Freed dissidents say disease was rampant at Cuban jails

15th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Cuban dissidents recently released by Havana said Thursday disease was rampant in the damp, crowded and rat-infested prisons where they were held.

"The hygiene and health situation was not bad, it was worse than bad," Julio Cesar Galvez told reporters in Madrid, two days after arriving in Spain with six other dissidents.

"We lived with rats, cockroaches, scorpions and excrement. There were outbreaks of dengue fever, or tuberculosis," he added.

Galvez was among a first batch of 52 dissidents authorized to leave the country in the biggest release of political prisoners by Cuba in over a decade.

The 65-year-old, who was serving a 15-year sentence for secretly working for US media outlets such as the Voice of America, said not enough drinking water was provided for the prisoners and food often came mixed with dirt.

"The soup was called giraffe's soup because because you had to crane your neck to see what was inside it," he said.

Galvez said up to 40 prisoners at the Villa Clara prison where he was serving his sentence were packed into cells measuring a few square metres,

There was just one tank with 50 gallons (190 litres) of water that was replenished only once a day.

Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso, another one of the dissidents who arrived Tuesday, said political prisoners were placed in jails hundreds of kilometres (miles) from their hometowns so as to separate them from their families.

The constant damp in the jails had affected many of them, the 60-year-old said. "Many people became physically sick."

Alfonso was serving a 20-year prison term for secretly working for the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The seven dissidents who arrived on Tuesday were accompanied by 33 close family members. Four more dissidents arrived on Wednesday and Thursday along with 25 family members.

Cuba announced on July 7 that it had reached a deal with the Roman Catholic Church to gradually free 52 detainees. The deal came after dissident hunger striker Guillermo Farinas nearly starved to death.

Spain, the former colonial power in Cuba and the largest foreign investor in the country, helped broker the deal between the Cuban government and the Church.

Madrid has said it is willing to receive all the freed detainees, who were sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of between six and 28 years.

© 2010 AFP

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