coco fusco on Mon, 28 Jul 2003 19:51:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> A Prisoner Becomes a Warden

Though many in the globe trotting culture sector have
enjoyed sun and fun in Cuba, I've seen next to nothing
on sites about the recent imprisonment of 75
human rights activists there. Among those imprisoned
are freelance journalists found guilty of accepting
writing supplies from US diplomats and publishing
articles about food and energy shortages. Others are
"independent librarians" who were condemned for
lending books out of their homes - but the American
Library Association has refused to sign a petition on
their behalf. In a recent speech by the leader of
Cuba's Communist Youth, the internet was characterized
as an "instrument of the devil" that foments this sort
of counterrevolutionary activity - even though the
Cuban guerrillas who led the revolution in the 50s
were brilliantly innovative in their use of pirate
radio, and the first wave of filmmakers after the
revolution pioneered methods of disseminating
newsreels in mountainous rural areas that lacked
electricity once upon a time.

> A Prisoner Becomes a Warden
> In steamy July, Cuban television broadcasts nightly
> shots of an empty hospital room. It is spacious and
> clean and has big windows. We are shown this room
> because 50 years ago Fidel Castro was held prisoner
> there.
> After the failed July 26, 1953, attack on the
> Moncada
> barracks in Santiago de Cuba, where the troops of
> the
> dictator Fulgencio Batista were stationed, Fidel
> Castro and some 100 other surviving assailants
> (myself
> among them) were tried for sedition and sentenced to
> up to 15 years in prison. Fidel Castro's sentence
> was
> 15 years, although he was given amnesty, along with
> the rest of us, after 21 months. He was never again
> jailed. He came to power in the 1959 revolution and
> has since become He Who Sends Others to Jail.
> For me, 1953 was not the last time: in the
> mid-1960's,
> when I was Cuba's ambassador to Belgium, I expressed
> frustration with the Castro government, was recalled
> and eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison, of
> which I served three. Then in the 1980's I planned
> to
> escape from Cuba and was jailed for seven more
> years,
> but that is another story.
> Four months ago, 75 brave Cuban dissidents were
> rounded up and two weeks later sentenced to prison
> terms of up to 28 years. Unlike us so-called
> Moncadistas, today's dissidents did not use
> violence.
> Their "weapons" were typewriters, cameras, radios
> and
> tape recorders. They are writers, doctors, lawyers,
> economists, teachers, peasants and human rights
> activists who believed, naïvely, that their ruler
> and
> former revolutionary leader would at least tolerate
> the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which
> Cuba is a signatory) instead of jailing people for
> possessing and distributing it.
> Lately I have been reflecting, after 50 years, on
> trial and punishment, on the tragic contrast between
> Fidel Castro, inmate, and Fidel Castro, prison
> warden.
> Prisoner Castro, a lawyer, had three months between
> his arrest and his October 1953 trial to prepare his
> own defense (later adapted into his famous "History
> Will Absolve Me" speech). Warden Castro allowed
> today's dissidents their first glimpses of their
> lawyers minutes before their trials, if at all.
> Their quarters do not resemble Inmate Castro's
> bright
> and spacious hospital room of 1953: most are in
> cells
> full of rats and mosquitoes; in many, the tap for
> drinking water juts from the wall just above the
> hole
> in the floor the prisoners are to use as a toilet.
> When they have family visits, every three months,
> they
> come out in handcuffs, some in shackles.
> Because we used violence, the Moncadistas would not
> have been considered prisoners of conscience by
> today's humanitarian groups like Amnesty
> International. Nonetheless, the dictator Batista
> gave
> us special treatment as political prisoners: we were
> given our own section of the Isle of Pines prison so
> that we were not held together with common
> criminals.
> Today's dissidents, who were declared prisoners of
> conscience by Amnesty International, have been
> tossed
> in with murderers and rapists. The poets Raúl Rivero
> and Manuel Vazquez Portal, to mention the best
> documented cases, now share wards with some of the
> most violent alumni of what Fidel Castro himself
> once
> called "genuine universities of delinquency."
> Back in 1953, two women from our group took their
> meals at the table of the prison chief; a relative
> of
> one of inmates bought a butchery on the Isle of
> Pines
> and prisoners were allowed cooking facilities. The
> food in the jails today is another story: many of
> the
> 75 dissidents are sick (some are denied medicines
> brought by spouses) and one has had a heart attack.
> Family members report frightening weight loss of 30
> or
> 40 pounds for many of the dissidents, after only
> four
> months of detention.
> I am an old man now — 76, the same age as Fidel
> Castro
> — and there is not much more harm that the warden
> can
> inflict on me for speaking out. (Although there is
> no
> doubt in my mind that my younger brother, Sebastián,
> died in prison in 1997 because of deliberate lack of
> medical attention.) I have no reason to expect that
> Fidel Castro will show his political prisoners the
> magnanimity that he himself benefited from 50 years
> ago, or that he too will give them amnesty. I hope
> to
> be proved wrong. It would be the only fitting way to
> mark the anniversary.
> Gustavo Arcos Bergnes is secretary general of the
> Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
> __________________________________
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> ----- End forwarded message -----

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