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The Real Gulag - Cuba, 1961
Friday, July 15, 2005 By: Juan Paxety
fidel's torture chamber
Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) is touring the prison at NS Guantánamo Bay today with a group of senators. Senator Kennedy has said he objects to what he calls torture at the facility. From the Tuscaloosa News:
Earlier this week, the Defense Department released a report saying they found prisoner treatment such as leashing a terror suspect and forcing him to behave like a dog. But they said they found no evidence that there was torture or that senior leaders imposed faulty interrogation policies.
The article says Senator Kennedy is not satisfied with the DoD report. He believes there has been a cover up of torture.
Senator, we'd invite you to tour the other part of Cuba and see how prisoners are treated there. We are at war, and, by comparison, at a time that fidel was under attack, during the Bay of Pigs invasion, he responded by rounding up 250,000 to 300,000 Cubans and treating them to torture. It's all described in the book "The Losers" by Paul Bethel, a U.S. Embassy press spokesman at the time. The book is unfortunately out of print, so I will quote liberally, beginning with page 270.
In Havana on Monday morning, April 17, 1961, the peace reigning in the house of a doctor friend in the resistance, whom I shall call L.D. was rudely shattered by Castro's G-2 (secret police agents). They entered and searched his modest but comfortable house from top to bottom. For, like most middle-class Cubans, the doctor was considered to be an "enemy of the people." But the militia found nothing "counterrevolutionary." With two men covering the doctor and his cook from the doorway with Czech-made machine-pistols, the group leader finally said:
"Doctor, you must come with us.'
"But why? Am I under arrest?" he asked.
"Not under arrest, just detained while we go over a few papers," the man replied. Faced with Czech machine-pistols, L.D. went with them.
He was taken to the Sports Palace just outside Havana, scene of Castro's show trials in 1959. He recoiled in horror at the sight that met his eyes. A hundred or so of Castro's militia were in the bleachers. Thousands of prisoners were in the arena below. Every so often, the militiamen would cock their guns, nervously snapping the bolts from time to time.
L.D. was searched, then told to enter the arena. It was so crowded that people could not sit down. Packed in like sardines, they had been standing all day long and well into the next morning. A woman with a broken leg hobbled in on crutches. She was either an Argentine or a Cuban employee of the Argentine Embassy. Protesting bitterly, the woman was nevertheless rudely shoved into the mob. Shortly thereafter a very agitated man came in - L.D. believes he was an Argentine diplomat - and protested vigorously over her arrest and detention. A militia-man confronted the diplomat, with his gun in hand. The voice of the diplomat gradually claimed the attention of the prisoners. A few ventured to cheer him on. At the very tense moment, a fuse blew and the arena was plunged into complete darkness. The militia panicked.
Prisoners dived for the floor, toppling over one another and upon one another as shots rang out, directed into the crowd from the bleacher, amidst shouts and commands from the militia. L.D., and scores more who later escaped to the United States, estimated that about two hundred shots were fired, as the prisoners lay quivering, expecting bullets to chunk into their bodies. Five minutes later, the lights came back on, and the dead, wounded, and dying were removed. Next to L.D. was a Negro boy. He did not get up. L.D. reached over to shake him and drew his hands away covered with blood. Shot through the neck, the Negro had strangled on his own blood.
Soon after, buses and trucks arrived. Men were separated from their wives and children. They were redivided into smaller groups and removed to other places for detention. The Sports Palace, it seems, was the staging area for more arrests to come. L.D's group was taken to the prison of Príncipe. An old Spanish fortress, Príncipe is located in Havana on a promontory at the conjunction of the Avenue of the Presidents, Carlos III Street and Rancho Boyeros Road. It has several ancient tunnels in the old wall, into which L.D.'s group was thrust - 3,800 persons. Dirt on the earthen passageway was as fine as powder and swirled up into a choking cloud under the feet of the prisoners. The walls were approximately six feet thick, with a barred opening every ten feet or so, one foot across and four feet high. Prisoners fought for space near these apertures to suck precious air into their lungs. Many fell to the floor or were propped up by their companions. It was so crowded that the people stood with shoulders hunched, gasping for air.
