Reality check: life in a Cuban jail

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Democracy Digest
March 20, 2017

Stephen Purvis loved Cuba and his job as development director with one of several small foreign firms that were setting up as the country sought international partners following the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Guardian reports:


Purvis’s job was to look for joint venture opportunities with the Cuban government. The planned projects included the first golf course to be constructed there since the 1959 revolution, and the revamp of a formerly glamorous hotel, the Saratoga…. The son of a theatrical designer, Purvis also dabbled in theatre himself, producing the Cuban dance show Havana Rakatan, which performed successfully for several years in London. No one, of course, imagined that those halcyon days would end so abruptly, with Purvis imprisoned in what he describes as a “zoo” for enemies of the state. But that is how it turned out. The title of his powerful memoir, Close but No Cigar, is his own admission of just how badly life can go wrong.

Purvis was detained at the notorious Cuban state security prison known as Villa Marista (right), for what was described, euphemistically, as “further instruction,” The Guardian’s Stephen Gibbs adds:

“The villa”, as it is known by Cuban dissidents, is a former Catholic seminary on the outskirts of Havana. Since 1963 it has been an interrogation centre, using techniques perfected by the KGB. Eventually, they say, everyone “sings” at the villa. Purvis believes he and his boss (who had been transferred to a military hospital by the time his co-director arrived) are the only Englishmen ever to have been held there. For months, he became “Prisoner 217”. His life was entirely controlled by a man known as “the instructor”. He spent almost every hour of the day in a cell the size of a double mattress, with three other inmates (one of whom he believes was a government informant). The four shared an open latrine. RTWT

Believers of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes hold that a dictatorial approach to governing is moral, just and necessary, notes Jose Azel (left), a senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American studies:

Some offer that a developing nation needs a strongman rule to effectively promote economic growth without the aggravations of democracy. Others say authoritarian rule is necessary to assure law and order. Still others embrace monarchies, realms or other hereditary forms of governments to protect the traditions and customs of their people. And many believe that their church and government are one and the same and that their religious beliefs are above a selfish desire for freedom. Marxists sacrifice individual freedoms at the altar of collectivism. 

This is why the Cuba Decide Plebiscite project, spearheaded by Rosa María Payá Acevedo, is such a refreshing proposition, Azel writes for The Miami Herald:

Payá is the youthful, highly articulate daughter of slain Cuban democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, recipient of the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize and five-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. His daughter, as president of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy, is continuing her father’s work to foster democracy on that tragic Island.

Members of a recent delegation to Cuba from the American Security Project (ASP), should be ashamed of themselveswrites Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations:

An ASP web page tells us that “The American public understands the complexities of today’s global challenges, but has too often been misled by empty rhetoric and cherry-picked facts. ASP is organized around the belief that honest public discussion of national security requires a better-informed citizenry–one that understands the dangers and opportunities of the 21st century, the spectrum of available responses, and the benefits and drawbacks of each course of action.”

But the Cuba trip makes a mockery of that standard, notes Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. This delegation will hear one side, the official side–and then help the Castro regime by shoveling it back to the U.S. press. RTWT