Summary and Current Status
Cuban mathematician Francisco Pastor Chaviano González was arrested in May 1994, convicted, and given a 15-year prison sentence for his peaceful efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Cuba as president of the National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba (CNDCC – Consejo Nacional por los Derechos Civiles en Cuba). Amnesty International adopted him as a “prisoner of conscience.”
On August 10, 2007, Mr. Chaviano was conditionally released from prison on health grounds, after serving more than 13 years of his lengthy sentence. He remains in serious ill-health, suffering from numerous ailments, including ischemic heart disease caused by narrowed arteries and a 9 mm nodule on his right lung that reportedly requires surgery. Formally, his release is conditional on a lack of improvement in his health.
The CHR has worked on Mr. Chaviano’s case since 1994.
Mr. Chaviano is a mathematician and former mathematics teacher. At the Instituto Superior Pedagógico “Enrique José Varona” in Marianao, Havana, he completed four of the five years of undergraduate study required to receive a university degree in mathematics. Reportedly, he was not permitted to finish and receive his degree because of his outspoken criticism of the Cuban government. According to reliable sources, Mr. Chaviano then worked as a math teacher in three different institutions—in the Preuniversitario “República Popular del Congo” in the Artemisa municipality of the Havana province, in an urban secondary school named Abel Santamaría in the Playa municipality in the city of Havana, and in the “Martyrs of Girón” technological school for chemistry (Tecnológico de Química “Mártires de Girón”), also in Playa—over a period of approximately eight years.
After spending a year in prison for attempting to leave Cuba illegally by boat in March 1989, he formed the Cuban Rafters’ Council (Consejo de Lancheros de Cuba), which subsequently evolved into the broader-based National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba (CNDCC – Consejo Nacional por los Derechos Civiles en Cuba). As president of the CNDCC, he strongly criticized Cuba's district attorney and several state organizations for alleged human rights violations and documented cases of Cubans who tried to flee to the United States. Because of his peaceful human rights efforts, Mr. Chaviano reportedly was subjected to sustained harassment by the Cuban government, including frequent surveillance and vandalization of his home. (In mid 1991, state security officials reportedly threatened him with a 15-year prison sentence if he continued his human rights work.)
In April 1994, Mr. Chaviano was one of several human rights defenders who signed a joint letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro that called for the release of all political prisoners and the legal recognition of national human rights groups. The letter stated that "these steps would contribute to the creation of the basis by which Cuban society would begin a peaceful transition toward a pluralist democracy in which the popular will finds full expression."
Less than three weeks after the letter was sent, on May 7, 1994, Mr. Chaviano was arrested. Reliable reports indicate that a stranger hand-delivered a packet of documents to Mr. Chaviano’s home early that morning, saying that it contained information about human rights abuses. Just minutes later, before Mr. Chaviano had a chance to examine the documents, state security officials reportedly raided his home, seizing the packet, CNDCC case files, and his car and bicycle. (The homes of four other CNDCC members were reportedly also searched.) Mr. Chaviano's arrest reportedly was based on the contents of the packet. Initially, Mr. Chaviano was charged with receiving stolen goods. Subsequently, however, the charge was changed to the even more serious charges of "revealing state security secrets," "revealing administrative secrets," and "falsifying public documents."
While awaiting trial, Mr. Chaviano was detained in solitary confinement for almost a year. His trial, which took place on April 15, 1995, failed to meet international standards for fairness. The trial was reportedly held before a military tribunal and closed to members of the foreign press, foreign diplomats, and members of the human rights community. Mr. Chaviano was assigned a lawyer by the state, who reportedly was denied access to the 500-page file on his client until one day before the trial. It is our understanding as well that Mr. Chaviano and his lawyer were denied access to the packet of documents, even though it was presented by government prosecutors as evidence that he had masterminded a scheme to sell forged documents to Cubans applying for U.S. visas, because it was classified as “secret.” According to reliable reports, none of the seven defense witnesses Mr. Chaviano called was allowed to testify, and the documentary evidence that he submitted was refused by the court. Furthermore, in a letter Mr. Chaviano smuggled out of prison, he alleged that his food was drugged on the morning of his trial, making it difficult for him to communicate during the proceedings. To our knowledge, this allegation was never investigated by the authorities.
Mr. Chaviano was convicted and sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. On June 3, 1995, he filed an appeal. It was denied by the Western Regional Military Tribunal, and his sentence was upheld.
There have been numerous international expressions of concern about the plight of Mr. Chaviano, most notably by governments and members of the scientific and human rights communities. In 1995, the European Parliament passed a “Resolution on the case of Francisco Chaviano González”, expressing particular concern about his trial and conditions of confinement and urging that the Cuban penal code be brought into compliance with universally recognized human rights principles. Human Rights Watch stated that Mr. Chaviano's arrest and imprisonment fit a pattern of harassment against human rights activists in Cuba. Amnesty International expressed its belief that "the real reason for Francisco Chaviano's arrest and imprisonment was his activities as President of the unofficial Consejo Nacional por los Derechos Civiles en Cuba (CNDCC)."
Following his conviction, Mr. Chaviano was sent to Combinado del Este Prison in Havana province to serve his sentence, where he was held in Unit #1, Cell Block #2. While imprisoned there, Mr. Chaviano reportedly suffered from chronic respiratory allergies as a result of mold and mildew growing inside his cell.
During the early years of his imprisonment, Mr. Chaviano was twice granted permission to visit his home to see his children, under the custody of prison officials. When Mr. Chaviano made formal complaints and undertook a number of hunger strikes to protest his incarceration and his harsh conditions of confinement, prison authorities reportedly responded by curtailing his family visits. In protest, Mr. Chaviano refused to see his family members at all until prison officials guaranteed that he could receive visits from his family once a month in accordance with prison regulations. During this period, Mr. Chaviano and his wife, Ana Aguililla Saladrigas, reportedly corresponded by letter. However, after his wife issued public appeals for his release, prison authorities reportedly disciplined him by removing a writing desk and other personal items from his cell.
