CubaBrief: Cuba and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. | Covert castigation: violations of the right to health in Cuban prisons | Cuba must pay Cuban American brothers $2.6 billion for torture, federal judge says

We express our solidarity with those who have been tortured for the previous 65 years and even now by the Communist dictatorship in Cuba.

Cuba and the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

On this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, we remember the political prisoners tortured in Cuba‘s prisons. They die due to torture and purposeful medical neglect.
The Cuban dictatorship must be held accountable not rewarded by the European Union and the United States of America. Please take action, and sign the petition to expel Cuba from the UN Human Rights Council.
The Cuban dictatorship has blocked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from visiting Cuban prisons for over 64 years. No visits were permitted between July 1959 and April 1988
Below is the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened that is available on YouTube and in Amazon. It is highly recommended for those who want to know about the systematic torture of political prisoners in Cuba.

Red Cross visits, and leaks

After international shaming, the ICRC was given permission to visit Cuban jails for a few months until the end of 1989.  Following that, there have been no further Red Cross visits to Cuban prisons.
Despite the dictatorship’s unwillingness to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter Cuba, and the lack of ICRC oversight in Cuban prisons, information about jail conditions has leaked out over the decades to the present day.

Amnesty International heard testimony from survivors of torture in Cuba, including Amado Rodriguez in 2010.

“According to international and inter-American human rights jurisprudence, the first category of torture used by the Cuban [dictatorship] is corporal punishment and excessive use of force, which caused serious physical and mental suffering to political prisoners,” said the Cuban Democratic Directorate in their 2008 report on Torture in Cuba
The report warned, “Torture and cruel treatment were abundant in all Cuban detention centers, such as the events that occurred in ‘the Cabos camp,’ where political prisoners were watched “constantly, anything was taken as a reason to start a beating. Breaking out of line to drink water brought a thrashing.
There is the case of forcing completely naked men to pull out grass with their mouths. Along with the blows came punctures, wounds sometimes measuring 8 and 10 inches.deep. “Infinite is the number of men who are currently crippled in the different prisons of Cuba.”

Women advocating for democracy are not faring much better today in Cuba

Cuban political prisoners. Alas Tensas

At least 116 women are now serving prison terms in Cuba for political reasons, according to a list compiled by various human rights NGOs.
Sissi Abascal, Aimara Nieto, Reyna Yacnara Barreto Batista, Arianna López Roque, Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Lizandra Góngora Espinosa and the Garrido sisters, are some of the names appearing on the list. In all the cases, the incarceration is due to discrimination on the basis of political opinion.”
“It was preceded by a set of serious human rights violations, including physical and psychological torture, sexual harassment, attacks on privacy and dignity; in some cases even aggravated by factors such as race or gender,” [Cubalex lawyer Alain Espinosa told Martí Noticias].
These poor prison conditions have deadly consequences reports Raul Medina Orama in the June 25, 2024 article “Covert castigation: violations of the right to health in Cuban prisons.”
“Sometimes the [failure by authorities to provide medicines] is due to the general shortage of medicines affecting the country. 

However, several prisoners, mainly political ones, have reported that when their relatives bring them medicines, the authorities do not accept them, or do not get them to the prisoners

They have also reported sometimes being denied medical care as a form of torture.

This includes everything from indolent guards in sensitive health situations to delays in taking inmates to medical appointments.  Because of this, some inmates’ health has been permanently damaged.
Other times, these situations have had deadly results. Between March 1, 2023 and May 31, 2024, the CDPC registered 44 deaths in prison. Of these, 32 (72.73%) died as a result of the authorities’ torpor in providing them with medication or medical care.”

Denial of healthcare as punishment 

The Washington Times provided an ongoing example of using the denial of healthcare as punishment.  For the past 26 years, [ Ernesto Borges Perez ] has languished in prison. In 2017, he was diagnosed with cataracts and an inguinal hernia.
Although both conditions require surgery, his jailers have denied him surgery under the auspices that it would endanger his life. In other words, the Cuban regime wants to keep Mr. Borges alive as long as possible so they can continue to torture him.

One must also look at the use of psychiatry to torture Cuban dissidents.

