A Conversation with Anderlay Guerra Blanco
By Luis Felipe Rojas
Cuban blog: Crossing the Barbed Wire
Anderlay Guerra Blanco
Q – You got out of prison a few months ago, on August 18th, 2009. For how long were you jailed and in which prisons?
A – I spent four years jailed in Guantanamo’s Provincial Prison. The sentence was because of an “illegal attempt to leave the country”. During those four years, I was never transferred to any other prison, so everything I saw and learned about Cuban prisons was taught to me right there, in the infamous “Combinado”.
Q – Did you witness tortures and punishments in Guantanamo’s Combinado Provincial Prison? If so, tell me about them.
A – The prison guards use several forms of punishment against the inmates, but the most humilliating ones are the beatings they give to men who are in handcuffs. From those abuses, the “Shakira” is the most outrageous. Batons and sticks are used to beat the man up, after he has been handcuffed. Then, the inmate is left in a punishment cell for 24 or 48 hours.
Q – “Shakira”, why that name?
A – The “Shakira” is the worst method of torture that I saw in that place. Since the individual is handcuffed with both hands and feet tied to his back, and later is thrown in the dirty floor of a punishment cell, he is left in an extremely uncomfortable position. When he tries to make any movement, the only part of his body that moves are his hips. Can you imagine the irony?
They have established the parallel with the singer that happily dances moving her hips in a very peculiar way, with the way the inmate copes with the pain and the uncomfortable position. I saw men there who urinated and defecated in that position because thye are held like that for 24 or 48 hours. Besides, there are different variations of that same torture. The chain that ties hands and feet can be lengthened or shortened. If they shorten it, the inmate can only rest his chest in the dirty, humid and putrid floor they share with insects and rodents. The decision to stop the punishment comes from the guards when they want to, if the inmate is to much of a “rebel” or if the “infringement” is considered severe, he is left like that for a longer time.
There is even a variation of the “Shakira” where the inmate is literally hung from the ceiling of punishment cell, through the chains that tie his hands and feet. This lacerates the skin, leaving permanent scars in wrists and ankles.
Q – That name, “Shakira”, was the idea of Guantanamo Prison’s guards?
A – As far as I know, no, it was not the idea of Guantanamo’s guards. There, it was said that way to torment a man was initially used in the Kilo 8 prison in Camaguey, and in Boniato prison, in Santiago de Cuba. Later on, they started using it in Guantanamo.
When the guards decide they want to punish someone, first of all, they handcuff the man like that and beat him up before putting him in the punishment cell in that position. That’s why I told you it is humiliating for everyone, but the cruelty is worse when it is a prisoner that it is there for political reasons, or when the inmate shouts off against the government or when they engage in hunger strikes to demand to be taken to a doctor or what they call “their prisoner’s rights.”
Q – Those punishment methods are, obviously, applied by the so-called re-educators with the OK of the prison wardens and the higher up organizations that manage the prisons. Could you give me more details on how this impunity mechanism works?
A – Sure, that is an open secret and everybody in the prison knows about it, from the unfortunate who receives the punishment to the higher ups in the Interior Department, the warden in the “Combinado” Prison. Furthermore, the higher command outside the prison’s system also know about it.
Sometimes, even the guards tell you “I can do this or that to you, I can kill you and nothing will happen” or they scream at you “I’m authorized to do this to you!”, but again, everything ends there. Nobody “sees it” or nobody “wants to see it.” Then, to add insult to injury, you hear officials from the Cuban government going around the world and saying that Cuba has the most humane prison system on the planet.
Q – Those guards that allow or apply the beatings and the tortures, could you name some of them?
A: Captain Jesus Bouli Robles, ex-chief of interior in the prison, was – while I was there – the main character aiding and abetting the use of those beatings every time he issued the order “make him feel uncomfortable.” Right after he uttered those words, the guards would go ahead and apply the “Shakira” to the inmate. The other one who did it was Lieutenant Jose Sanchez Noblet, second in command.
Both of them are the most repressive officers that province’s prison has known; they even beat up minors.
Those individuals have been denounced and accused in the tribunals by the family members, but the Cuban government has never taken any action against them. Many relatives that have gone through that path, of claiming investigations, think that it is convenient for the province’s authorities that they continue to be aggressive with the inmates. I have friends still there with whom I speak frequently and they tell me they situation could not get any worse.
Q – I know you were arrested in Guantanamo’s US Naval Base (Gitmo), that is US territory, when you crossed the fence while running away from Cuban authorities. Do you want to talk to me about it?
A: I still have stories from this Guantanamo where I am now, and I also have stories from the other Guantanamo, the one on the base, but we will keep talking about it when you come back again. I promise.
Note: Anderlay Guerra lives in San Gregorio Street # 1917, between 14th and 15th streets, South of Guantanamo. He is 33 years old and served a sentence of 4 years in prison for trying to leave the country.
His phone number is 53-399-709
Translated by Cubanita