study calls Cuban prisons 'tropical gulag'
HAVANA, 11 (AFP) - Cuba has 100,000 prisoners
behind bars, though just 4,000 were imprisoned
before Fidel Castro came to power 45 years
ago, according to what dissidents call the
first study of the "tropical gulag."
The president of the Cuban Human Rights
and Reconciliation Commission, Elizardo
Sanchez Santa Cruz, told journalists the
"huge statistic" was "the
bitter fruit of the totalitarian system."
Sanchez, a former political prisoner, said
the year-long study was done with the help
of prisoners' families who tallied the numbers
of inmates across the country.
Cuba's population roughly doubled since
1949, from 5.5 million to the current 11
With a prison population of 100,000, 0.7
percent to 0.9 percent of Cubans are behind
bars, Sanchez reckons.
Because official figures are not available,
he said, there is a margin of error of 20
"There are no exact numbers,"
he said, calling Cuba's lack of transparency
Cuba's prison system is "the only
one in the Western Hemisphere that keeps
at bay any sort of national or international
oversight," he said.
Sanchez, 58, showed two maps of Cuba, one
with 14 prisons in 1958, the year before
Castro's rebels took Havana. There are 200
now, 45 of which are high-security prisons,
The International Committee of the Red
Cross last visited Cuban prisons in 1988,
but the visit yielded a report that did
not please the authorities and which is
still "highly confidential," Sanchez
The number of prisoners of conscience is
more than 300, he said. The toll jumped
in March 2003, with the round-up of 75 dissidents
who were later sentenced to as many as 28
years behind bars.
"Gulag" refers to the Soviet
system of forced labor camps.
"Physical torture is not the rule
in Cuba," he said. However, "psychological
torture is routinely practiced," he
said, by isolating prisoners in small cells,
with "extremely high temperatures,"
in poorly ventilated cells without running
water and sleep deprivation if authorities
seek a confession.
"I remember having killed 5,374 cockroaches
in a few weeks," said Sanchez, who
spent eight years in prison.
"I counted them."
In 1958, there was only one prison for
the 150 or 300 women imprisoned, he said.
Today, there are about 10, with 2,000 to
3,000 prisoners. Another 10 or are detention
centers for "hundreds" of young
women "completely innocent" yet
accused of prostitution, the activist said.
Under Cuba's Law 62, article 11, the women
have 'a special leaning ... toward crimes
(that are) in manifest contradiction of
socialist morals'," the study said.
As for minors under 16, "between eight
and 10" reform centers place Cuba "among
the foremost places in the world -- or maybe
the first -- in the number of incarcerated
children and school-age adolescents"
per 100,000 inhabitants, the report said.