The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba, written by Charles J. Brown and Armando M. Lago, was published in 1991 by Freedom House and Of Human Rights. It detailed the political exploitation of psychiatry in Cuba during the Castro regime.
The book is referenced by Carlos A. Aguilera in his article published in No Country Magazine on May 14, 2021 reviewing the photo exhibit “The Ten Days in Mazorra of Damaris Betancourt” [ Diez días en Mazorra (1998) ] in which she was granted access to the psychiatric facility.

Her photos of the facility do not leave one with a positive impression.

One year later, “Jesús Muñoz’s documentary, La revolución de Mazorra (1999); an agitprop film by the regime to show the “excellence” of its psychiatric institution, with distressing fragments of slavery and caricature, where patients receive constant orders and look like fake Stakhanovs” was premiered.

Muñoz’s “documentary” fails to convince viewers with a critical eye, and especially those who have read Paul Hollander’s work on how regime’s attempt to impose their narrative in Political Pilgrims.

Vladimir Bukovsky, a Soviet dissident who died unexpectedly on October 27, 2019, in England following a heart attack, wrote the preface to The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba.

The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba.

Bukovsky had experienced the abuse of psychiatry for political reasons in the Soviet Union first hand and written about it, and was able to provide a broader context to what was happening (and still happens) in Cuba. Below is his preface.

On the Outskirts of the Empire

Vladimir Bukovsky

After reading the documents and testimonies collected in this book, one can feel disgusted and outraged, but not surprised.We have learned long ago that Communist regimes, be they in Vietnam or Cuba, Ethiopia or China, are very much alike: just the sparks, the embers of the huge fire set in the world seventy-four years before.

Actually, we would be surprised not to find familiar features in each of them because, to borrow Solzhenitsyn’s metaphor, they are like metastases of the same cancer striving to reproduce itself in every part of the globe.

Cuba in this regard is unique only by the hasty pace of the disease: it covered in thirty-two years what the Soviet Union achieved in seventy-three. Within a single generation, Cuba advanced from “revolutionary justice” to “socialist legality,” from liquidation of “class enemies” to “political re-education” and psychiatric treatment of those “apathetic to socialism.”

There are, of course, some differences, too. Strictly speaking, the Cuban regime, where the supreme leader combines in himself Lenin and Stalin, Khrushchev and Breshnev, does not need to employ psychiatric repression. Invented at the time of “peaceful coexistence,” perfected in the era of détente.

Soviet political psychiatry was intended as a camouflage, allowing the regime to present a more “liberal” image while continuing political repression. In the Cuban context, however, it became just another form of torture.There is no political need for sophisticated diagnostics, no sudden epidemic of “sluggish schizophrenia”[1] among dissidents, no Cuban equivalents to Dr. Lunts and Professor Morozov.[2]

Quite a few dissidents were actually diagnosed as sane, or not diagnosed at all, before being sent to the psychiatric gulag and subjected to electric shocks. I imagine even Dr. Lunts would have been outraged seeing such a barbaric application of his elaborate theories.

In short, this is not yet a political abuse of psychiatry as we know it, but rather a bad imitation of it by a not too bright apprentice. One wonders why did the Cuban comrades bother at all to borrow this latest achievement of socialism, if they are not using it properly?Could it be a result of a general Soviet pressure to “liberalize” the Cuban regime and make it more presentable? Or, was it just an instruction from Moscow, routinely dispatched to the outskirts of the empire and wrongly interpreted by a lazy official?

Perhaps we will never know.

The fact remains, however, that the first steps toward the political abuse of psychiatry have been made, and further developments are quite likely.

Once the political need for a more civilized image of the Cuban regime is accepted in Havana, new better dressed, and cleanly shaven leaders of the Cuban Revolution will appreciate the full potential of the Soviet invention.Then we will hear more and more stories about mental disorders afflicting Cuban society, and it will become much more difficult to cure than now.

Vladimir Bukovsky

Cambridge, England
[1] A diagnosis commonly used against Soviet dissidents in order to commit them to mental institutions. The concept of “sluggish” or “creeping” schizophrenia was developed by Professor Andre Snezhnevsky, whose diagnostic framework had a major impact on Soviet psychiatry until his death in 1987. For more on the role of diagnosis in the Cuban model, see pp. 21-22
[2] Dr. Daniil Lunts and Professor Georgy Morozov are probably the most infamous practitioners of Soviet psychiatric abuse. Lunts systematically perverted his diagnosis of human rights activists and other patients while serving at the notorious Serbsky Institute of Forensic Psychiatry in Moscow. Morozov served as the head of the Serbsky Institute.

