Green Hell

Among the dense green of the Guantanamo province municipality of Bayate, where the penetrating heat can become a relentless enemy of men and women, one can come upon a camp inmates call the Green Hell. Hell because of the heat, hell due to the dense vegetation and hell because life becomes less than human under that regiment. On the part of the Cuban government, Green Hell is called Majimiana, an internment camp for correctional labor.

The sentence of Yobel Sevila, a man that is the victim of an irregular legal process, was just eased. Instead of serving four years in the Green Hell, paying the price for defending human rights in Cuba with forced labor, he will be confined in an ordinary prison in Guantanamo.

But why would anyone be happier to go to a normal prison instead of Majimiana?

The day at Majimiana begins at 5 am with the counting of the prisoners. Inmates march 8 kilometers in the mountains on foot with nothing but tea and a slice of bread in their stomachs, the traditional breakfast. They go “to work with work” as recounted by former inmates, because of their conditions: you do not have boots, so you go barefoot, he that has no gloves chops with bare hands, and when the machete or hoe are dull you manage with what is available. They work under the heat of the day in the fields, planting and weeding. At the end of the afternoon they walk back again 8 kilometers, but now carrying on their shoulders a log two meters long. “The stick” is the duty of everyone, because the food is cooked with wood and anyone who does not bring it has to return to the fields to find one if they want to eat. Former inmates confirm that managers get rich trading with the utensils for work of those bereft of freedom.

“For them we are not men, we are a class of animals. It is subhuman, it is intended to make the prisoner suffer,” revealed Reneldo Sanchez Torres, who was formerly detained in Majimiana and served two years for political reasons due to his work for the group the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Men march along in columns along the river, where they are supposed to clean themselves up in 15 minutes, even though soap and toothpaste mysteriously disappeared from the camp; as a result, the rule is that if you manage to get a toothbrush then you cannot get toothpaste, and so on. As you can imagine, toiletries are also part of the illicit trade that feeds Majimiana.

At 6 pm the count is redone by calling out each by name, the detainee must respond by stepping forward and saying their name. At dinner there are no surprises, because the chicken bones from lunch have been immersed in the soup for the night, that or a little rice and beans are the daily dishes. This routine is repeated “every day in the world” according to testimonies.

In the Green Hell, the beatings, blackmail on the part of managers if they want to see their families, and the punishment cell where they put up to 10 inmates in a space of two meters high by six meters wide, are all part of the story of several dissidents and human rights defenders. The conditions are aggravated by such arduous physical exertion, while receiving little food and sometimes even without water.

“By the 7th month I could no longer take the punishments because they were very strong there, the food, blackmail. I decided to go to a state prison where I served my four-year prison sentence. I decided to go to the provincial prison at Guantanamo because life at Green Hell is terrible, especially in the punishment cell. The vast majority prefer to go to the provincial prison before going to that hell,” said Yordis Beltrán who was held there when he was 17 years old, around 1999.

Arturo Acosta, a human rights defender and prison observer, mentioned that Majimiana is not the only correctional labor center in Guantanamo province, but one that is best known for its conditions. There are also Carbonera, where prisoners make coal, and Loma Blanca.

The number of inmates in Majimiana can range between 40 and 60 individuals being deprived of their freedom. The reasons for their detention are equally varied, but the evidence seems to confirm that the dissidents are confined there under two premises: to distance them from their work and to punish them for the same.

Acosta emphasized in testimony collected by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation an anonymous story that is revealing: “I, who have never met with Lucifer, I have always tried to forget the bad times that I lived through, the winding road, the loneliness, the sad song of the dove and, above all, to erase from my memories the Green Hell.”

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Miranda Fuertes is human rights defender focused on Cuba and based in Prague, Czech Republic