Cuban Prisons and the Rights of Those Who Work
May 27, 2013
Cuban and foreign press were allowed to speak with female prisoners at
the Women's Prison on the outskirts of Havana. Francisco/Cubadebate.
HAVANA TIMES — I watched a number of reports shown on Cuban television
prior to the date when Cuba submitted its official report to the UN
Human Rights Council. The series documenting what life is like in Cuba's
prisons was particularly interesting for me.
The news emphasized the broad range of occupations that inmates can
become involved in while in prison, the work-related education options
made available to them and the crafts they can learn.
In these reports, a number of the officials and prisoners interviewed
referred to the possibility of working in the prison, and one of the
superiors even said that the Labor Code was fully applied in these
places of confinement.
I studied this Code as part of my degree program in Law, and one of the
articles that made the deepest impression in me establishes that workers
may freely, and without "previous authorization", organize themselves
I would be interested in knowing whether people in prison who work also
have the right to form unions.
Another official interviewed said that, even though all inmates had the
right to work, not all were guaranteed a job, as there was a limited
number of posts available.
I wonder, therefore, if we should be speaking of a "right" when not
everyone has access to the object the said right is supposed to entitle
In the reports documenting the workings of prisons and other
penitentiary centers located in different parts of the country (highly
professional in this sense, for they break with the "Havanocentric" bias
characteristic of the news), the inmates and officials interviewed
stressed that the salary earned through their work (established in
accordance with criteria similar to those that govern work outside the
prison) was sent to the prisoners' families, as no money is allowed to
circulate within prison walls.
A friend who works in Cuba's penitentiary system explained to me that
inmates are not allowed to carry money. This is the reason cigarettes
become a kind of virtual currency used to exchange goods, services and
It remains to be seen whether the issues surrounding this thorny topic
will begin to be addressed more openly and transparently.