How many Cubans have been put in jail at least once or even several times since 1959 for trivial offences, based on arbitrary decisions of public prosecutors and police officers, or after having committed crimes due to their lacking means necessary for survival? How many of them are still serving sentences in prisons with inhuman conditions? How many prisoners can affirm that their trials complied with all procedural safeguards?
Although it’s not possible to get an official response to these questions, I am sure that the actual figures exceed the highest estimates. Without advanced tools to ensure the accuracy of what I’m saying I dare affirm, with no exaggeration, that over half a million Cubans have had the bitter experience of seeing the world from behind the bars of a prison.
The realm of this gloomy hell of bars and locks has been advancing its frontiers in all directions to finally eat up the whole island. In times of dictator Fulgencio Batista there was only a dozen of prisons; at present there are over 200, including labour camps.
I took a short walk in the neighbourhood of my house in the municipality of La Habana Vieja and I wasn’t able to locate a single family which would have no bitter memories of a prison. At least one of family members has once been in jail, most of them for theft, illegal economic activities or other crimes related to the unsettling social environment in Cuba. There are even families in which most male members have had this experience.
“I’ve got used to it. One of my grandchildren is now serving his sentence in Cuba Sí, back in Holguin. The other one has been placed closer, in the nearby prison of Combinado del Este,” says Adela, an elderly woman whose home is a small room which she shares with nine other relatives. “Four of my six children have been in jail. Fortunately, two of them could leave the country after having served the many years of their sentences.”
Yet, this is only a tiny part of the social and cultural tragedy which has set in across the whole country. According to a lawyer who wished to remain anonymous, the Castro regime has been and still is a factory of criminals. “It’s hard to understand that so many people have been driven to break the law. There are criminals in any society, it’s natural, but the social contract enforced in 1961 said that the socialist revolution would create a ‘new man’ who would not resort to this behaviour,” he says. “The potential for criminality is growing proportionately to the appearance of new and new cracks in the system which has definitely lost its integrity”.
The pearl of the Caribbean has become an island verging on chaos. If the control mechanisms fail and the corruptness gets out of hand, the situation will become unmanageable. The loss of values and devaluation of work as well as the unwillingness of the government to dismantle the outdated scaffolding that facilitates proliferation of criminal behaviour have been leading the country to a point of no return.