Unconscionable imprisonment

Posted on Sunday, 03.14.10
Unconscionable imprisonment

Some days ago, the official daily Granma argued why the Cuban authorities should allow the death of Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who’s on a hunger strike to push the regime to free two dozen imprisoned dissidents said to be critically ill.

The island’s iron-fisted government does not think it proper to force-feed him. “There are bioethical principles that obligate the physician to respect the decision of a person who has decided to initiate a hunger strike,” it said. As always, the regime lashed out at the United States, remarking that it is the American authorities who violate the rights of hunger strikers held in the prisons in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram when they force them to ingest food.

They forget one detail. To begin with, Guillermo Fariñas is not in prison and he’s exercising his right to strike from his own home.

The Granma journalist fails to mention that Fariñas is doing that in homage to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who took 83 days to die because he was demanding prison conditions proper for his status as a human being.

These are not conditions that we in the free world consider standard treatment — even for prisoners deprived of freedom. No, no. According to Omar Pernet, a former fellow inmate at the Gunajay Prison, one of the “treatments” he and Orlando suffered was to walk down a corridor from their cell to another section of the prison.

Along the entire corridor stood 14 soldiers, who punched the inmates on the head, the stomach, the legs and the back as they walked. Blows from everywhere, struck by 14 pairs of arms holding weapons. Systematic beatings, a daily torture made more odious and vicious by the fact that the inmates expected them every day.

A torture foretold. In the hands of your own compatriots, in defense of whose freedom and rights you are there, imprisoned. It is hard to imagine, but it is one of the usual practices in Cuba’s ideological prisons.

To say the least, there is a basic difference between Cuba and many other countries and it is that on the island nothing protects the individual against the State. No institution defends a human being against the political machine that could crush it at any moment. A civil lawyer is an obeisant scribe who almost always is more scared than the detainee.

That is why it is all the more surprising that the Cuban authorities know and handle the American judicial system to perfection, in all instances. That is demonstrated by the legal war they waged in a Florida courtroom (and won) in the case of Elián Gonzalez. The photographs of the child, terrified by the police forces around him, were seen worldwide.

The five spies who went to prison after the 14 original Wasp Network arrests have used up all legal recourses and their case has reached the Supreme Court. Should the court accept the five Cubans’ plea, it would be the first time in decades that the Supreme Court accepts a case involving the parameters that should be followed to decide a change of venue in criminal cases.

The Cuban regime’s knowledge of working the U.S. legal system is not limited to civil or federal cases, because it also extends to the financial-legal system. How much did the Swiss bank UBS pay as punishment for rerouting more than $3 billion to the island? A $100 million fine.

Cuba, which deals in minute detail with U.S. law and defends with ferocity its spies, the boy rafter, and its own multimillion-dollar fortune, justifies itself frivolously when it concedes to its people the right to starve themselves to death.

But isn’t this the way we Cubans have lived for more than half a century?

God willing, the voices of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Guillermo Fariñas and now Félix Bonne will weigh on the collective consciousness of the regime’s accomplices as a recurrent nightmare.

Alina Fernández Revuelta is the author of Castro’s Daughter: an Exile’s Memoir of Cuba and radio talk show host at 9 p.m. Monday-Friday on 1140-AM.

Unconscionable imprisonment – Other Views – (14 March 2010)

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