On Wednesday night, the communist regime of Raúl Castro once again demonstrated the hollowness of its commitment to “reform.” Plainclothes state security agents violently disrupted the preparations of an independent theater and arrested seven people involved with the production.
Five of the detainees—Adonis Milán, Tania Bruguera, Iris Ruiz, Yanelys Núñez, and José Ernesto Alonso—have since been released. Two others, the well-known dissident visual artists Lia Villares and Luis Manuel Otero, are still being held incommunicado. Their whereabouts are as yet unknown.
This video, shot by one of the dissidents at the El Círculo independent theater during the state security raid, shows the plainclothesmen manhandling their detainees. Someone in the background defiantly shouts “¡Cuba decide!,” a reference to the Cuba Decide plebiscite movement spearheaded by Rosa María Payá, daughter of the murdered dissident Oswaldo Payá.
The play being produced was an adaptation of 4.48 Psychosis, the last work of British playwright Sarah Kane. In its original form, the play centers around a woman trapped by crippling depression, isolated completely from the world and contemplating her own death. The adaptation reworked by artistic director Adonis Milán, however, sets this story of mental anguish in a very specific location: Mazorra.
Officially known as the Hospital Psiquiátrico de La Habana Comandante Doctor Eduardo Bernabé Ordaz Ducunge, conditions at this mental hospital are far from those lauded by disingenuous naïfs like Michael Moore, who defend Cuba’s healthcare system as a model for the United States. Mazorra is infamous throughout the communist-ruled island as a fortress of the disgusting practice known in the Soviet Union as “punitive psychiatry”—considering the activities of a political dissident to indicate insanity and committing them to a mental asylum.
“When they opened the door and I saw what it was, I was horrified,” said Belkis Ferro, a former “patient” at Mazorra. “There wasn’t a Cuban in Cuba who wasn’t terrified of that hospital.”
Belkis Ferro was sent to Mazorra at the age of sixteen. In the care of a sadistic orderly named Eriberto Mederos, she was chained to iron bedframes and electrocuted until her skin was burned. At other times, she was forcibly injected with insulin. In 1980, Ferro was allowed to leave Cuba in the Mariel Boatlift.
The psychological criteria required to send a Cuban to Mazorra would be laughable if the consequences were not so heinous. Ferro was sent there after defending her grandmother in an argument with some neighbors. Another former Mazorra “patient,” Antonio Orestes Arencibia, was sent there for slaughtering his own cow to eat.
All indications are that Mazorra’s diabolical machinery still operates at maximum efficiency, even in the twenty-first century.
Milagros Cruz Cano, a blind dissident, was kept in solitary confinement in Mazorra. Cuban doctors diagnosed Cruz Cano as suffering from depression because her ”unfounded fantasies about life in Miami clashed with the reality of her life in Cuba,” the Miami Herald later reported.
Presidential Medal of Freedom laureate Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet, a former doctor who was barred from practicing medicine in Cuba after he revealed the regime’s use of banned abortion drugs, has repeatedly been sent to Mazorra for “evaluations.”
In January 2010, at least 26 “patients” at Mazorra were found dead. Opposition sources allege that the number was even higher. The Cuban regime attributed the deaths to a cold front passing over Havana at the time.
Daniel Llorente, the courageous man who sprinted ahead of one of the Cuban regime’s annual May Day parades with an American flag, was locked up without charges in Mazorra in October 2017. His son, Eliécer, said that the authorities pointed to Llorente’s belief in God as evidence of mental imbalance.
“It is appalling that the communist dictatorship of Cuba is able to replicate the most barbaric repressive practices of the Soviet Union and still be viewed as ‘reformers’ by the world,” said VOC Executive Director Marion Smith. “In the twenty-first century, we have an obligation to condemn the practices of punitive psychiatry and incarceration without charge.”