Prison Diary XXV: Open Letter to the Journalists of the Commission / Angel Santiesteban

Editor’s note: This open letter is to international journalists who were permitted a carefully orchestrated visit into selected Cuban prisons who later issued generally favorable reports on the conditions there.

I like to think they were duped, that their naiveté prevented them from understanding that the whole show was put together for their visit, or perhaps that international ethics do not allow the journalist force to demand that the reality not be hidden from them.

The truth is that, in one way or another, they helped to give credibility to a dictatorship that mocks the international media, in this case, you were the ones who mocked us, the prisoners, the disadvantaged, and the dictatorship was the beneficiary.

With this in mind I tried to explain to you, without having all the elements to fully understand what the mechanism of choice to be part of this International Commission in which you participated worked, and from which you didn’t look more deeply into what they were showing you on this visit. So they prepared a crude stage that no one, least of all a journalist, who had access to the Internet and to the independent press, could have believed if they had undertaken the slightest observation.

I was one of the inmates they removed before you arrived. At first they tried to fool me, then when I protested because my intention was to talk with you, I was taken by force between several guards in front of over a hundred young people, students I imagine, who were waiting at the entrance of La Lima prison. They listened to my exalted explanation while I was being handcuffed for more than ten soldiers who chased me while I screamed that they were cheaters, that they were hiding me to deceive international public opinion, that I was an honest writer who was serving a sentence for thinking differently, and that thinking differently was not a crime. Seeing so many young people, I asked them not to handcuff me, not to let themselves be manipulated because they had been assigned the dirty work of the dictatorship.

By then I had yielded before the forces they doubled against me and I let them take me, though still shouting that my work was being a writer who honestly denounced their constant arbitrariness.

The person who personally took me by force was the same one who welcomed you, with the same face, the same look, the same lack of conscience  in both cases. Lt. Col. Carlos Quintana, Chief Provincial Prison in Havana.

Before getting into the paddy wagon that would take me away, I swore to pursue them with my denunciations for the rest of my life, and told him that if I thought of killing myself, it was because I had no fear of dying for the freedom of Cuba.

Finally, they put me in the paddy wagon and took me out from the back of the camp.

The lie came to its end, the transfer to a hospital, as the officials had promised was not done. I was taken to a prison of greater severity, violating their own laws because my sentence is minimal and it is supposed to be served in a camp.

In this operation, in addition to Lt. Col. Carlos Quintana, also taking part were the Lieutenant Colonel of Section 21 of the State Security and Colonel Almanza, first deputy of General Marcos, chief of National Prisons, according to what was presented in the interview he had with me days before, with the intention to agree to my “hospitalization” to submit to a “health check.”

As you can see, there is only one beneficiary, the Castro brothers’ regime, which for more than half a century has flouted international organizations, misrepresenting to the mass media the Cuban reality, making themselves true specialists in emulating the methods of Nazi propaganda.

I hope that the members of the Commission have learned as a lesson, that if in the future they return to be part of another Commission, not to allow their becoming cynical mockers for their “educated” hosts, who deliberately kept them from witnessing the cruel punishments to which prisoners are subjected.

They should see what they eat and how the “food” is prepared for the prisoners, and hopefully hear the testimonies of prisoners, ready to discover the truth despite the threats. They should see them in the punishment cells, swallowing bolts, keys, nails, glass, metal spoons and whatever objects they find, just to make the injustices of those who are victims heard, in order to be able to change them.

Some, when they see that none of their terrible acts of self-harm even manage to call attention to their plight, but only lead to more beatings and punishments, openly attack their own lives and cut their veins or sew their mouths shut with wire and cover themselves with their own excrement to avoid the guards.

Sure that my words are not enough to denounce the horror that is committed in Cuban prisons, but also sure that one day, God willing not too far off, justice will be done and they will pay for their dead, those they hung as if they had committed suicide, those whose names the prisoners are very familiar with, and they will also know the names of their torturers.

Until then, God protect us.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

Prison 1580. May 2013

7 June 2013