Miércoles, 11 de Diciembre de 2019
Última actualización: 16:13 CET

Visiting Julio Ferrer Tamayo in jail

Julio Ferrer Tamayo.

Cuban misery really stands out when it is cold. In a country without much of a winter it is not worth spending much on jackets, which are passed down for decades. On January 15th, I was struck by the manifest poverty of those waiting for the A-5 bus at its first stop, across from the Parque de la Fraternidad.

It was chilly, and the group's threadbare jackets revealed their penury. But the coats were not the only thing denoting the poverty there. Many of us were going to visit prison 1580 and, if in the world prisons are, basically, places to lock up poor people, the people gathered there revealed that Cuba is no exception to this rule.

Prison 1580 was that chosen by the Cuban regime to illegally lock up lawyer Julio Ferrer Tamayo by falsifying documents and through the exertion of paramilitary pressure. In a call to his daughter, Karla Ferrer, Brigade General Marcos Hernández Alcalá, head of the National Prison Administration, recognized this. And so have the authorities at 1580, who, against their will, have kept him there. The Inter-American Human Rights has also acknowledged this, as has the American ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, by including the Cuban lawyer in the #FreeToBeHome campaign, demanding the freedom of political prisoners all over the world.

Last Saturday I saw Julio for the first time in almost four months. In addition to the medium-security prison, the area features camps as ancillary, lower-security facilities, where Julio is located. His daughter Karla explains that at the section of the prison where he was first confined, “visits were in windowless chambers, with just a little vent to provide some air circulation, and nothing else. There were many tables, and a racket, with only three people allowed to visit each prisoner.”

At the camp, however, the conditions are different. The prisoner receives his relatives under an open sky, in an enormous clearing dotted with towering trees, and enclosed by an enormous wall protected with abutments and half-built watchtowers, where I spotted a very young guard toting a gun.

Before getting there I had to go through a small door and into a dimly-lit enclosure where one waited until an official summoned the prisoner's relatives by reading his name. The edifice's walls, featuring massive, stacked horizontal blocks, featuring visible seams, evoked a great number of places from my life: those from the country schools, the army units, the bedrooms at the popular camping facilities we visited during summer vacations, those of low-cost housing, and rural general hospitals. In addition to those walls, I was familiar with those ramshackle windows too, the polished cement floor, the tiled ceiling, the mediocre lighting, the mural, and the generic corridors that accompany the “new man” from nursery school to the cells of punishment.

Julio calls out to me, as I make him out among the group of inmates and their relatives. He later describes to me details that I did not know with regards to the incident on 23 September, when paramilitary officers and civil officials raided the headquarters of the Cubalex Legal Training Centre in the Havana district of El Calvario. He tell me that the public prosecutor who took the statements from Cubalex’s members had allowed him to go, but he had remained to support the rest of those present with his knowledge. At a certain point during the conversation with her, Julio reported the illegalities related to his previous incarceration and the new case that was being prepared against him. It was then that an official who was eavesdropping, after speaking on the telephone, ordered his arrest, after which he was taken to a police station, but not before the official gave the police a document specifying that this was a Counterintelligence case.

It continues to be difficult to understand the use of the term "Counterintelligence," the pretentious name used to refer to paramilitary staff dedicated to hampering the work of civil society. Castroism has always endeavored to convince people that all those opposing it are crazy, delinquents, or agents in the service of some foreign intelligence service, generally American. Hence its psychiatric hospitals, electroshock and jails, and hence the term "Counterintelligence," which they attach to their corps of young and uneducated recruits, who receive military training, are disciplined in perverse values, and whose excesses enjoy complete impunity.

Our communication during the visit was constantly interrupted by inmates asking Julio for information. One came over to introduce him to his mother. And it was not only the inmates, but also the prison authorities who asked him for help with the files of the prisoners arriving at the place.

“The authorities here have recognized that the prosecutor falsified the documents,” Julio explains to me. “My sanction says that I have been detained this whole time, without recognizing my departure in September of 2015, when my sentence ran out. So they are accusing me again. But I have in my possession the document certifying the expiration of my sentence on that date, at the Valle Grande prison, and there appears no other entrance into the prison until November of 2016, when they brought me for here, to 1580. That is what exposes the court's fraud.”

Like Julio, Cuban many activists from civil society and politicians been illegally sentenced to prison terms, through cunning machinations between official institutions and paramilitary bodies. The artist El Sexto, for example, currently remains locked up without cause, where he has been for more than two months, as has Eduardo Cardet, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM), founded by Oswaldo Payá.

Mario Alberto Hernández Leyva is yet another one of those cases. Vice-president of the Movement of Dissidents for a New Republic and Movimiento Democracia, in addition to a coordinator of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Resistance and Civil Disobedience, since 1 November, 2015, he has been in prison, charged with assault and contempt. Previously, on 8 January, 2015, he had been released, as a member of the group of the 53 political prisoners freed at the request of the US Government and as part of negotiations for the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

Hernández Leiva's last internment began in the Gran Valle prison, from where he was transferred to the Combinado del Este, both in Havana, the province in which he resides and where his colleagues at the organization are located. Then they sent him to El Pre, in Santa Clara, where physical abuse left him with reduced mobility, from which he is barely recovering after eight months, now at a new prison: Holguín.

More and more distant from his relatives and friends, the separation of prisoner Mario Alberto Leyva Hernández from his place of residence is another ploy by Castroist authorities to break his will and spirit.

If, in a general way, prison is a questionable method for the containment of crime, and dubious human values are employed to make it possible, incarceration for reasons other than crime is used to inflict physical, emotional and spiritual damage, these elements characterizing something more terrible than the concept of prison: torture.