We end the year 2017 with a regrettable report of 12 documented deaths in Cuba of a political nature with a dreadful awareness that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Following are brief profiles of the reported victims. Three died in mysterious circumstances, at least two are strongly suspected to have been victims of extrajudicial killings. All cases denote the extreme human suffering and injustice taking place in Cuba, moslty ignored by the world. We remember those who paid the highest price, including those who remain unknown.
Dr. Teresa Castillo Sotto, age 27, died the night of June 13, 2017, in Caracas, Venezuela, in circumstances reported by Venezuelan media outlets as ¨mysterious." An "internationalist" on assignment from Cuba, the young doctor fell (jumped or was pushed) from the 8th floor of a building in her residential complex at Venezuela's largest military installation Fort Tiuna. She died on the spot of multiple fractures and head trauma. Cuban officials immediately on site prevented the customary forensic examination by local police and took the body to a morgue, then shipped it to Cuba the following day. Venezuelan journalists were told Dr. Castillo had committed suicide after finding texts in her husband's phone from another woman, however, the doctor appeared as single on her personal profile on Facebook. It was reported that she had made adverse remarks on the situation of Venezuela. A journalist in Miami with sources inside Cuba reported that Dr. Castillo had a close relationship with an official of Venezuela's National Guard who had been arrested by Venezuelan intelligence, SEBIN, for involvement with the opposition. Apparently, Dr. Castillo had been pressured to inform on him and she had committed suicide unable to deal with her betrayal or had been pushed to her death.
Another internationalist, Dr. Roger Vega Tabares, age 46, died December 22, 2017 at his residence in Portoviejo, Ecuador, with neck wounds and of undetermined causes that were initially explained as a probable suicide.
Cuba's "internationalist cooperation" by way of medical missions and export temporary work in many different fields, is a gigantic global business that constitutes Cuba's principal source of revenues. (See our report.) Among the many regrettable consequences of this form of modern slavery, many workers, especially doctors, are sent to perilous locations in crime-infested or remote areas of third world countries. Dozens, if not hundreds, have died.
Adrián Sosa Blanco, age 48, a well-known member, of Cuba's peaceful opposition, was found dead in his home on March 7, 2017. The family requested an investigation of his strange death, as he was in good health. His body was found cyanotic from head to shoulders and with a swollen abdomen. The cause of death was certified as a pulmonary thrombosis, but the usual autopsy was not performed for unexplained reasons. Sosa participated in several peaceful opposition groups and endured persistent harassment from authorities; a State Security agent was known to visit his home.
Since Raúl Castro took charge in Cuba in 2006, at least 17 political opponents have died in mysterious circumstances' most are strongly suspected of having been killed or led to their death by agents of the state. In addition, on December 12, the esteemed activist of the Ladies in White movement, Ada María López, died of an unexpected illness. Although the family has made statements blaming the Cuban regime, as of yet Cuba Archive has been unable to verify reports pointing to any resposibility by state agents. (Stay tuned for a coming report, but feel free to search our database by Victim Type and/or Year or any other search criteria.)
Another political opponent died this year in prison of sudden and mysterious health issues: Hamel Mas Hernández, age 45, died February 24, 2017 at Combinado del Este prison of Havana, denied medical care for a condition developed in prison. The political prisoner was a member of the peaceful opposition group UNPACU and had been deprived of his freedom since June 2016, accused of disrespect (“desacato”) and public disobedience after participating in a peaceful protest in Havana. He was awaiting trial; the prosecution was asking for a 4-year prison sentence. Prison authorities informed the family he had died of a heart attack. Four days earlier, during a prison visit, his wife had found him to have lost around 35 pounds in three weeks and learned he allegedly had a kidney infection, for which he was not receiving medical treatment. Mas had never had kidney problems.
In 2017, Cuba Archive received reports with names and circumstances of death of seven men and two women who died in prisons or detention centers in Cuba --two were assassinated by prison authorities (extrajudicial executions) and seven were denied medical care for seemingly treatable conditions.
Following are brief summaries of the other deaths in prison (aside from that of Mas Hernández, above).
Erick Acosta Ochotorena, age 34, was beaten to death October 20, 2017 on the 3rd day of his detention at a police unit at Zanja street, Havana. Martinoticias.com has graphic pictures of the body, that was clearly autopsied. This case raises questions we have posed previously given allegations of bodies missing parts and of suspected organ trafficking. (See our report of several cases in recent years.) Meanwhile, the Cuban state advertises internationally the business of organ transplants in Cuba and reports to the World Health Organization a high rate of kidney transplants, yet the results are not observed in the local population.
Rafael Arredondo Jardines, died at the Melena del Sur prison, Mayabeque province, around June 2017. The common prisoner was beaten by prison guards while his hands were tied. According to 17 fellow prisoners in a letter to the United Nations, the beating caused his death. The missive also reported that four other prisoners (names unknown) had died at the same prison thus far in 2017, subjected to mistreatment, violence, and extremely poor conditions, in circumstances yet to be clarified.
Angel Manuel Cabrera, age 21, died August 6, 2017 at Prison 1580 of San Miguel del Padrón, Havana, Cuba. The common prisoner died during an asthma attack, denied medical treatment.
Ramón Garbey Hinojosa, a young man (exact age unknown), died November 10, 2017 at Hospital Clínico Quirúrgico of Santiago de Cuba. He had been kept in a prison for persons with HIV-AIDS without trial for a year after being arrested without evidence of cause at La Fraternidad park of Havana, a gathering spot for the gay community. He was HIV positive, had contracted tuberculosis in prison, and had not been told he had hepatitis C or given any medical treatment. His father, a well-known boxer who had emigrated from Cuba, was denied entry into the country to visit him in his death bed or to attend his funeral.
