Roaming Canadian Reporter Visited One Of 200 Forced Labor Camps Where An Estimated 30,000 Cubans Live In Fear Under Armed Guard
Note: Paul Kidd, of Southam News Services, a Canadian foreign correspondent, recently was expelled from Communist Cuba after 12 days on the Island in which he traveled freely throughout Havana and the interior. The Castro regime accused Kidd of photographing anti-aircraft installations, holding an “incorrect attitude” toward the Cuban revolution and posing as a Canadian diplomat. Actually, however Kidd was expelled, as a Cuban state department official admitted, for writing articles not of the type the Cuban government welcomed. During his 12 days on the Island, Kidd traveled unaccompanied throught Cuba chatting with hundreds of Cubans in all walks of life and photographing all aspects of the revolution. Here is his report on his experiences as written for United Press International.
By Paul Kidd
Written for United Press International
Police state repression in Cuba is today more harsh than at any time I have known since the Castro regime came to power in 1959.
Security measures and political persecution have reached a new intensity. The number of political prisoners packing Cuban jails, according to informed sources in Havana, has again increased to an estimated 70.000.
Further, the regime recently introduced a network of forced labor camps, and the fear of being sent to one is becoming increasingly widespread among many Cubans who do not support the Communist system.
Rationing is widespread and fierce. The average citizen, though not actually starving, is acutely hungry. Apart from food, there are shortages of everything from a bar of soap to a pair of socks.
All this could combine to explain why the Cuban government, with rare exceptions, has not allowed American correspondents to enter the country for more than a year.
As a Canadian correspondent, however, I was able to enter Cuba without a visa. Somewhat inexplicably, the official press credentials given me specified that I could travel throughout Cuba; normally foreign correspondents are restricted to the City of Havana unless accompanied by government officials.
Nearly 200 forced labor camps are hidden among the tall, lush sugar fields of central Cuba.
Inside, behind barbed wire fences, an estimated 30.000 Cubans live under armed guard.
In the terminology of the Cuban Communist Party, the camps are known as “Military Units to Aid Production.”
But there are military units without guns, and the men within them aid production because they appear petrified to do otherwise.
I have been inside such a camp. The atmosphere was one of fear, while proof of the harsh living conditions is reflected in photographs I brought out of Cuba, the first uncensored pictures ever taken inside one of these establishments.
To reach the camp, I flew 300 miles by a Soviet-built aircraft from Havana to the city of Camaguey.
The army lieutenant in charge of the camp seemed amazed that I had located the whereabouts of the concealed camp without being accompanied by a government official.
None of the camp’s 120 inmates were either political prisoners or criminals. Rather, they were people who had been active in what is left of Cuba’s shattered religious life -particularly Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses- or others loosely termed by the government as “social misfits.”
For working an average 60-hour week, the inmates received $7 a month.
The system of discipline is simple. If inmates don´t work, they don´t get fed.
Reports of physical brutality within the camps circulate widely in Cuba.
A nightly two hours of ideological indoctrination and Communist propaganda was designed to develop a “correct attitude.”
It is now strongly rumored that plans are being made to establish similar camps for Cuban women.
The Cuban population has now been carried to the brink of a Stalin-type era of persecution.
Indeed, Interior (Police) Minister Ramiro Valdes is whisperingly alluded to as “a Latin Berla,” a reference to the former hated Soviet secret police chief.
The forced labor camps are an example of the instruments which Valdes and his henchmen favor for keeping the Cuban population in totalitarian line.
When people are taken away to prison in Cuba, the most common time for the police to call is in the early hours of the morning -as it used to be under Stalin and Hitler.
How completely Castro is responsible for the current strained, ugly mood in Cuba is unknown. But he heads the Communist regime which enforces the system.
Not every Cuban is against the regime. Indeed, probably 30 percent of the population, who have gained from the changes which Communist has brought, favor it. That, at any rate, was the highest estimate conceded by neutral foreign observers in Havana.
Yet, when Castro came to power in 1959, it is freely admitted, he had more than 90 per cent of the Cuban population solidly and wholeheartedly behind him.
Today, from conversation with countless Cubans of all occupations and ages, there seems little doubt that the vast majority of the country’s 7.000.000 citizens detest the system.
One Sunday afternoon, I visited the town of Guira de Melena in the interior. I began a languid stroll through the streets.
Soon, when people discovered that I was a Canadian, and not a visitor form a Communist bloc country, they began confiding details about life in today’s Cuba.
All seemed desperately anxious to tell me that their country was starving, that they were Cubans and that they were glad to be independent of the Americans, but that they weren´t Communists and never would be Communists.
Occasionally, as we passed a house marked with a big “CDR” sign -initials for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution- conversation would stop. The house is the home of the neighborhood spy group which will report any indiscreet remarks to the security authorities.
There are 100.000 of these committees covering every village, town and city across the island. Memberships is estimated at from 500.000 to one million members.
A strange, suspicious atmosphere now pervades Cuba.
Sometimes, it is not easy for a visitor to Cuba to detect the real ugliness of a police state system which lurks beneath a shiny revolutionary facade.
The explanation is simple. The reprisals which an incautious remark can bring to a Cuban are not conducive to free dialogue. Further, the government often strives to lull the visitor into a comfortable state of mind by providing free transportation and invitations to expensive, moderately fair meals.
A town in the interior is a typical example of how Cuba today is being squeezed by shortages and fear.
Cuba is virtually completely dependent on the free world market price of sugar because of the island’s one-crop economy.
Should world sugar continue at its present abysmally low level of about 1.7 cents a pound, the winds of austerity could howl even more fiercely around the Communist island nation.
The money from past crops when sugar prices were high has run out -and the world price of sugar has plummeted.
Cuba totay is believed to be virtually broke, reserving what precious dollars it has for carefully selected priority items.
Deseret News, November 9, 1966.