Vladimir Bukovsky,Soviet dissident


World Organisation Against Torture, June 26, 2024

World Day in Support of Victims of Torture: States must strengthen commitment to ending torture

26 June 2024 On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United Against Torture Consortium calls on States to defend the progress made in the last decades in upholding human dignity by showing a greater commitment to ending torture worldwide.

Since its adoption almost 40 years ago, the UN Convention against Torture has provided a blueprint for States to make the global ban on torture and other ill-treatment a reality by establishing a set of measures, enshrined in law, designed to prevent this abhorrent practice, punish perpetrators, and provide justice and reparation, including rehabilitation, to victims.

Eradicating torture requires a collective effort involving survivors, civil society organisations, human rights defenders and others globally. It also calls for greater synergies between international and regional human rights protection mechanisms. The stakes are too high, and those defending human rights face significant obstacles, including abuses.

A broad legal consensus exists today on the absolute ban on torture, and systems of protection have become more robust. Still, torture and other forms of ill-treatment are far from being eradicated.

These inhumane practices remain prevalent in a wide range of contexts, including in armed conflict, prisons and other places of detention, such as police stations, hospital and social care settings, as well as during protests. They disproportionately impact marginalised communities and persons.

There are more armed conflicts than ever before, and torture is a feature of many of them

Widespread impunity and States’ failure to implement the existing international law and standards on the absolute prohibition of torture remain significant obstacles to eradicating these practices.

[ Full article ]

Diario de Cuba, June 25, 2024

Covert castigation: violations of the right to health in Cuban prisons

While ordinary prisoners’ health is compromised by ‘indifference and indolence, political prisoners are victims’ of ‘systematic attacks’ on their health through conditions of isolation, and illnesses, explains Juan Carlos González Leyva.

Raúl Medina Orama

Magalis González turns on the camera on her cell phone to post her umpteenth complaint on social media about the health of her son, Ismael Rodríguez González.

The young man, sentenced to seven years in prison in Cuba for the massive protests in July 2021 (11-J) lies near her, dazed and with swollen feet, after arriving from the Guanajay Penitentiary, west of Havana, where he is serving his sentence.

According to the legal consultancy firm Cubalex Ismael Rodriguez has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability, is a suicide risk, and has a personality disorder.

“In prison, Ismael is not given his medication, which is why he is ailing and suffering a full-blown crisis,” activist Marcel Valdés stated on social media, posting the video that Magalis sent him.

Ismael’s case is not exceptional within the Cuban prison system, characterized by widespread medical neglect.

Between March 1, 2023 and May 31, 2024, the Cuban Prison Documentation Center (CDPC) recorded 2,093 incidents of violated rights at detention and imprisonment centers, of which 739 were related to health problems and a lack of medical care ( 35.31%).

Among the most frequent violations documented over the last year related to health issues have been non-compliance with medical prescriptions, and failure by authorities to provide medicines, as is the case with Ismael.

Sometimes this is due to the general shortage of medicines affecting the country.

However, several prisoners, mainly political ones, have reported that when their relatives bring them medicines, the authorities do not accept them, or do not get them to the prisoners.

They have also reported sometimes being denied medical care as a form of torture. This includes everything from indolent guards in sensitive health situations to delays in taking inmates to medical appointments.

Because of this, some inmates’ health has been permanently damaged.

Other times, these situations have had deadly results.

Between March 1, 2023 and May 31, 2024, the CDPC registered 44 deaths in prison. Of these, 32 (72.73%) died as a result of the authorities’ torpor in providing them with medication or medical care.

In addition, the prisons’ deplorable sanitary conditions, overcrowding, and the food served lead to frequent outbreaks of tuberculosis, dengue, scabies, diarrhea, respiratory and skin diseases, as well as the existence of rodents, bed bugs and other insects, none of which are, generally, properly addressed by the prison authorities.

