Fifty-two-year-old Manuel Vazquez was one of seventy-five Cuban citizens sentenced to long prison terms following a massive crackdown on political dissents in 2003. Mr. Vazquez was a reporter for the Cubanet news service. He was sentenced to eighteen-years for writing about such topics as crime, corruption, and prostitution in Cuba.
Mr. Vazquez is one of six dissidents who have been released from prison for health reasons. He told the Houston Chronicle newspaper that his prison experience was miserable: “It was hell, a place of rats, roaches, bedbugs, and mosquitoes. I came out of prison completely crazy!” he said.
Dissident Miguel Valdes has heart problems and was also released early. “The government was afraid I'd die in jail,” he said.
Political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque was also released for health reasons. Ms. Roque was serving a twenty-year term on trumped-up charges. She suffers from heart problems and diabetes and lost twenty pounds in prison. Prison conditions, she says, are inhumane and highly unsanitary. Eric Olsen of Amnesty International says Communist dictator Fidel Castro’s prisons can also be violent:
“Prisoner of conscience Victor Orlando Arroyo Carmona was taken from his cell by three prison guards and dragged to the floor while reportedly being struck in the face and body. Guards also allegedly trapped his leg in a door to immobilize him during the beating. Such instances would contravene Article Four of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment.”
This is just one of many stories of Cuba’s political prisoners being subjected to beatings, solitary confinement, and the denial of medical treatment. That is why the U.S., the Organization of American States, the European Union, and many other international groups have called on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and immediately allow humanitarian organizations to monitor prison conditions.
In Cuba, courageous men and women are striving for democracy and freedom. The U.S. is determined to give them hope in their struggle against Castro's totalitarian system.