CubaBrief: Why was Ariel Ruiz Urquiola on a hunger and thirst strike outside of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights?

International Day Against Torture

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola suspended hunger and thirst strike today in Geneva

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola suspended hunger and thirst strike today in Geneva

Today we learned the good news that Ariel Ruiz Urquiola stopped his hunger and thirst strike five days after he had started it. He had been trying to draw the attention of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to speak to him.

 He sat there just a short distance from the Wilson Palace, all day and all night in the street, waiting. What would drive a sane man to such extreme and desperate action? Ariel has a PhD in biology. He is an environmentalist, but because of his independent spirit he was banned from teaching and became a farmer. His sister, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, was also targeted, and in her case life saving treatment was compromised to punish her.

Omara Ruiz Urquiola with her brother Ariel

Omara Ruiz Urquiola with her brother Ariel

In May 2018, Ariel was arbitrarily detained, sentenced and jailed from early May to early July 2018. He was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment during his imprisonment. For example, according to him and the Frankfurt based International Society for Human rights, that has examined Ariel’s claims, there is convincing evidence that he was infected with HIV by Cuban officials during his time in prison.

Today, June 26th is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and sadly there are many in Cuba who are torture victims. 

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The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), defines “torture” as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”  

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda less than a year in a Cuban prison.

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda less than a year in a Cuban prison.

What allegedly has been done to Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and his sister rises to the level of torture, but they are not alone. There is a history in Cuba of prisoners and dissidents being denied health care as punishment or being purposefully misdiagnosed.

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz was arrested on April 16, 2016 for speaking out during a human rights demonstration in Havana’s Central park. She was placed on parole in January of 2018. She was re-arrested in mid-September 2018 under the charge of being “threatening.” On September 19, 2018 she was tried and sentenced to one year and four months in prison. She was sent to a prison 400 kilometers from her home. This was an added hardship for her family to visit her, and keep an eye on her well being.

Xiomara was sent to a punishment cell for at least 10 days for speaking to her daughter over the phone.

Over the course of one year in custody of the Castro regime her health radically declined. Rashes that appeared on her body in June 2019 that Cuban medical doctors in Ciego de Ávila claimed to be unable to diagnose.  She was able to finally obtain medical care in the United States in January 2020 when she was near death, and has remained months in intensive care.

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz in December 2019

Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz in December 2019

Dr. Alfredo Melgar, a specialist in Internal Medicine and lead doctor treating Xiomara Cruz Miranda, in a May 2020 interview, believes that she was exposed while in the Cuban prison to “various chemicals.” Cuban doctors in the island, at varying times, told her she was either suffering from Tuberculosis or lung cancer as her condition continued to worsen. Dr. Melgar affirms that these substances had possibly caused irreversible lung damage.

The International Center for Transitional Justice explains on its website that “truth can help victims to find closure by revealing the details of the events they suffered, such as the fate of forcibly disappeared loved ones or why certain people were targeted for abuse. Moreover, knowing the truth about past events enables proper mourning practices, essential to most cultures, helping to achieve personal and communal healing.”

Most Cuban victims of torture remain unknown, but there are high profile cases that are the tip of the iceberg. Above is a partial sampling of some of those cases. Others are mentioned in the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened (Nadie Escuchaba) that covered the first three decades of the current regime.

Below, in Spanish are a series of interviews of torture victims in Cuba in 2020. The Castro regime has remained constant in the use of sophisticated methods of torture to maintain power through fear.