Another common complaint is failure to meet the requirements of inmates with special medical conditions, such as people living with HIV, chronic illnesses, or psychiatric disorders; and those who require special diets.

Attorney Juan Carlos González Leyva, who chairs the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs of Cuba, describes the scenario as “a total disaster…it is very difficult for a prisoner to obtain assistance from General Medicine.

There is no dental care, and when inmates have a fever, cold, or are affected by an outbreak of diarrhea, they must recover on their own. In the prisons they don’t give them any kind of medicine, even if they have dengue.”

A Right Denied

Dariel Ruiz Garcia wears a prosthesis on his left foot, and is nearsighted. He was locked up for almost two and a half years for participating in a peaceful protest in Aguacate, a town in the municipality of Madruga (Mayabeque) in August 2021.

At none of the facilities where he has been held – Melena del Sur Prison, and the El Paraíso labor camp – was his physical condition addressed.

“It’s not just people like me, with disabilities. Cuba’s prisons are not fit for any human being. The conditions are terrible, there are no medicines,” Ruiz García said in an interview with the CDPC.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) states that the right to health is “inclusive” for all people, without distinction, and that one’s financial situation does not exempt the State from guaranteeing “minimum essential levels of the right to health,” even under adverse circumstances.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners also state that medical care for prisoners is a responsibility of the State.

According to this regulation, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, each prison must have “a health care service in charge of evaluating, promoting, protecting and improving the physical and mental health of prisoners, in particular those with special health needs or problems.”

Article 70 of the Cuban Penitentiary System‘s regulations state that at incarceration centers compliance with health programs, under the responsibility of Interior Ministry’s Medical Services body, is guaranteed, in coordination with the corresponding Health Directorate.

In practice, however, the right to health of those imprisoned in Cuba is not guaranteed.

“There was a nursing station and a full-time doctor at the prison, but it was more for emergencies,” Dariel Ruiz recalls. “In fact, I was treated for my foot problem thanks to my family’s insistence. (…) but a lot of people don’t have that opportunity.”

According to the former political prisoner, whistle blowing on failures to provide medical assistance is punished. “The prisoners raised some issues, and then the authorities retaliated against them. They wanted people to bite their tongues,” Ruiz Garcia said.

According to Juan Carlos González Leyva, “the health care situation at prisons has deteriorated to the point that at some there’s no medical personnel at all, or medications, except for some specific ones that relatives manage to get to certain prisoners, or thanks to a donation.”

Mistreatment by prison staff aggravates the prisoners’ suffering. Dariel Ruiz remembers a fellow prisoner “with psychological problems, and some rods in his knees, that the guards pushed, handcuffed, from a second floor (…) and they put him in a cell, where he spent a month without any treatment.”

Another case he witnessed was that of Kevin, an inmate from Güines who was beaten by several guards and died shortly afterwards, allegedly due to the effects of the abuse:

“He began to have problems, he didn’t want to eat. It seems that he had a damaged organ or something. But they ignored his requests, and he died.”

According to Dariel, the authorities “stated that it was due to a digestive problem, because there the doctors, the court, and those at the prison are all part of the same regime, of the same dictatorship. The doctors have to say whatever they’re told to.”

Activist Carlos Ernesto Díaz González, known as “Ktivo Disidente” agrees that the doctors at Cuban prisons are not to be trusted.

He told the CDPC that, after a beating by prison personnel, they took him for what was supposed to be a checkup, but the doctor ignored most of his injuries.

“Many of the doctors who practice at these prisons should lose their licenses, because they sign a Hippocratic Oath that they do not honor,” he said.

Attorney González Leyva, who is in contact with dozens of inmates, and hears their complaints by phone, states that at prisons “there is no first aid, which is key in medical care; prisoners have heart attacks and spend hours lying on the floor, or in the infirmary.

Many times inmates have to bang on the bars for a long time before the guards respond, while the victim suffers severe chest pains.”

Sometimes, González Leyva explains, those who survive these incidents are not taken to a hospital equipped with the resources for intensive treatments. “Prisoners are not heard when they have a crisis or face a life-threatening situation.

The officials say they are pretending, and most of the time these situations result in the inmate’s death. Other times they are taken to the hospital, dying, after complaining for several days.”

