The young Carel Gutiérrez “was very sad and tearful when they put him on the truck,” the military told his mother. (El Majadero de Artemis – ICLEP)14ymedio, Havana, 1 December 2021 — On November 25, a delegation of high-ranking military personnel offered their condolences to Blanca Rosa Durán. Her 18-year-old son Carel Gutiérrez was crushed by “seven steel pipes” that fell from the ceiling in the Los Jejenes unit in Artemisa, where he spent his Active Military Service (SMA), as reported in El Majadero de Artemisa.
Durán remembers that her boy did not want to enter the SMA. Six days after entering the camp “forced by this dictatorship in that place, then this happens,” she declared. According to the independent newspaper, the pipes were poorly placed on the roof and “rolled under the influence of a breeze.”
The mother remembers that the young man, a resident of the Calle Ancha neighborhood, in the Guanajay municipality, “was very sad and tearful when they put him in the truck. He was just a child.” Military service on the island exposes young recruits to situations that put their physical integrity and even their lives at risk.
At this writing, testimonies have arrived of the conditions in which young Cubans are recruited for what the regime considers “an honorable duty” and forced to carry out tasks such and loading and unloading containers and even repressing protesters.
Reports of deaths from accidents, suicides, and murders among recruits are rarely mentioned in the official Cuban press. However, independent journalists have recorded numerous incidents, in many cases involving the use of regulation weapons.
Self-harm to obtain demobilization is also widespread, to the point that in 2019, the Supreme People’s Court, through an extraordinary publication of the Official Gazette, announced that it would begin to sanction recruits who resort to this practice.
The entity acknowledged that the drastic measure responded to the “increase in acts of self-harm committed by soldiers that result in sanctions in the El Globo Western Disciplinary Unit,” where recruits who commit indiscipline are imprisoned, according to the rules of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.
Among the most frequent self-injuries that the Gazette reported are “the ingestion of objects (screws, washers, blades, etc.), with the intention of evading the fulfillment of the activities of the disciplinary unit and the obligations of military service.”
The constant pressure from the officers, the poor conditions of the shelters and food, the work without respecting the hours of a working day and the use of these soldiers as political shock troops also increase stress and discomfort among these young people, who are recruited when they are just 16 years old.
On July 11, the day of mass marches, the infirmary of the Managua Tank Unit, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, Havana, was full of young people from the SMA. One of them told 14ymedio that his unit was called upon to repress the protesters. They were given a stick and ordered to “hit with it anyone who gets in front of them.” Many, he said, “never understood why they were sent to beat the population.”
Others, who had already completed their military service months earlier, were taken from their homes with the argument of being “reserves” to “fight” the protesters, as related by a mother from Matanzas. “The officer said that he was going with them to fight the ’counterrevolutionaries’ or he would be imprisoned.” The boy spent more than a month dressed in green doing posts in various places in Cárdenas and some towns in Matanzas and luckily “he didn’t have to face anyone”.
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