Bernardo Rogelio Arévalo Padrón

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Arévalo Padrón, founder of the Línea Sur Press news agency, remains in prison despite being eligible for parole, and his health has suffered as a result of his prolonged imprisonment.

On October 31, 1997, a provincial court sentenced Arévalo Padrón to six years in prison for “lack of respect” for President Fidel Castro Ruz and Cuban State Council member Carlos Lage. The charges stemmed from a series of interviews Arévalo Padrón gave in late 1997 to Miami-based radio stations in which he alleged that while Cuban farmers starved, helicopters were taking fresh meat from the countryside to President Castro, Lage, and other Communist Party officials in the capital, Havana.

The journalist began his sentence on November 18, 1997, in a maximum- security prison. On April 11, 1998, State Security officers beat Arévalo Padrón and placed him in solitary confinement after accusing him of making anti-government posters. Later, another prisoner was found to have made the posters.

Arévalo Padrón has also suffered bouts of bronchitis and was reportedly treated twice for high blood pressure in the prison infirmary. On January 8, 2000, the journalist was transferred to Labor Camp No. 20, where he served four months.

On April 6, 2000, the journalist was sent to the overcrowded and unsanitary San Marcos Labor Camp, where he worked chopping weeds with a machete in sugarcane fields. Prison authorities constantly watched Arévalo Padrón, censored his incoming and outgoing mail, and threatened to send him back to a maximum-security prison if he did not meet his production quota.

Because of his strenuous work at the labor camps, Arévalo Padrón developed lower back pain and coronary blockage. After ignoring Arévalo Padrón’s pain for weeks, in September 2000 prison authorities allowed him to see a doctor, who determined that Arévalo Padrón’s poor health disqualified him from physical work, and that he should permanently wear an orthopedic brace.

In October 2000, prison authorities informed Arévalo Padrón that his parole had been approved. But he remained in the labor camp, a violation of Cuban law.

Early in 2001, Arévalo Padrón was transferred to the El Diamante Labor Camp, where prison officers continued to harass him. In February 2001, the journalist’s colleagues reported that he had again developed high blood pressure. In early March, Arévalo Padrón complained that officials refused to take him to a hospital outside the labor camp for treatment. On March 21, prison authorities relented after pressure from friends, family, and press freedom organizations. A heart specialist recommended that Arévalo Padrón check his blood pressure daily, take medication, avoid tension, and stop smoking.

In May 2001, prison officers routinely ignored the journalist’s requests to have his blood pressure checked and often withheld his medication. During the same period, a court again denied him parole despite his poor health.

On June 30, 2001, the journalist was transferred to another labor camp. For the prison transfer, he had to walk several miles in the heat carrying his belongings, the journalist said in a letter to colleagues. In the new labor camp, he was assigned to a cell for chronically ill prisoners. He was exempt from physical work but lacked adequate medical attention and food. Despite his legal right to be paroled, his jailers told him that he would serve his entire sentence. In October 2001, judges ignored his request for parole, and the journalist continued to report constant harassment.

In November 2001, the European Union requested that Arévalo Padrón be released and allowed to travel to Spain, but authorities did not respond. The journalist’s request to attend a January 2002 appointment with the U.S. Interests Section Refugee Unit in Havana was also ignored.

In July 2002, Arévalo Padrón was transferred back to the maximum-security Ariza Prison. In December 2002, he suffered from a severe fever and was treated with antibiotics. According to his colleagues, Arévalo Padrón’s wife, Libertad Acosta, suspects he contracted a severe bacterial infection. In addition, he suffers from migraines and high blood pressure, and his family and friends say his mental health has deteriorated. Arévalo Padrón’s six-year sentence ends in October 2003.