VISITORS to the Fine Arts museum in Havana can experience just what it’s like to be subjected to the months of incarceration the Miami Five endured at the hands of the US penal system.
The five monitored the activities of anti-Cuban terrorists in the US, including plans to bring down a civilian airliner by Miami-based terrorists.
Yet it was they who were arrested and illegally held in solitary confinement except for interviews with their lawyers. They went through a rigged trial, where they received sentences ranging from 15 years to life. Two have since been released.
I visited the installation Don’t Thank The Silence by Cuban artist Kcho — Alexis Leiva Machado — early last month and experienced for just five minutes the treatment to which the five were subjected to for nearly a year and a half by the US government and its penal system.
The installation is a reconstruction of “the hole,” the isolation cells in which the Cuban Five were incarcerated before their trial in Miami 15 years ago. The maximum time for a prisoner to be held there is 60 days yet they suffered for 17 months.
Although the experience is a very brief one, going down the hole is not for the faint-hearted.
Nobody knows you’re there and I almost feel that I might not emerge from it — not knowing what to expect makes it an even more worrying and intense experience.
I’m taken to a small room where my belongings and jewellery are removed before I’m dressed in the alarming orange outfit made infamous by the US prison at Guantanamo. After being photographed, my hands were cuffed behind my back and chained to the back of my belt.
In a matter of minutes I sense my identity slipping away and the sense of physical impotence is overwhelming.
With my limited Spanish, my bewilderment is compounded as I’m flattened against a wall as orders are barked into my ear.
Once my eyes become accustomed to the gloom of the 15-foot by 7-foot cell I try to make sense of my surroundings — a concrete bench, an iron bed, a shower and toilet. The smell is powerful.
Although I know my imprisonment is role play, even those short five minutes are enough to make me realise the inhumanity of the US penitentiary system. I will never forget the experience.
The installation marks 15 years of campaigning to free the five, and if its intention is to stiffen the resolve of all participants to continue that struggle until the final three are released, then it certainly succeeds in doing so.
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