Diplomat builds replica of Cuban jail cell
Thu September 09, 2004 01:24 PM ET

HAVANA (Reuters) - The top U.S. diplomat in Cuba has escalated criticism of human rights abuses on the island by building a replica of a solitary confinement prison cell in which a leading dissident was held for two months.

The replica of the cramped cell with one ventilation slot and no light bulb was exhibited at a diplomatic reception attended by Cuban dissidents on Wednesday night at the residence of James Cason, head of the U.S. Interests Section.

"This is how political prisoners are treated in Cuba," said Cason, who had the iron and wood cell built at his residence.

The 6-1/2 foot-long (two-metre), 6-1/2 foot-high (two-metre) and 3 foot-wide (one-metre) model was based on details sent from jail by physician Oscar Elias Biscet, who has spent more than four years in Cuban prisons for opposing President Fidel Castro's communist-run government.

The cell had a drain hole for a toilet and an opening at the bottom of the iron door to receive food. The replica had a plate of rice and beans, and a plastic rat and cockroaches that Biscet's wife, Elsa Morejon, said entered the cell from the drain.

"The reality of punishment cells is even harsher. You have to add the heat, the humidity and the mosquitoes," said human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez. "To keep people in such conditions is physical torture."

Families of jailed dissidents said their relatives have been confined to similar cells and held in subhuman conditions, with rotten food and poor medical attention, in prisons far from their homes.

The Cuban government denies holding political prisoners and maintains that dissidents are "counterrevolutionaries" working for its arch-enemy, the United States.

Amnesty International reported in January that there were 84 "prisoners of conscience" in Cuba.

Castro last year ordered the arrest of 75 opponents who were sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years for plotting with the United States. Seven have since been released on health grounds.

The crackdown on dissent caused an outburst of international criticism and a diplomatic freeze with the European Union.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for the detention and mistreatment of hundreds of prisoners from the Afghan war at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Cuban government has charged Washington with running a concentration camp at Guantanamo, which is leased from Cuba.

Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Havana and imposed sanctions on Cuba after Castro's 1959 revolution. The Bush administration has stepped up support for Cuban dissidents among efforts to undermine Castro's government.

Denuncian abusos contra Oscar Elías Biscet

La esposa del prisionero de conciencia Oscar Elías Biscet lanzo ayer una urgente denuncia ante la comunidad internacional por ''el ensañamiento y los abusos'' cometidos en el penal, y responsabilizo a las maximas autoridades del regimen de Fidel Castro por la vida del prominente opositor.