Dariel Ruiz recalls that at the El Paraíso camp “they did not administer treatment” to inmate Jorge Luis Moreira Roja, from Madruga, who had cancer. “They gave him a furlough at the last minute. Shortly after leaving he was already dead.”

These precedents are alarming for human rights organizations because of the risk they pose to very sick people, many of them political prisoners, whose requests for release have been rejected by the authorities.

Amnesty International (AI) is carrying out a social media campaign calling on the Cuban government to stop “denying access to medical care” by prisoners, among other violations.

At the end of May it joined the CDPC to express in a statement “deep concern” about prisoner of conscience Loreto Hernández, arrested with his wife, Donaida Pérez for demonstrating on 11-J.

Hernández, sentenced to seven years, was hospitalized for several weeks in 2023. His family requested leave for health reasons. Despite the fact that a doctor provided by the State recommended his release, “a court denied it, such that Loreto Hernández’s health has remained at risk,” AI reported.

Hernández’s brother Jorge Luis García Pérez, known among opposition activists as “Antúnez,” states that the leader of the Yorubas Libres de Cuba organization “is the victim of a clinically induced assassination attempt by top political police officials.”

According to Antúnez, his brother’s health has greatly declined, leading to a “change in his skin color, traces of blood in his urine and stool, [and] frequent losses of consciousness (temporary fainting).”

The demands for Hernández’s release are bolstered by the outcomes of other cases, such as that of Fernando García Consuegra (66), who died on October 9, 2023 in Valle Grande prison (Havana) after a heart attack.

According to Cubalex, the inmate did not receive his required medication for two days, despite having been diagnosed by the prison’s own doctors. He was also not taken to an external hospital due to alleged transportation difficulties.

Cubalex concluded that it was “a flagrant violation of the inmate’s right to care, highlighting the Cuban State’s breach of its obligations.”

Insufficient Conditions to Live or Heal

In addition to worsening pre-existing health conditions, confinement in the Cuban prison system can cause new ailments.

According to Juan Carlos González Leyva, “the prison system in Cuba, far from healing, makes people sick, destroys them, due to its lack of food and because of the conditions where prisoners live, which are utterly unhygienic, without drinking water, and surrounded by flies. It’s totally unhealthy.”

According to the Office of the High Commissioner, factors such as “access to adequate water and sanitation facilities, (…) and adequate food and nutrition,” among others, must be taken into account to guarantee one’s right to health.

These conditions are not guaranteed at Cuban prisons. This year, as of May 31, the CDPC has recorded 158 complaints related to poor diets, precarious living conditions, and water supply problems.

Biologist and academic Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, arbitrarily tried for “contempt” in 2018 and sentenced to one year in prison, states that “the most shocking thing was the conditions in the cells.”

“You share a room with several inmates. The bathroom is shared; that is, you see everyone else defecating, urinating and washing. I didn’t have flip-flops, so to bathe I had to put my feet in the same ‘Turkish toilet’ where we defecated,” he stated.

In addition, “you had to store the drinking and bathing water, which came from reservoirs, untreated.”

According to the scientist, the water was “muddy, red and full of sediment” and they only supplied the inmates two hours a day. Diarrhea-related diseases are very common.

From January 1 to May 31, 2024 alone the CDPC  registered 35 complaints related to plagues and epidemiological outbreaks in prisons, which affect their general populations.

As for the food, Ruiz Urquiola said it was “spoiled,  to a large extent” and the rice “was full of worms. In the beans and peas there were flies, but you had to wave them aside and eat it. You had no choice.”

According to  lawyer and human rights defender Juan Carlos González Leyva, the underlying problem of poor food is “most serious that the prison population has in terms of health.”

For those who are already sick, “there are no medical diets, which also aggravates the prisoners’ health conditions,” something that (former) prisoners and family members have confirmed for the CDPC.

Yanay Solaya, a former 11-J political prisoner, told the CDPC that the pregnant inmates she met at the Western Women’s Prison, in El Guatao, “did not have [special] diets, it was the same food for everyone.”

For a friend of hers who was pregnant, “when her blood pressure rose, there were no medicines, there were no cars to get her to appointments, there was no gasoline, there was nothing (…) and they had to give her a furlough.”

