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Calixto, the Resolute

Calixto, the Resolute* / Lilianne Ruiz

Posted on April 15, 2013

This past Tuesday, the Cuban authorities finally acknowledged Calixto R.

Martinez Arias's right to go free, after he had served more than six

months in prison, initially for the crime of "insulting the leadership

figures of the Revolution." He had no trial.

Martinez Arias twice engaged in what is known in the post-1959 history

of Cuban political prisoners as "taking a stand" (literally, "planting

oneself"): he declared a hunger strike. In the first, he went 33 days

without eating, the second, 22. Until, after the second strike, it was

reported by state security that his case had been reviewed and they had

"understood" his demand for freedom.

"I started the first hunger strike to protest my stay in the Combinado

del Este prison," Martinez Arias said. "I also refused to wear prison

garb. When an inmate declares a hunger strike, the guards use many

methods to make them quit. The first thing they say is that you are

committing a disciplinary infraction, which hurts your eiligibility for

rights such as conditional parole, and for family and conjugal visits.

And ultimately they take you to the infirmary where the doctor will take

your vital signs and issue you a "suitable cell" notice, which means

just that: you are fit to be taken to the punishment cells."

"The punishment cell measures about 6 by 8 feet. It has no light. It has

a "Turkish" toilet, and a water basin you can access twice a day, when

the guards allow. There were days when they refused me water because a

captain who claimed to be the second-in-command of Building 3, where I

was detained, said that I could not drink water and took it away from me.

"By day you have to lie on the floor or stand. To that end, they remove

the mattress. They left me my clothes, but took away anything with which

I might cover myself. I spent very cold days, especially during the

first strike. The cells are very wet and very cold, deliberately

prepared to be that way. There were times when I had to sleep sitting on

the floor, up against the wall, because the guards would come very late

to give me the mattress. Lying on the floor you can contract a lung

disease from the cold and moisture. The floor is very dirty because the

cells are not cleaned. There are many insects: enormous rats, droves of

cockroaches. It is a sacrifice that you have to make, convinced that it

is all designed to psychologically torture you.

"During the second hunger strike, of 16 days, they took me to what they

call 'the increased' area, which is more severe. Then they took me out

of there after one day to an even harsher cell. There the conditions

were more brutal. They kept a surveillance camera on me at all times;

they never turned off the light."

In the second hunger strike, Martinez Arias started bleeding profusely

from his gums and his teeth began to fall out. He lost 45 pounds. But he

says: "I became a lot stronger."

The "Official Organ of the Communist Party of Cuba," the newspaper

Granma, on Wednesday April 10, published an account of the "good

conditions" in which prisoners live in Cuban jails. Regarding this,

Martinez Arias said:

"This is an absurdity. I can assure you that they began preparing this

article in December. In the month of December they informed us that

journalists from the national and foreign press accredited in Cuba were

going to visit the Combinado del Este prison. Major Rodolfo, who is in

charge of the building where I was, a building for 'pendings,' explained

to us that the visitors would not be given access to our building

because of the appalling conditions. Prisoners there live in a state of

overcrowding, because every day many 'pending' prisoners enter.

"It also has many leaks, and the bathrooms are in an extremely

unsanitary condition. The building should be declared uninhabitable.

Rodolfo explained that he was not going to take visitors there, because

of these conditions, and that this was not a bad decision because, and I

can almost quote him verbatim, 'when a visitor comes to your house, you

want to show him the best, not the worst parts.' For that reason, he

said, they were going to repair a wing of building No.1. The foreign

media should not be allowed to have access to the punishment cells. In

fact, in none of the pictures they showed are these cells seen."

In Cuba, the exercise of the right that everyone has to seek, receive,

and distribute information, by any means of expression, without

limitation by borders—as stated in Article 19 of the Universal

Declaration of Human Rights—may be considered a crime. But on occasion,

to put an independent journalist in prison, as in the case of Martinez

Arias, the authorities bring charges of common crimes against him, to

deflect the political nature of the arrest.

On September 16, 2012, Martinez Arias had been inquiring of some

terminal-workers near Jose Marti International Airport about a batch of

medical aid provided by international humanitarian organizations to

address the outbreak of cholera and dengue and that, because of official

mismanagement, had spoiled.

On leaving the airport, as he and others took shelter from the rain,

perched on the benches of a bus stop to avoid the puddles, a patrol car

arrived and gave them all tickets; but Martinez Arias was transferred to

the police unit of Santiago de las Vegas on the charge of being

"illegally" in Havana, having an address of the province of Camagüey.

Martinez Arias claimed in his defense that "the brothers Fidel and Raul

Castro are natives of the province of Oriente."

"Immediately" said the self-described activist "the police handcuffed

me, took me to a dark hallway, and beat me hard."

The police who detained and beat him then accused him of "insulting the

figures of the leaders of the revolution." He was automatically moved to

the Valle Grande prison, and from there, as punishment for continually

denouncing through his colleagues the human rights abuses of the prison

population, he was taken to the maximum-security Combinado del Este prison.

During the first hunger strike, State Security informed Martinez Arias

that the prosecutor's petition stated that he had been "insulting" and

"resistant", for having offended a policeman.

"If I had reacted during the beating they gave me by dodging a blow, or

by landing a defensive blow to the policeman who was giving me the

beating, I would have been accused of 'attacking,'" Calixto said. Police

in Cuba can feel "offended" and "attacked" if you don't react with

absolute passivity to their arbitrariness and brutality, and then they

fabricate the charges of "insult" and "attack", respectively, resulting

in the person's imprisonment.

Martinez Arias believes that the visibility conferred by having been

declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, together

with the solidarity of human-rights activists, independent journalists

in Cuba, and many foreign media with the participation of Cubans living

abroad, managed to send a message to the government of Raul Castro that

a person imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression

is not alone, and you cannot keep them in prison subjected to cruel,

inhumane, and degrading treatment without paying a high political cost

that limits your room to maneuver with impunity.

*Translator's note: Literally "the planted one"

Translated by: Tomás A.

This post appeared originally in Cubanet.org

12 April 2013

http://translatingcuba.com/calixto-the-resolute-lilianne-ruiz/

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