Ramón Hernández Medina, age 45, died May 5, 2017 at the Augusto César Sandino detention center of Pinar del Río, Cuba. He had been serving a prison sentence of 8 years and a few months earlier had been hospitalized in the prison for a month after suffering a heart attack. Returned to his cell despite his objections, he insisted he did not feel well enough and had told his family he was not receiving adequate medical attention. A day before his death, he had told a prison guard he felt ill, but the man ignored him. The following day, he died of a massive heart attack.
Dulce Luna Castillo, age 39, died May 26, 2017 at the Women's Prison of El Guatao, Havana, Cuba, four hours into an asthma attack. She had received no medical treatment, as there were no doctors at the prison. A woman prisoner age 39, known only by her alias “La Morena,” had died February 21, 2017 at the same prison of cardiac arrest a few hours after complaining of not feeling well. Although she suffered from high blood pressure, she was denied medical care, told to have a soda or coffee.
Hugo Riverón Aguilera, age 59, died July 8, 2017 at the Hospital Vladimir Ilich Lenin of Holguín, Cuba, after 57 days on a hunger strike. His desperate protest demanded a revision of his criminal case, which authorities refused. He had been condemned to six years in prison for allegedly stealing a horse, but denied all charges. The horse was later found.
Innumerable deaths in Cuba’s prisons
Given extreme difficulties in gathering information in Cuba, it is impossible to make even a rough estimate of deaths in prison. Nonetheless, the high number of prison facilities and detention centers (at least 200) subjecting a huge prison population (widely understood to far surpass the last official figure of 57,337 in 2012) to excessively harsh conditions lead to the conclusion that the actual annual death toll is in the high hundreds at best.
Just since Raúl Castro took the helm in Cuba in July of 2006, Cuba Archive has documented 204 deaths in prisons or detention centers despite minimal reporting. In recent years, especially since prisoners of conscience serving long sentences were released to Spain in 2010, reports from inside the prisons, already meager, have dwindled almost to a halt. International bodies are not allowed to monitor or inspect Cuban prisons and local independent human rights organizations are not even allowed to exist.
Many current and former prisoners —political or not— have reported on the persistent physical and verbal abuse, severe overcrowding, poor nutrition, terrible sanitary conditions, undrinkable water, and lack of medical attention in prisons all over Cuba. These conditions cause many severe physical and emotional ailments, usually left untreated, and lead to many deaths, including by suicide. Beatings and murders by prison guards and criminals in the prison population are also reported.
Most of the victims are young men, often Afro-Cuban, serving prison for “crimes” that are aberrations illustrative of the Stalinist nature of the system. These legal anomalies include pre-criminal social dangerousness. Article 72 of Cuba´s Penal Code criminalizes the proclivity to commit a crime, or “conduct manifestly contrary to the norms of socialist morality.” Article 73 defines dangerousness as arising from a proclivity to alcoholism or drunkenness, drug consumption, and “antisocial conduct,” the latter remaining undefined and, thus, subjective and arbitrary. People are, for example, imprisoned for this cause simply for not being employed, regardless of the fact that most of the economy is state-controlled and, thus, jobs are lacking from the failures of the centrally-planned socialist model. Another legal anomaly is the high number of persons serving prison for economic “crimes” unheard of in civilized countries. In fact, the system producing systematic scarcity criminalizes consumption to meet basic needs. Having anything forbidden, from a piece of meat to a bag of cement, commands years of prison. Even killing one’s own cow without government permission —to feed one's own family— can result in 25 years of prison (this is no exaggeration, we know of such cases).
Ùntil the beginning of December of this year, there had been at least 4,665 arbitrary detentions of political activists and human rights' defenders in Cuba, as documented by the Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de Cuba (https://observacuba.org). This is an average of around 14 per day, not accounting for unreported cases. Many involved, at the onset, an enforced disappearance (see our recent report). Yet, in 2009, Cuba ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The United Nations, however, has not enforced compliance.
No reports of deaths in exit attempts from Cuba were received in 2017, although some might have occured and gone unreported. The end of systematic admittance (parole) of Cubans into the United States has significantly curtailed the large and perilous exodus by sea and land that has led to many deaths and disappearances over the course of decades.
The cost in lives of the Cuban Revolution: our work to date
See Cuba Archive's work-in-progress report of close to 10,000 documented deaths and disappearances, of which 7,325 are attributed to the Cuban state during the Castro dictatorship. 382 cases are attributed to the state under Raúl Castro, since July 2006, including 51 extrajudicial killings (reported or suspected), 120 from denial of medical care or health reasons, and 52 suicides. See our database to search for individual cases or lists of cases according to different criteria (dates, locations, cause of death, etc.)
We believe that many cases occurring in Cuba (historic and ongoing) remain unreported or undocumented, but we are constantly investigating and adding records or editing existing ones. Your help is greatly appreciated if you have any direct information of any occurrence(s). We must, however, always bear in mind that the actual cost in lives of the Cuban revolution is in the hundreds of thousands, as there are countless victims of Cuba-sponsored subversion, terrorism, and wars in many countries in several continents.
We end on a hopeful note
Best wishes to you and your loved ones in 2018.
May the New Year bring prosperity, peace, and harmony to the world, and may winds of freedom blow for Cuba and all nations living in oppression.
Many thanks to all who supported and followed our work this year.