Others don’t receive that benefit in time.

Political prisoner Luis Barrios Díaz (age 37) died on November 19, 2023, after respiratory complications aggravated by the authorities’ decision not to keep him at a hospital in Havana, according to information from the Cuban Human Rights Observatory.

He was granted a leave, apparently when the State considered his death imminent. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanded a “prompt” investigation into his death.

A Practice of Torture

Camila Rodríguez, Director of the CDPC, believes that the denial of medical assistance and medicines is consistent with a desire to cause harm to prisoners, especially those convicted for political reasons.

“It is critical for us to talk about denial of medical care as a form of torture,” Rodriguez said at a recent event organized by the AC Research and Advocacy Initiative and Amnesty International.

“We are not only talking about a crisis in Cuban prisons due to a lack of medicines and supplies. This is deliberate torture to punish, above all, political prisoners,” she added.

According to González Leyva, with the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs, while the health problems of ordinary prisoners are aggravated by the authorities’ “indifference and indolence … political prisoners are victims of systematic attacks on their health by limiting their diets, subjecting them to inhumane conditions, and inducing diseases.”

The Cuban Prisons Documentation Center publishes monthly reports on prison conditions, as well as lists of prisoners with delicate health situations.

The data and testimony collected by this program of the AC Research and Advocacy Initiative represent an underreporting of what really happens inside the prisons, since the Cuban State does not publish information about them, or allow independent organizations to access them.

Miami Herald,

Cuba must pay Cuban American brothers $2.6 billion for torture, federal judge says

A Colorado federal judge ruled that Cuba must pay $2.59 billion in damages to the children of Gustavo Villoldo Argilagos, a prominent businessman with dual Cuban and American citizenship whose sons said was harassed and forced to commit suicide by Fidel Castro’s close ally Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1959.  …

“Members of Castro’s security forces led by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara repeatedly accosted Mr. Villoldo and his family members at home and at their businesses,” the complaint says.

“Che Guevara, members of the rebel army and members of the Ministerio del Interior continued to threaten Mr. Villoldo, and they forcibly removed him from his home with machine guns held to his throat on several occasions.”

Castro’s forces arrested his two sons and beat and tortured Gustavo, the complaint adds.Guevara accused Villoldo Argilagos of treason, and he was told his family would be killed if he didn’t renounce his properties and kill himself, according to the allegations.

He was found dead by apparent suicide on Feb. 16, 1959.

[ Full article ]


No Country Magazine, May 14, 2021

Visual Arts

The Ten Days in Mazorra of Damaris Betancourt

By Carlos A. Aguilera


Although the use of “psychological profiling” was common practice in the European communist parties of the 20th century —including those carried out by the Stalinist Popular Socialist Party (PSP) in Cuba during the years of the Republic— as historian Julio César Aguilera recalls in a recent interview about his book El soviet caribeño. La otra historia de la revolución cubana (2018),[1]

it is also true that it was not until 1959 —at least on the island— that psychiatry became a state device, a functional fold of the punitive machine.

The latter is not only supported by The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba (1992),[2] the excellent study by Brown and Lago on the horror that twenty-seven political prisoners had to live through between the 1970s and 1980s at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital.

(Popularly known as Mazorra, having been founded in 1857 on land that bore that name), but documents such as those of the National Conference of Psychiatric Institutions in 1963, where the role of the new institution and its submission to the hygienic-ideological model that Castroism was struggling to put into practice is made clear:

[…] it is necessary to work together with the comrades of the Ministry of the Interior on this aspect, in the proposed law, in the future articles on the mental hygiene thing, of how these issues should be foreseen.

First foreseen, and also how they should be dealt with, how these issues should be defined, so that the Revolution has a defined criterion, not the criterion of the Ministry of Public Health or the Ministry of the Interior, but a criterion as a whole of the Revolution on these issues […].

We believe that at least it should be remarked that we are going to work together, with all the factors involved in this, in the treatment of these issues. And, furthermore, in the matter of mental hygiene, which undoubtedly mental hygiene cannot be, in a socialist country, considered apart from living conditions; that is to say, there is no mental hygiene without overcoming living conditions.