Six people died of suffocation the first day. There was no food, no sanitary facilities, and very little water. At the urging of four or five doctors, including L.D., a small space was marked off in which to urinate and defecate. it was torturous to move around, however, and many prisoners chose to use the places where they stood. The medical men, L.D. and other doctors, knew the dangers of death by suffocation, the possibilities of heart attack, and the mental strain of people terrified over the unknown fate of their families. They were most immediately concerned over the possibility of epidemic.
L.D.'s fears were realized when several of the prisoners developed diarrhea. He made his way to the tunnel entrance and called the guard. The guard cocked his pistol, came in a few steps, the retreated. L.D. called after him, "We are Cubans, man! Come and look at the conditions! Five have diarrhea, an epidemic will break out and you will be condemned before the world. Please get me the Captain of the prison, I beg of you!"
Captain Juan Odoardo, of youthful appearance and arrogant mien, put in an appearance. Imperiously ordering the prisoners to stand back while his entrance was covered by machine-pistols of six boys, ages 15 to 18 years, he said: "What's going on there, anyway?" He ventured a few more yards into the tunnel, then retreated at the sight of the coughing, retching mob.
"We need medications, badly," said L.D. "Unless we get them, people are going to die." Look at this Captain, just look around you. Cubans looking like this. For what, Captain? Why?" he asked, spreading his arms before him emotionally. There was not a sound in the tunnel as 3, 800 pairs of eyes drilled into the Captain. "Captain, we need air. Could you get air, Captain, they are going to break out by sheer force of numbers, Captain, and you will be forced to slaughter 4,000 Cubans. For what, Captain?"
Captain Odoardo turned on his heel and left. His guards backed out slowly, their machine-pistols trained on the quietly advancing mob. One man broke. he picked up a rock from the floor of the tunnel, screaming, "Cowards! Sons of ... .! I'll fight you with a rock if I have to!" Writhing and struggling he was pinned against the wall by his companions. A squad of militiamen ran up to the entrance of the tunnel guns at the ready. L.D. quietly asked everyone to move back. he and a psychiatrist moved slowly toward the man still clutching the rock. "Get away from him, " said the psychiatrist gently to two men holding the distraught man.
"Don't come near me," said the man, "or I'll break your skull! Let that son of a ... come get it," referring to one of the guards.
"He doesn't need it," said the psychiatrist soothingly, advancing slowly, step by step. "Look, compañero, he has a machine-pistol. He doesn't need a rock."
The tension was so great that L.D. in his own nervousness tore the nail from his right index finger without realizing it. If the man broke completely, the mob would break, and the guards would slaughter them. Sweating, but calm, the psychiatrist finally reached him, and gently took the rock. The man collapsed to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably. "Where is my wife?" he whimpered. "Where is my wife?" The tension released like a spring as a sigh of relief came from 3,800 throats.
An hour later, medicines arrived. The first food given the prisoners came on Wednesday at 5 p.m. when it was clear that the United States had abandoned the Brigade. Food consisted of rotten rice, and peas "hard as bullets." It had to be scooped up and eaten by hand. Those who ate vomited immediately. Others couldn't stand the odor of the food and threw it away.
By Thursday, April 20th, 80 to 90 cardiac cases were permitted to sleep out of doors at night. But by this time, 15 inmates had gone insane and had to be removed. On Wednesday alone, 70 fainted from lack of oxygen and were given shots by the small group of haggard doctors - their own fellow prisoners. On Friday, April 21, when it was clear that Brigade 2506 had been overwhelmed, there was a relative easing of the plight of those imprisoned. They were permitted to come out for air at regular intervals. At no time, however, was the tunnel cleared of excrement and vomit.
Think you'll find conditions like those at Gitmo, Senator? And remember, Senator, that Brigade 2506 was overwhelmed because your brother, the president, decided to ignore his military commanders and to direct the invasion himself. He decided to pull the air cover and to let fidel control the air, and win the battle. It was very much a foreshadowing of Vietnam.