“When he saw Gerardo, he was naked, locked up in what they called the ‘box,’ that is to say a ‘hole’ within the ‘hole’, with no clothes and with absolutely no contact with the outside world. When they took him out, they removed all the other prisoners who were in the “hole” because he was not allowed to be seen, or hear another human voice or see another human being,” explained Ricardo Alarcon, recalling how New York lawyer Leonard Weinglass had described his first encounter with Gerardo Hernandez, one of five cubans imprisoned in the United States since their arrest in 1998 on charges of “spying”.
“This is physical torture!” denounced the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, interviewed in relation to the maltreatment inflicted on the five cubans, in relation to several cases of torture that have occurred over the last few years within the penal system delopped by the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Guant·namo base.
Rene Gonzalez, Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon LabaÒino and Fernando Gonzalez, were arrested on September 12, 1998 in Miami and taken that very same day to the city’s Federal Detention Center (FDC) where they were immediately incarcerated in punishment cells, without being able to contact anyone for 17 days. On September 29, they were moved to the special holding unit, a solitary confinement cell known as the “hole” where they remained until February 3, 2000: 17 months of a treatment usually reserved for prisoners responsible for serious disciplinary problems or murders carried out within the prison itself.
“Leonard Weinglass described to us the conditions in which he saw Antonio when he–and he’s his lawyer!–finally managed to meet with his client,” commented Alarcon. “They were preparing the appeal document and he hadn’t even been able to see him to explain on what grounds the appeal was to be based. And he found him chained up. He wasn’t even able to talk normally to him. They spoke to each other by phone through a glass window!
During the procedures that were rigged by the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office, the Five were once again locked up in the “hole”, where they remained for 48 days. When they were finally returned to normal cells, unnecessarily cruel sanctions were maintained, such as deprivation of personal belongings, including photos of their relatives.
Besides this, openly advised by leaders of Miami’s Cuban-American anti-Castro zealots, the District Attorney’s office and the FBI constantly separated them from their families in order to try and crush their spirits.
Visits between Gerardo Hernandez and his wife Adriana Perez O’Connor have been prohibited for more than six years now. The State Department consistently denies Adriana a visa to enter the United States under the pretext that she is believed to be “a threat to the national security of the United States.”
Olga Salanueva, the wife of Rene Gonzlez, is in the same situation, having been prevented from seeing her husband for more than four years. To such an extent that her young daughter, Ivette Gonzalez–a U.S. citizen by birth–has had no contact with her father.
For the president of the National Assembly, the violation of human rights is evident: “This is torture not just for them but for their families as well,” stressed Alarcon, adding that, “they have finally given a visa to Ramon’s family. We’re in December, it’s the end of the year and they originally asked for it in early 2004!”
With the cruelty of this situation, deliberately isolated in five different prisons spread throughout the immense U.S. territory, the Five are also suffering from the fact that they are serving their sentences in a foreign country, “which is an additional suffering” and in the case of those serving life sentences, living in exceptionally harsh conditions,” concluded Alarcon, adding that no information have been received on Gerardo Herandez since more than six weeks.
The Victorville prison in the state of California where he is imprisoned, is subjected to a “lock down” due to disturbances amongst the prison population. Under this regime inmates are confined to their cells, with no hot meals, no visits or even telephone calls.
JEAN-GUY ALLARD is a writer living in Havana. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org