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Inside Cuban Prison Walls

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LA HABANA, CUBA:  An inmate pops out from a ventilation gap in one of the jail blocks of "Combinado del Este" prison in Havana, 31 March 2004, during a visit that Cuban government organized so as to show the press the prison population's health condition. This is the first time that Fidel Castro's government is showing the prison's inside to the international media, in response to growing accusations of human rights abuses, previous to Geneva's Summit where it could be charged with human rights violations and mistreatment of the convicts.        (Source: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

LA HABANA, CUBA: An inmate pops out from a ventilation gap in one of the jail blocks of “Combinado del Este” prison in Havana, 31 March 2004, during a visit that Cuban government organized so as to show the press the prison population’s health condition. This is the first time that Fidel Castro’s government is showing the prison’s inside to the international media, in response to growing accusations of human rights abuses, previous to Geneva’s Summit where it could be charged with human rights violations and mistreatment of the convicts. (Source: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

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HAVANA (CBS4) – They’re the images that Raul Castro’s government doesn’t want you to see. Secret videos show terrible conditions at Cuba’s largest and most notorious prison, Havana’s Combinado del Este.

The ten videos were shot with a digital camera smuggled into the prison. Dissidents got the videos out of the prison and made them available to our news partners at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. The videos document living conditions that are so bad, they’re a throwback to the dungeons of centuries ago.

Whether they’re common criminals, political dissidents, or foreigners convicted of crimes in Cuba, the prison’s five thousand inmates live in filthy, mildewed, and humid cells. Sewage leaks and faulty plumbing are common throughout Combinado del Este. Cells are filthy, and prisoners say many of the toilets do not work.

The prison yard at Combinado del Este is as bleak and dirty as the cells. Inmates get no more than an hour of exercise a day, if they’re lucky.

The videos show the food inmates are served. It’s easy to understand why they say it’s inedible. Prisoners often get a plate of picadillo , but at Combinado del Este, this traditional Cuban dish consists of tasteless soya or rotting meat. If inmates want “extras” like milk, they have to buy it from prison officials. One inmate says that a box of powdered milk costs six dollars, a huge sum for ordinary Cubans. Prisoners say the money they pay for foods like that ends up in the government’s hands.

With wretched food and filthy cells, it’s no surprise that many prisoners are sick. Cleanliness is impossible, because prisoners are issued only one dirty towel, two bars of soap a month, and a tube of toothpaste every three months.

Even disabled inmates live in the same harsh conditions. The videos show one man who lost his hands to a land mine explosion. He was trying to escape to the American military base at Guantanamo. Instead, he ended up at Combinado del Este, where he tries to survive by feeding himself with a makeshift spoon that fits over the stump of his lower arm.

Viewers of the videos might think that Combinado del Este must be a prison that dates from colonial days, long before modern plumbing and sanitary conditions. But it was actually built in 1975, by the forced labor of Cuban prisoners.

Click here to see the Herald’s exclusive video.

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