APRIL 26, 1999
Charlie Gillis, National Post, Canada
Saturday, April 24, 1999
While Canada's promises of diplomatic action over human-rights abuses in Cuba remain unfulfilled, four political prisoners jailed by Fidel Castro's government are serving their sentences in one of the island country's most notorious prisons, say human-rights observers.
The so-called "Group of Four" dissidents were jailed more than a month ago after a closed-door criminal trial in which they were convicted of sedition. Before the trial, they were held without charges for more than a year.
Vladimiro Roca Antunez, the group's leader, was sentenced to five years. Felix Bonne, 59, an academic, and Rene Gomez Manzano, 55, a lawyer, each received four-year sentences, while economist Marta Beatriz Roque, 53, was sentenced to 3 1Ú2 years.
Friends and relatives of the prisoners report they are being kept at Villa Marista, the headquarters of the state police, where some of the country's best-known dissidents have been held and interrogated during Castro's administration, said Frank Calzon, director for Washington-based Centre for a Free Cuba.
The last report of the prisoners' whereabouts came three days ago, though the conditions of each is not yet known, he said.
"Villa Marista is where the Cuban government uses its most sophisticated (interrogation) tactics," said Mr. Calzon, who has interviewed several prisoners held at Villa Marista, which contains a maximum security prison facility.
Former inmates of the facility, a converted monastery located on the outskirts of Havana, have reported being stripped of their clothes and placed in cells with the air conditioning raised to full power.
"They lower the temperature so cold you can't go to sleep," said Mr. Calzon. "They'll play with the temperature, turning it up or down. They'll put you in cells where there's no light. They'll put you in cells where there's no sound. By the end, you have no idea whether you've been in there for three days or 30."
Conditions at Villa Marista are of particular concern to the family of Ms. Roque, who has suffered a bout of breast cancer.
"There's a lot of concern about whether she's getting the proper medical attention," said Mr. Calzon. "There have been cases where Amnesty International appealed to the government to get medicine to prisoners and were refused."
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