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Cuban prisoners say they shared cells with rats

 Julio Cesar Galvez, centre applauds with 5 of nine Cuban dissidents who were released from jail in Cuba at a news conference in Madrid Thursday July ...
 Cuban dissident Ricardo Gonzalez, centre speaks alongside Julio Cesar Galvez, left and Jose Luis Garcia who were released from jail in Cuba, at the n...
 Cuban dissident Lester Gonzalez, who was released with 8 others from jail in Cuba holds up his passport during a news conference in Madrid, Spain, Th...

Spain Cuba Prisoners

Julio Cesar Galvez, centre applauds with 5 of nine Cuban dissidents who were released from jail in Cuba at a news conference in Madrid Thursday July ...

Spain Cuba Prisoners

Cuban dissident Ricardo Gonzalez, centre speaks alongside Julio Cesar Galvez, left and Jose Luis Garcia who were released from jail in Cuba, at the n...

Spain Cuba Prisoners

Cuban dissident Lester Gonzalez, who was released with 8 others from jail in Cuba holds up his passport during a news conference in Madrid, Spain, Th...

Rats and diseases infested Cuban prison cells so badly that some inmates tried to kill themselves and other did themselves harm, according to freed political prisoners who spoke in Spain.
Those who spoke were among 11 political prisoners released this week and flown to Spain to start new lives. At a press conference in Madrid, they painted a squalid picture of the prison conditions they had endured.
"The hygiene and health situations in prisons throughout the island of Cuba are not terrible, they are worse than terrible," freed dissident Julio Cesar Galvez said Thursday.
"We had to live with rats and cockroaches ... with excrement. It's not a lie," he said.
The 11 released this week among 52 activists being released in stages by the Cuban government after being imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown.
A 66-year-old journalist sentenced to 15 years, Galvez said, "There were outbreaks of dengue and tuberculosis."
He said that in the prison of Villa Clara there were more than 1,500 inmates with up to 40 prisoners in cells measuring 3 square meters (32 square feet).
Normando Hernandez, 40, another journalist who was freed, said prisoners were so desperate they caused themselves injuries.
"The prisoners are tired of demanding their rights," he said, "Deaf ears to every type of complaint makes these people lose hope, the desire to live and they end up injuring themselves, and trying to take their lives"
"I saw people stick needles in the dark part of their eye," said Hernandez. "I've seen prisoners roll themselves in foam mattresses and set themselves alight, prisoners who inject excrement and urine into their eyes, prisoners who inject petrol into their private parts and other places just so they will be attended to."
Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years.
It was impossible to independently verify the prisoners' accounts of the conditions they faced. Cuba maintains that it's prisons exceed international standards, and that tales of horrendous conditions are created or exaggerated by the country's enemies.
The freed prisoners and their families arrived in separate groups beginning Tuesday. Their release followed talks between the Cuban government, the Cuban church and Spain's Foreign Ministry. Some 20 prisoners have asked to go to Spain.
Cuba has said it will release all 52 within three months.
The Cuban government has long maintained that none of them is a prisoner of conscience. It insists they are mercenaries paid by Washington and supported by anti-Castro exiles in Miami, whose only goal was to discredit the Cuban government. Many of the Web sites the journalists had worked for were maintained by exiles outside Cuba.
In Spain, the prisoners are being cared for by three social worker groups and being put up in a modest hotel in Madrid used mainly by immigrants while their final status and destination is decided.
"We're in a legal limbo," said Galvez, adding that Cuba had made it clear they would need permits to return. "If we're not free, we are refugees."
Spain has said they will be given immigrant status with residence and work permits that will would allow them to travel freely. On Thursday, the Cubans said they had been told they could apply for political asylum.
The U.S. Embassy in Madrid declined to comment on individual immigration cases but said anyone in Spain was welcome to apply for a visa to enter the United States. The U.S., Spain and Chile offered to take in the dissidents, but the Cubans said they were only given the choice of going to Spain or staying in prison.
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Associated Press Writer Paul Haven contributed from Havana.


Updated : 2021-08-01 22:06 GMT+08:00