Dr. Darsi Ferrer: " It is very sad to see a country’s youth behind bars, living in cruel and deforming conditions, surviving as non-persons."posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Marc Masferrer reproduces some fragments of an interview with Dr. Darsi Ferrer by Cuban independent journalist Juan Carlos González Leiva originally published on Payo Libre.
This is our translation:
Juan Carlos González Leiva: How is the health of Darsi Ferrer?
Dr. Darsi: First, I would like to say that I am very happy with your visit. One comes out of prison affected [by psychological issues] but I am in better spirits.
JC: According to [the regime’s] accusations [against you], you should have received a 3 year sentence. To what do you attribute your premature release?
Dr. Darsi: Many factors contributed to, and resulted in my release. In first place, [there was the] recognition of my status as a prisoner of conscience by that prestigious institution, Amnesty International, for what I will be eternally grateful. Also, [there was] the immense solidarity from the international black movement, and, of course, the solidarity of my Cuban brothers, here and in exile.
JC: What does Valle Grande prison represent to you?
Dr Darsi: This is a prison for those who are in preventive custody [not tried yet], [but] despite that it does not differ from [all] other Cuban penitentiaries. Life conditions are totally subhuman and the penal population suffers the cruelest and most inhumane treatments. For example, medical attention is almost [non-existent] because in spite of having doctors on staff, [in reality] they do not exist, neither is there equipment to perform a hemoglobin or glycemic test. Everything is a [smoke] screen [and] that is why there are inevitable deaths. Only in the past 11 months, three inmates died there for that reason. Overcrowding is terrible in the 18 galleys. They are 35 meters long by 5 meters wide, [and] there 120 inmates survive with only half a meter of vital space for each one of them. Many of them have to sleep on the floor because there are not enough beds.
Hygiene is horrible, they only run the water for a few minutes three times a day, every other day, and the heat is unbearable. Infectious diseases are very frequent, it is enough that one inmate gets sick [for the rest to be infected]. Contact with the family is limited to two hours once a month. The psychological trauma is very big. The scarce nourishment is of terrible quality and does not satisfy the needs of any human organism. As protein, they give you a tiny piece of chicken every 15 days. The rest of the food is a [disgusting mix] that is regularly [given to the prisoners] in state of decomposition. This brings lots of diseases and health problems.
The mistreatment and the horrible conditions make the inmates aggressive. There are frequent fights. Corruption is rampant. The guards are more criminals than the inmates are, and they have several inmates in their fold who control all their illicit businesses for their own personal benefit, and the most lethal are used to impose discipline. The guards are the ones that facilitate the sale of rum and the high drug use. Religious assistance and freedom of worship are not allowed. There are several disabled [inmates] [whose conditions] are incompatible with the prison system. I met blind, deaf and some in wheelchairs. In the political prisoners’ case, they survive in constant danger since the guards constantly encourage assassins to harass them and attack them. It is Hell, a nightmare that if you do not experience it, you cannot imagine how horrible the Cuban jail system is.
JC: Could it be said that Cuban jails are centers of terror?
Dr. Darsi: Prisons here make up such a gruesome picture that words cannot describe it in all of its magnitude. This is the reason why the government does not allow monitoring by the [UN’s] Rapporteur Against Torture, His Excellency Manfred Nowak. [They] have much to hide. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners are not respected at all, and even national laws are violated daily in there.
JC: What is the number of prisoners inside Valle Grande prison right now?
Dr. Darsi: There are 18 galleys with a total penal population around 2000 inmates. It must be noted that, as I said, this is a prison for [those] awaiting trial, and it is the only one that receives those who are under [arrest awaiting trial] in all of the [province of] Ciudad de La Habana. Almost every day, around 80 to 100 new inmates are admitted, which is incredible. Of course, this does not include those already sentenced who are sent directly to other penitentiaries. In other words, the number of Cubans who are sent to prison daily is alarming. That is why I can assure [anyone] that the Cuban penal population is not 100,000 inmates as it has been said until now, but that it is well above 200,000 convicts. It is such an amazing [uncontrolled growth] that it forces the government to hide it.
