Honorable members of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS:
For us, it is an honor to be able to be her today to share with you, in particular, the situation of unionists that find themselves detained today in Cuba, as well as the situation of all Cuban political prisoners in general. Only 8 months ago, I was one of those hundreds of political prisoners, whose only crime, was to think differently than official government policies and to wish for a better present and future for our people. For five years, I experienced with these men and women the abuses and violence committed every day by the Cuban government.
During almost fifty years, we, the workers of the island, have been able to confirm that all of the achievements reached by the unionization movement in our country have been reduced to some supposed achievements of the Revolution in the fields of healthcare, education and sports. Although it is true that some statistics have been produced, it must also be acknowledged that the price we Cubans have had to pay is very high, since it is through the work and sacrifice of the people that they were obtained. The Cold War and the Angolan war, along with guerrillas in Latin America and in other parts of the world, the proliferation of communism, and anti-American propaganda – this has all been accompanied by a campaign of terror, repression and political intransigence, as well as suppression of fundamental freedoms, thousands of dead by firing squads, thousands of political prisoners, and more than one million Cubans who live in exile today. Many more thousands have drowned off the coast of Florida trying to escape in search of longed-for freedom.
Hundreds of political prisoners are today in inhumane Cuban prisons designed by the dictatorial regime in Havana to silence the truth. In this cruel and systematic manner, the regime deprives these men and women, without any respect for their personal dignity, of their most sacred rights, and the freedom to express their thoughts.
Everyone knows of the terrible offensive unleashed by the Havana authorities against seventy-four men and one woman during the so-called Black Spring of 2003. We were arrested under absurd accusations of conspiring with a foreign power in an attempt to fell the government and the Revolution (see annex on our trial).
I would like to clarify that there was not a single case among those seventy-five arrested then, where any proof whatsoever was presented showing any links to concrete plans to violently bring down the Cuban regime with the complicity of some foreign force or power that intended to invade the island. It was a falsehood of the Cuban government. They were fully aware of the civil and peaceful nature of the Opposition Movement in our country.
We were judged in summary trials, without the due process guarantees of a State under the rule of law, as are contemplated in declarations, pacts and conventions of the UN and the OAS. We were barely allowed to speak with our defense attorneys, and in my cases, I was only allowed to speak for ten minutes, only moments before my trial. In my case, the prosecutor asked for life in prison, and I was finally sentenced to twenty-five years of being deprived of my liberty.
We were isolated during thirty-six days, each one of us living with three other prisoners in four-person cells that were so small that the four of us could not stand at the same time. The light was kept on day and night, and food rations were meager. We were subjected to almost constant interrogation, where threats and injuries abounded. Later, most of us were transferred to prisons far from our homes. I and seven other were imprisoned in Canaleta prison in the province of Ciego de Ávila, about fifty kilometers from Havana. We were subjected to solitary confinement for a full year. The cells were very small: approximately 1.30 meters wide by 2.40 meters long, including the toilet and sink which were in the cell. The regime was very strict. We got visits every three months, and conjugal visits every five months. The food was horrible and protein was scarce. We survived thanks to family members who came every three months with food, making huge sacrifices. In these cases, it is the family members who receive the worst punishment. In Cuba, food is scarce and transportation is precarious and expensive, and so with few financial resources, bringing food to a prisoner becomes a heroic task. Added to this is the harassment suffered by the family of political prisoners. Many of them lose their jobs, and the government will not allow them to work on their own.
After this first phase, another one began which was no better. We integrated into the general prison population, living with murderers, rapists, thieves, the mentally insane and sexual deviants, etc. In most cases, these other prisoners are manipulated by the penal authorities, and of course state security as well. They are used to punish or intimidate political prisoners.
For five years and seven months, the torture and mistreatment, sometimes physical and always psychological, were constant. It was not only perpetrated against the prisoners, but also against their families. For example, their children were discriminated against and insulted in school just for being related to a political prisoner. Wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and other family members who visit the prisoner are rejected by their communities and by the job market. Today, some of these unjustly imprisoned men remain hundreds of kilometers from their families, in very precarious health and living conditions. Some of them suffer from chronic illness without medical attention or medication, and with inadequate food. This situation is exacerbated because in most cases, the prisoners are very old. Their age makes it particularly inhumane to keep them imprisoned in these cruel conditions.
Now, after a slow and sporadic process, but thanks to international solidarity, twenty of us have been freed. Four of us recently traveled to Spain on a direct flight. We were removed from the prison and sent directly to the airport along with our closest relatives in Cuba, to be exiled. We had no choices other than prison or Spain. We could not even choose what country to go to. Four other brothers in our cause were already in exile, and in Cuba, there are still eleven compatriots. Some of them have visas to emigrate, and the government refuses to give them permission. The last one of the twenty died of a heart attack as he was in home confinement waiting for his travel permission. I would like to make clear that these men in home confinement by reasons of illness can find their home leave revoked by Cuban authorities and be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences. The sword of Damocles is always hovering over the existence of these peaceful freedom fighters.
Fifty-five political prisoners recognized by Amnesty International remain in prison. The majority of them are in poor health. In the annex, we have detailed the health circumstances of the detained unionizers, including the medical data and pathology reports for each. We want the world to know that these men are suffering food and medical deficiencies as well as precarious living conditions, both in prison and in medical treatment centers. The conditions in the hospitals are no better than those in prison, and those in some treatment centers are even worse. To all this must be added the actual crisis situation in which the Cuban people as a whole find themselves, and which affects the prisoners deeply, and even more so those who are still fighting against the regime.
We are here before this committee to share with you the present situation of the union activists imprisoned since the spring of 2003. There are nine brothers, six of whom are members of the Consejo Unitario de Trabajadores Cubanos (CUTC). This organization is affiliated with the Confederación Sindical Internacional (CSI) and the Solidaridad de Trabajadores Cubanos (STC). I was the Secretary-General of the CUTC in Cuba and I now find myself in exile in Spain since last February. I was unjustly sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for the same baseless reasons as those who are still imprisoned in Cuba. Our only crime has been to promote the existence of an independent unionization movement on the island, per ILO’s international conventions of which Cuba is a signatory, and our support of Proyecto Varela. Both initiatives are contemplated by the Cuban constitution in effect. There is only one guilty party here: the government of Cuba, which not only violates its own laws, but also the conventions it has subscribed to.
Before concluding, I would like to reiterate once again the innocence of the political prisoners of the group of seventy-five. I am not mistaken in saying that the majority of peaceful activists see no way to resolve the grave crisis confronting our people other than through dialogue and reconciliation among all Cuban people in a gradual process of peaceful change towards democracy, and without the intervention of foreign isolationist policies that only benefit the arguments used by the leadership of the Cuban regime. They use the defense of Cuba’s sovereignty as justification to perpetuate their repressive policies against what they claim to be imperialist forces supported by the internal peaceful opposition. The regime is dying, because the truth is coming out. Every day, more people condemn the government of Havana for all of the abuses it commits against its people. One day, history will condemn them.
Thank you very much. We are at your disposal to answer any of your questions.
PEDRO PABLO ALVAREZ RAMOS