On June 17, 1999, reliable reports indicate that Mr. Chaviano was severely beaten in prison, suffering injuries to his face and head as well as a fractured tibia. Although the circumstances of the incident are unclear, Mr. Chaviano’s right to "safe custody" in prison as promulgated in the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners was clearly not upheld. It is our understanding that this act of violence was never investigated by the authorities and that it was the first of several incidents that have occurred over the years that give the appearance that prison authorities have singled out Mr. Chaviano for repeated and severe punitive action.
Mr. Chaviano suffered from a number of ailments that were exacerbated by his harsh conditions of confinement. In July 2003, the worsening of Mr. Chaviano’s health reportedly prompted Cuban authorities to transfer him from Combinado del Este Prison to the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital, where he remained for several months. It is our understanding that they failed to inform his family of his transfer or to apprise them of his health situation. While hospitalized, Mr. Chaviano was held under guard in a “cell” in the State Security wing of the hospital. Reliable sources report that, while he was at the military hospital, Mr. Chaviano received adequate treatment for a tumor on his back and for his duodenal ulcer and was examined by an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
On May 29, 2004, an incident allegedly occurred in which Mr. Chaviano and a number of other prisoners were instructed to come out of their cells and into a hallway to undress and put on different clothing. Mr. Chaviano reportedly asked the prison guards if, for reasons of privacy, he could change clothes in his cell, but his request was denied. When Mr. Chaviano refused to take his clothes off, he reportedly was stripped naked, kicked, and pulled along the hallway. Colonel Rafael Guzmán then reportedly ordered that he be sent to a “punishment cell,” known as “the 47,” for three weeks. After his wife intervened with the authorities, the amount of time Mr. Chaviano spent in the punishment cell was reportedly reduced to ten days.
Five months later, on October 29, 2004, while Mr. Chaviano was engaged in a family visit elsewhere in the prison, Lieutenant Colonels Carlos Quintana, Pino, and Echasabal reportedly conducted an “inspection” of his cell. According to reports, Mr. Chaviano returned from his family visit to find that his belongings were strewn on the floor, a wooden board that he had used as a shelf was broken, and his only chair had been confiscated. During another inspection three days earlier, prison officials reportedly seized an autobiographical essay that Mr. Chaviano had written, titled “The Dissident in Cuba.” In addition, Mr. Chaviano was reportedly denied a previously scheduled conjugal visit on December 22, 2004.
In February 2005, after being diagnosed with pneumonia, Mr. Chaviano was transferred to the hospital (Hospital Nacional de Reclusos) within the Combinado del Este Prison. There he was diagnosed with pulmonary emphysema. Then, without warning, on November 21, 2005, Mr. Chaviano was transferred from the hospital back to his cell in Unit #1, Cell Block #2 of the prison, where his respiratory problems had been aggravated in the past. According to his wife, the transfer occurred while he was waiting to be given a computerized axial tomography (CAT) and before his doctor could review his electrocardiogram. A CAT given to Mr. Chaviano on December 9, 2005, reportedly detected a 9 mm nodule on his right lung which requires surgery.
On September 4, 2006, when Ms. Aguililla went to Combinado del EstePrison for a scheduled conjugal visit with her husband, prison officials reportedly told her that any woman coming for a conjugal visit with a prisoner must be subjected to a body search and must squat down three times without wearing underwear. The conjugal visit reportedly did not take place because Ms. Aguililla refused to comply with this new requirement, declaring it to be denigrating and humiliating.
On November 7, 2006, after being subjected to medical tests at the Institute of Cardiology’s Center for Surgery and Rehabilitation, Mr. Chaviano was diagnosed with ischemic heart disease caused by narrowed arteries. A heart specialist reportedly told him that one of his coronary arteries is 70 percent blocked and recommended that an arterial endoscopy (arterioscopy) be performed on him. A few weeks later, on December 1, 2006, Mr. Chaviano was reportedly informed that, because this is a high-risk procedure, before it could be performed, he and his wife would be required to sign a written statement releasing the medical team of all responsibility. After consultation with his wife, Mr. Chaviano decided that “in the conditions of confinement in which I find myself, it is not possible to take such risks, so I will not submit to the procedure in question.” He offered further clarification that he is willing to undergo more “innocuous” procedures and other medical care.
In November 2006, Mr. Chaviano was moved to a “Rehabilitation Center” inside the Combinado del Este prison complex. In this center, referred to as ”Zero Zone” (“Zona Cero”), prisoners live in a fenced shelter (albergue) with few sanitary facilities and work outside in vegetable gardens. While he was held in the center, Mr. Chavaino was reportedly granted no home leave of any sort, while other prisoners held there who were permitted to make unaccompanied weekend visits to their homes.
On December 2, 2006, Mr. Chaviano and Ms. Aguililla sent a letter to Department 21 of the State Security, formally requesting that he be granted medical parole or conditional early release in order to receive treatment outside of prison for both his heart disease and the tumor on his right lung. The Cuban Penal Code stipulates that repeat offenders can be conditionally released from prison after serving two thirds of their sentence. (The CHR assumes that the Cuban government considers Mr. Chaviano to be a repeat offender.) They pointed out that Mr. Chaviano had completed two thirds of his lengthy sentence in May 2004 and thus qualified for conditional early release. Two other requests to Cuban authorities for medical parole for Mr. Chaviano, made by his wife on March 11, 2005, and on March 30, 2006, had gone unanswered by Cuban authorities.