water, the agony of death by thirst compares with no other.

I have taken part in many hunger strikes but have never had the courage to do a thirst strike, having been present at the suffering of my companions when they were dying with cracked lips, stripped of skin, the tongue inflamed….it was as if they were burning at the stake, only internally.  Roberto was on the ground, delirious, begging for a drop of water….water……

The guards came in, the prisoner was in agony on the ground and asking for water.

Are you thirsty?” asked one of them.  They opened their trousers and said to him: “have this.....” and they urinated on his face and in his mouth.  Roberto died the day after.  Weeks passed before the news of his death escaped that prison.


Even student leader Pedro Luis Boitel started a hunger strike.  Fidel Castro in person gave the order to not give him any more water, lock him away and not open the door until the prisoner was dead.  He died after fifty three days.

Not a single line appeared in the international newspapers about these two cases.  The United Nations’ Human Rights Commission explicitly refused to take these deaths into consideration.

Why did Orlando Zapata Tamayo start a hunger strike?   He didn’t ask to be set free, he didn’t want even the smallest material comforts.  He only asked not to be beaten any longer, that they stopped the physical torture…………this is all the humble black worker asked for, he only wanted them not to beat him any more.

For years Orlando Zapata Tamayo was tortured.  A Cuban political prisoner was witness to the outrages and tortures inflicted on Zapata Tamayo in the Guanajay prison, in Havanna province. This man, a condemned prisoner in the Primavera Negra, declaring his own name Efren Fernández without fear of the reprisals, launched a shocking accusation at the world:

“I saw him when they took him from the cell in handcuffs and shirtless.  They threw him to the ground and dragged him by the feet for about two hundred metres on the cement floor to the military zone, there was no skin left on his shoulders.

Some days later, when they came back to get him, still in handcuffs, Lieutenant Colonel Wilfredo Velázquez, the prison director, split his mouth with his fist and the guards hit him whilst he was on the ground”

This prisoner also tells how Orlando Zapata Tamayo was locked up in a punishment cell because he asked that the assaults and tortures should stop and that his human rights be respected. Instead they inflicted on him the torture known in the Cuban prisons as “la sillita”.   After they had beaten him, they put him in ankle cuffs, handcuffed his hands behind his back and, with a third pair of manacles, then fastened his ankles to his wrists forcing his body to remain bent.

They left him like this for some days and he continued to shout:  “Down with the dictatorship……….Long Live human rights!”

For years Orlando Zapata Tamayo, because of his rebellion, had undergone every kind of torture....and then when he decided to go on hunger strike, the only thing he asked for was that they stopped beating him! A poor black worker… he only wanted not to be hit any more.

Just as in fairytales the beasts represent men, so in real life there are men who act like beasts… One of these, whilst Orlando was on hunger strike, beat him to the point where they had to operate on him to extract the blood clots from his brain.

Some of the prisoners managed to smuggle out from the prison the bloodstained shirt that he had worn on purpose that day.

It was then that the gaoler Filiberto Hernández withdrew water from him.

Every time that the gaolers tried to get him to change his attitude they did it with blows.

They beat a man who was on hunger strike for sixty, seventy, eighty days, he was prostrate, on the point of death, incapable of even raising an arm.  The corpse had a swollen face and you could see the bruises from the blows, on the back, on the chest and on the neck.

What kind of human being is capable of hitting a man who is at death’s door, when he doesn’t know him or anything about him?  It is the extreme hatred of a moribund ideology.

And yet the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, which could have been avoided, and the reaction of the international community didn’t manage to stop the orgy of violence and blood by the Political Police, tyranny despises both those who do not support their crimes and its opponents.

Now the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) have undergone a brutal repression, they have been viciously beaten, arrested in the streets and the international press has spread their photos all around the world.

Fidel Castro in person ordered this repression, calling on General Francis to coordinate it, the head of his personal bodyguards.

The General was there, in civilian clothes to avoid being identified in the crowd, giving orders to his thugs, however the camera of someone who knew him well took a photo from which he was recognised.

These latest barbaric acts of the Cuban dictatorship have scandalised world public opinion, many people have discovered the true criminal nature of the Cuban Revolution.

We Cubans have had to wait more than half a century before the world began to realise that the Cuban dictatorship is one that tortures, kills and tramples on the dignity of human beings.

What made us suffer most, we who were political prisoners in the Cuban prisons, was indeed this insensibility, the indifference of other human beings, of governments, of the press....No dictatorship can survive without the support of the other free and democratic governments.

If what happened in South Africa could happen in Cuba, the dictatorship would collapse immediately. My people deserve the same international solidarity that was toasted from South Africa to Chile, because there is no such thing as a good dictatorship.

Crimes and barbarity are to be repudiated in the same way, whether they are from the left or the right.

The fate of my compatriots resides in the hands and in the heart of the free men of the world, it’s on you that Castro depends for the chance to continue unpunished for torturing, assassinating, and burying his victims……

When the cameras of western journalists entered the Nazi extermination camps, the whole world was horrified and many were ashamed of having looked on in silence.