So, mental hygiene is being carried out, in any case, when making the Revolution and building socialism. But even that has to be included in the Law.[3]

A model which —as is well known— not only acted against the “dark areas” of society, that is, where crime affects the majority, but against homosexuals, dissidents, “elvispreslians,” “sons of bourgeois,” people who did not want to work, “sick people,” and against all those who did not fit in the sacrificial territory, in the pure image of the pure (and revolutionary) man that was demanded.

Had not Fidel Castro made this same demand very clear in his well-known “Closing speech for the VI anniversary of the assault to the presidential palace,” delivered in March 1963, where he not only asked for more production, but also imposed a sort of horizon of offering, of guilty devotion before the Moloch-revolution?

To work with enthusiasm always, no matter the obstacles, no matter the action of the enemy, no matter the ignorant! Reason is with us, we are in the right, we have the energy, we have the initiative, we have history with us![4]

Moloch that would have among its main virtues the one of showing the way to the “people” through punishment, voluntary work, null gratification, precariousness, collective vigilance and censorship… through applause.

Reason that, if we look at the countless number of people escaping by sea since the seventies, plus Camarioca (1965), Mariel (1980), the Rafting Crisis (1994), or the individual and massive defections in different countries…,

Cubans never fully grasped (on the contrary, all these escapes will eventually become one of the great economic and symbolic tragedies of totalitarianism), although in some areas or communities it has apparently been imposed.

One of these areas will be precisely mental health.

An area managed in Cuba from the psychopolitical sphere —to use one of the terms in vogue in Cuba in the sixties— something that, as can be inferred from the above, started much earlier, much, much, much earlier even than that National Conference of Psychiatric Institutions organized by the Ministry of Health.

Inaugurated only two years earlier, the medical services of the MININT and the —already by then— very well structured Cuban State Security, built from the old Stalinist center of the PSP and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) created by Raul Castro on the Sierra Maestra.

It began —it could be said— with that feature in Bohemia in 1959, “El hospital de dementes de Mazorra: una vergüenza nacional,”[5] and its narrowing of the whole past (the whole republic) to a locus occupied by evil, a compromise of “incapacitated men without conscience.”

Story that, as Pedro Marqués de Armas rightly qualifies in Ciencia y poder en Cuba (2014), was nothing more than the “old discourse of the Cuban frustration, now with particular emphasis on the opposition shamelessness/cleaning up, a duet that had been gaining strength since the 1940s”.[6]

(By the way, in the editorial of that same issue of Bohemia magazine, Batista’s “totalitarian regime” is compared to the concentration camps of Dachau and Lidice).

Is it not precisely this blank slate, this ideological-mental hyperbole that Castro’s terror takes advantage of to impose its vision, its identity vampirization?

This is what can undoubtedly be seen in two very different pieces that happen to have been created around the same years:

—Jesús Muñoz’s documentary, La revolución de Mazorra (1999); an agitprop film by the regime to show the “excellence” of its psychiatric institution, with distressing fragments of slavery and caricature, where patients receive constant orders and look like fake Stakhanovs.

—And Damaris Betancourt’s photographic series, Diez días en Mazorra (1998); a project of about one hundred images that with almost the same people and under very similar conditions achieves a very different punctum to Muñoz’s La revolución

In fact, with all those pictures of Che, those low-quality handicrafts and those little medals of the Ministry of the Interior and the Council of State, this office reminds you more of the office of the Cuban consuls in the embassies of the former socialist countries than of the office of a doctor or a chief physician in a hospital.

It reminds you —and this is not a minor detail— those rooms that in the first half of the 19th century all the madmen who wanted to look like Napoleon built at home with military fetishes.

Is there an exaggerated subjectivity in the subjects of power that at a certain scale makes them equal to the narcissist, the hallucinated, the exalted, the catatonic?

Possibly yes, although what I can be sure of is that both these images and those I remember of Bernabé Ordaz in some documentaries, with his white gloves and his beard always trimmed in black, always seemed to me closer to some kind of clinical disorder than to someone focused on his factory-hospital.

To the loony of the moment.

A loony who would not have been so dangerous if he had not been a military man himself, if he had not turned the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana into one of the torture chambers of Villa Marista since 1959, and if he had been less omnipresent in the heads of the sick and in Mazorra’s pabopticons.