'Being in prison should not deprive one of his human rights'
Rolando Ferrer Espinosa is the coordinator of the Frente Antitotalitario Unido (FANTU), the organization of which Guillermo Fariñas is the national coordinator. A lawyer by trade, Ferrer was incarcerated between 1999 and 2006, mainly in Manacas Prison, also known as La Alambrada, in Santo Domingo, in the province of Villa Clara, from which he hails.
Rolando Ferrer was a counterintelligence officer. After leaving the Interior Ministry (MININT) he created the Independent Association of Veterans of the FAR and MININT. On July 25, 1999, just days after the Association was created, he was arrested, tried and sentenced to prison. This interview speaks of his experience in the prison at Manacas, the solitary confinement cells, the cruelty of the officers at the prison, the attempt to kill him, and his daughter’s birth. But also about perseverance and the hope of those who still yearn to see full democracy in Cuba.
Rolando Ferrer is also a member of the Campaña #Otro18 management group for an Election Law that does not prevent people from participating in the selection of their political representatives.
What is a solitary confinement cell like?
In solitary they get you up at 6:00 am. There you have to take out the board that functions as a frame, your mattress, and all your belongings, and you're left with nothing until 10:00 pm, when they finish the count, and you get your things back. Once a day a prisoner comes by, the pasillero, who brings you water to drink and to wash in this receptacle. There is no water in the cell.
There is a window about 180 cm up. The front of the cell gives onto the hallway, and it's all bars. The hallway is 60 to 70 cm higher than the cell, so you're in a kind of hole.
Do you have to go down to enter it?
In that hole, a square that measures just 160 cm or 170 m cm, there’s an iron bed, secured to the floor, so you don't have much space. In a corner there is what we call a turco: a hole with two concrete grips, where you stand, with a hole in the center to relieve yourself. You have to take care of all your physiological needs there, even bathe, because that's the only drain there is.
In the morning they bring you breakfast, maybe an orange tea with a little sugar and a bit of bread. Other times it what´s the prisoners call Shiralad, a kind of cereal with a very unpleasant taste. Really bad. You'll never it see again in your life. Only there. Tea, Shiralad, or just lukewarm water with sugar.
It´s the same for lunch and dinner: a bit of dirty rice, with up worms up to 2 cm. Huge. To drink, water with a kind of animal lard. When it was cold it formed a sort of cream on top. They told you it was peas or beans, but you couldn´t find any peas or beans there. Sometimes they gave you a slice of boiled banana, and a little sliver of bread. And that was the menu.
In prison you go very hungry. Those inmates who have no family are more likely to cooperate with the police when they ask them to, because they're hungry and they get more food that way. Prisoners do many things in prison just to get more food.
In solitary there is no light. There is a little one in the middle of the hallway, along which there are ten cells. There, in the middle of the hallway, there's one light. In the cell you can’t read, because during the day you don´t have your things, and then at night, when they give them back, there’s not enough light to read.
I spent most of my time in prison in solitary cells.
Did you perceive any solidarity when you were in prison?
Besides some isolated cases, like a prisoner who warned me that they wanted to kill me, the only solidarity I saw came from the other political prisoners. There was a man from Guantanamo. Leoncio.
Was he a political prisoner?
Is. He's still a prisoner.
In that prison?
No, they transfer him all around Cuba. He spent some time in Manacas. Almost the whole time I was there. Later they removed him, and then they brought him back again.
Describe him physically.
No! The worst part is that I was never able to see him! He was in one cell and I was in another!
Yes, the prisoners don't see each other.
What about when they removed him from solitary, in the prison?
No, that guy never got out of there at all. I spent some time in solitary. They'd take me out and put me back, but not him. When they took him out it was to transfer him out of the province, and I didn't see him.
Was there any experience in prison you'd like to share?
All the stages and little things in prison leave their mark on you. On one occasion the head of the reeducation process, then first lieutenant Julio Riscart, tried to recruit some prisoners to stab me. One of those prisoners tipped me off, and convinced others not to do it. I then sent for my mother, Florentina Espinosa Pérez, who always supported me, and who showed up with representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office for the Enforcement of the Law at Penitentiaries (CLEP). The CLEP is attached to the Prosecutor’s Office, not the Interior Ministry (MININT).
There was then a meeting at the office of the warden, Major Armando. Julio Riscart was also there, as the official in charge of reeducation and involved in the matter. Also there was the head of the "Secret Operational Service" (TOS), and that of Internal Order, named Alexis. My mom stayed outside.
They asked me to reveal the name of the prisoner who told me about the planned attack. The Prosecutor asked me to cooperate in that regard. I stated that I was willing to reveal his name, but in a criminal court, against military officers, where I would accuse first lieutenant Julio Riscart of seeking to recruit a prisoner to stab me. At that point they dropped it. In his opinion the Prosecutor ended up concluding: "Ferrer cannot be touched, not even with a ten-foot pole."
Then they changed their version and made it look like it was the prisoners who wanted to kill me. As a "security measure" they sent me to solitary, where I spent five months.
Another event that shaped me in jail was the birth of my daughter, Daliana Ferrer Cepero, on March 9, 2004. She is my second daughter. My first was from another marriage. They were supposed to take me immediately to register her, but they didn't. It took them two weeks, during which my wife, Zuleika Cepero Méndez, and my mom had to buy food at inflated prices, because without the registration they didn't give them her milk or food due them.
When they took me to enroll my daughter, the civil servant said: "Take off the cuffs so he can sign." And the guards said: "No, we have orders not to remove his handcuffs, under any circumstances." I signed and asked them to let me hold my baby. They said: "Five minutes." I held my little girl, though I was still cuffed. Five minutes later they said "Come on." My mom wanted to give me a snack for the road, but they wouldn´t allow it.
When we got back to prison I sat on my bed, the inmates saw me with tears in my eyes, and they asked me: "What is it, Sergeant? Is the girl sick? Was there a problem?" I told them: "The girl is fine. But I'm trying to remember her face and I can't." I couldn´t remember my child's face, and that caused me such pain that I had to cry. I can remember that pain now, perfectly.
How did your jail time make you more sensitive to the plight of prisoners?
In an independent Cuba the living conditions for prisoners should be improved, affording them lives of more dignity.Being in prison should not deprive one of his human rights. You should not be denied your right to adequate food, and enough of it, and to education, or to continue being a human being. Because in Cuba's prisons inmates are no longer people. They become things, and if you don’t understand that you’ve become a thing, your future is in peril, whether because your sentence drags on and on, or you don´t survive.