JC: Could it then be stated that more than 500 people are incarcerated each week only in La Habana?
Dr. Darsi: I do not say 500 people, but a much higher number because one has to take into account the prisons for women that are 4 or 5; the juvenile prisons, and the uncountable penitentiaries in the city and province of La Habana. The Combinado del Este prison alone keeps around 5000 inmates behind bars. These are the reasons why I call on all people and institutions around the world to make an even greater effort to help humanize the Cuban jail system, alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of convicts and their families.
JC: What are the race and age characteristics of the penal population at Valle Grande?
Dr. Darsi: Around 80% are black and more than 70% of the total is not over the age of 25. It is very sad to see a country’s youth behind bars, living in cruel and deforming conditions, surviving as non-persons.
JC: Marxism books state that criminality is a leftover from capitalism; however, Cuban convicts are in their vast majority young and black, born after the revolution. How can this be explained?
Dr. Darsi: The lack of opportunities, the arbitrariness, the injustices…I would say that they [affect] all the same. What happens is that for cultural and economic reasons, blacks were behind [everyone else] when the revolution triumphed, in other words, blacks were behind, and blacks were left much further behind later. Today are blacks the one who live in “solares” [tenements], those who are barred from hotels and those who are not [represented] in the [highest] political [levels]. It is enough to say that in a country where surviving is hard for everyone, those issues are tenfold for blacks. All of this forces blacks to be linked to issues like the black market. They go beyond what is tolerated by the authorities and remain in [extreme poverty] being much more alienated, discriminated against and displaced than whites. This is a grave problem because this is not a [mainly] Caucasian society. Cuba is a country where he who does not have Congo [blood] has [that] of Carabalis. We are a racial “ajiaco” [stew], despite the government’s efforts to reinforce the idea that black is negative. This is why blacks in prison receive the worst treatment and contempt from the guards. I can conclude by stating that blacks have been thrown by the so-called revolution into the lowest sectors of [Cuban] public life.
JC: What is the explanation for the use of drugs and alcohol at Valle Grande?
Dr. Darsi: The average salary of the guards is extremely low. They live in misery as well, that is why most of the practice corruption. Inside of the prisons, corruption is huge. It is precisely the guards who own this business of alcohol and prescription drugs sales. It is they who bring those noxious substances to the penitentiaries around the country. It is incredible and scandalous, but tremendously real. These are the direct causes of the frequent fights and murders. Furthermore, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, the inmates mutilate themselves or inject [themselves with the] AIDS [virus] with syringes supplied by the guards. One day, I saw the guards bringing six AIDS patients into my galley and left them to live with us. Some had bleeding wound since they had hurt themselves. Logically we were all [exposed] to the risk [of infection].
JC: What treatment receive those who are physically and mentally disabled at Valle Grande?
Dr. Darsi: They are victims of the worst treatments because since they are sick, they do things that irritate the guards.
JC: How would you describe your trial?
Dr. Darsi: I was tried behind closed doors by the Municipal Tribunal of Diez de Octubre [a municipality in La Habana] this past 22 June, and sentenced to 1 year and 3 months of prison. [During the trial] Security of State cordoned off the area [surrounding the tribunal] and subjected me to a biased process, lacking any [due process]. They tried me 11 months after my arrest, and they sentenced me after I had already served the time, on the trumped up charges of “Sabotage and receipt [of stolen merchandise]” that implies that I must serve another three months in this sort of house arrest. I do not accept this condition, and I am ready to be sent back to prison whenever the political police would want because I am innocent and my trial was nothing but a circus. My family, friends and neighbors could attend.
JC: Do you continue to have the same dreams?
Dr. Darsi: Cuba continues to be a large jail, and our people still lives the same drama of the destruction of all their freedoms and rights. This is what motivates me to continue fighting for democracy and [the rule of law]. I am 40 years old, and I do not know freedom. I move forward with even more emphasis so that soon Cuba becomes a place of happiness, prosperity and opportunities for all.