Cuba allows reporters into prison hospitals

Campaign News | Thursday, 1 April 2004

Island displays breadth of care available

HAVANA April 1st: The Cuban government on April 1st offered foreign reporters a visit to see the medical services in Havana’s prisons.

Cuba vehemently rejects reports that alleged ‘dissidents’ and other inmates are mistreated, underfed and housed in unsanitary cells plagued by insects.

The tours of the National Hospital for Prisoners and a medical ward within the Western Women's Prison came as Cuba is defendings its rights record before a US instigated campaign at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva this month.

The freshly painted National Hospital for Prisoners, situated between three barracks of the Combinado del Este prison, is the flagship of Cuba's prison hospitals and one of five such centers serving inmates across the island. Founded in 1977, it has 200 beds, although only 38 inmates were being treated for illnesses, hospital Director Dr. Aurelio González said.

The hospital is equipped with an intensive care unit, emergency room and three operating rooms, in which the most common surgeries involve repairing hernias and removing foreign objects such as wires or forks that are swallowed by some prisoners, according to Dr. Mariano Izquierdo, who oversees the surgical team.

Although two jailed dissidents, Orlando Fundora and Roberto de Miranda, had recently been treated in the hospital's intensive care unit, they were transferred out, officials said. Fundora was still at the hospital in another unit, and de Miranda was transferred to a medical ward at another prison, officials said.

Among the pilot programmes highlighted by hospital officials is a recent two-year nursing degree offered to 16 inmates at Combinado del Este. .

Inmate Hosvanay Valle is in the nursing program. Like all the inmates interviewed at the hospital, Valle, who has completed almost three years of his 12-year sentence for aggravated theft, complimented the prison.

"I never thought I would have this opportunity," said Valle, 28, who upon graduation from the program will work at the prison hospital until his release. "Sincerely, I had never been in prison, I had another image of it. I thought there was more violence. The food is pretty acceptable."


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