Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Cuba's Population: 11.3 millions.
Worldwide Ranking: Cuba has the fifth largest inmate population in the world with 531 prisoners for every 100,000 inhabitants. 
Latin American Ranking: Cuba is ranked as the second nation with the largest inmate population per inhabitants in Latin America and the Caribbean

Source Consulted:
For statistical information on the number of prisoners per inhabitants in Cuba and worldwide see Roy Walmsley, World Prison Population List, Eighth Edition (King College, London, December, 2009), 1 & 3. 

Cuba: The Prison Island
Map of Cuba's Prisons. Legend from top to bottom:
1. Maximum Security Prisons. (Yellow)
2. Minimum Security Prisons. (Red)
3. Correctional/Reform Prisons.(Blue)
Cuba's Largest Prison
Built in 1975. 
Hidden Camera inside El Combinado del Este Prison."En las Entrañas del Combinado del Este" by Dalvinder Singh Jagpal (inmate) and Dania Virgen García (independent journalist/reporter).

Aerial view of Combinado del Este
This picture of a prison cell known as "La Gaveta/The Drawer" corresponds to the Prison of Manzanillo, but a similar one exists at Combinado del Este. As a form of torture prison officials confine up to 15 political and non political prisoners for prolonged periods of time. It has been reported that prisoners are kept here for 8-10 months.  The small dimensions of the cell force prisoners to lie down all the time. Prisoners have to defecate and urinate in an extremely limited space and cannot stand up as the ceiling is very low.
Punishment cell or 'La Gaveta'

Isolation cells or 'Las Tapiadas/Blocked Cells in Combinado del Este Prison.
Replica of the confinement cell "Solitario" where opposition leader Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet was imprisoned at the Combinado del Este Prison  for nearly 8 years. Photo from Dr. Biscet's Blog
This torture is commonly known by prison guards in Cuba as 'La Shakira' A prisoner's hands and feet are tied down to his back. The prisoner is then thrown in a rodent infected cell and left there for 48 hours. The name of this torture uses the name of the Colombian singer as a form of mockery and denigration to the dignity of the prisoner who is forced to move his hips desperately in response to the painful position he is in.

Drawing of Dr. Biscet's cell at Combinado del Este. Photo from Dr. Biscet's Blog

Whereabouts of the Combinado del Este Prison: Kilometro 13 y medio y Carretera Monumental. Ciudad Habana, Cuba

Prison Layout: 3 Buildings known as 1, 2 and 3 with 4 floors (height) each. 

Political Prisoners: Political prisoners are confined within  a section of 'Building 1' 

Demographics: An estimate of 5,000 prisoners (Common and Political Prisoners).  

Food:  Unfit for human consumption:  30 grams of rice, 5 grams of a mixture from flour and soy ground beef, a watered/insipid pea soup. Every 15 days prisoners receive a small piece of chicken. 
Jail Cells: 3 meters in width, 6 meters in length, 2 meters in height. Usually in 1 cell there are 8 prisoners. 3 single-persons bed separated by 50 centimeters from each other. 

 Hygiene: Absence of the most basic hygiene is prevalent. Cells are infested with roaches, rats and mosquitoes. Roofs sealed with nylon on top to prevent bathroom residues from falling down. Water is scarce and not drinkable. Prison authorities do not provide disinfectants and prohibit prisoners' families from bringing them when they visit.

Overall:  Inhuman conditions as it has been reported and denounced by reports from political prisoners. 

Sources consulted:
Roy Walmsley, World Prison Population List, Eighth Edition (King College, London, December, 2009)
Reynol Vicente Sanchez, "Open Letter to Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo"
Juan O. Tamayo, "Cuban Inmates Complain of Poor Conditions" El Nuevo Herald (March 14, 2012)
Photos from 'El Combinado del Este Prison' extracted from section 'Carceles de Cuba' in forum Secretos de Cuba and Google Search 

Available Online Resources on Combinado del Este Prison:
Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, "Cuban Prisoners said to Make Videos Exposing Prison Conditions" CNN (March 16, 2012) 
CBS4, Inside Cuba's Prison Walls (March 16, 2012)Reynol 
Oscar Elias Biscet,  To the New York Academy of Sciences (September 11, 2008). At the time Dr. Biscet wrote this letter he was confined to cell 1232, Building 1, Hall 2S at Combinado del Este Prison where he was imprisoned for 8 years.
Vicente Sanchez, "Open Letter to Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo"
Yamil Dominguez, Combinado del Este
Yoanis Sanchez, "A Visit to Cuba's Largest Prison" The Huffington Post (June 27, 2011)
Hiram Abí Cobas Nuñez, Combinado del Este: Una Carcel Pequeña Tras Otra Grande (Of Human Rights, 1991)
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, Inter-American Yearbook on Human Rights, 1988
Armando Valladares, Against All Hopes: the Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares (Ballantine Books, 1987)

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