A Spanish citizen is wasting away in a Cuban prison for his participation in peaceful protests against the Cuban dictatorship that took place in Havana in July 2021. But the pleas of his parents, Mario Prieto López and Niurka Ricardo Hidalgo, to the socialist-led Spanish government on behalf of their son Mario Josué Prieto Ricardo have gone answered.
Born to a Spanish father and Cuban mother, twenty-seven-year-old Prieto Ricardo found himself in Cuba circumstantially when protests against the government erupted. As a legal resident in the United States, the young man had been living and working in Virginia—saving up, according to his parents, to buy a home in his father’s ancestral Spanish village—but returned to Cuba to be with family following the death of his sister in 2020. Travel restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic then left him stuck in Cuba much longer than he had anticipated. He was still stranded in the country when protests against the oppressive government erupted on 11 July 2021. He joined in, just another person among the masses never imagining the consequences his participation would have.
The day after the protest, he was arrested on the grounds that he violated a curfew imposed as a measure against the spread of COVID-19, though he was arrested before the curfew began. In prison, the authorities told him that his name was on the list of persons who had marched in the demonstration and his American identification card was confiscated.
According to his family, while in prison, he was interrogated intensely about his activities in Cuba, his reason for being there, and whether he supported the Cuban revolution and the Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He was released on July 14, admonished to ‘defend the revolution’ and fined $2,000 for violating the curfew. Ten days later, he was arrested again, and accused of public disorder and sedition. He was also accused of punching a policeman during the protest, though the authorities didn’t present any evidence. He was then condemned to 12 years in prison in an irregular judicial process.
Prieto Ricardo has now been in prison for thirteen months, suffering malnutrition and chronic bowel infections from the poor food and unhygienic conditions of the prison, as well as torture at the hands of the prison guards, according to his parents. The young man also has a chronic psychiatric condition that requires medication. So far, his parents have been able to purchase it on the black market and provide it for him but say the prison guards do not always let him take it. They fear for his mental health as well as his physical health. He has become ‘skin and bones,’ they say.
They also say that he has been denied access to both the legal services that Cuban citizens are entitled to and the services from the Spanish embassy in Havana that he could receive as a Spanish citizen.
According to his parents, the Spanish embassy has not been responsive to their requests for assistance. Neither has the Spanish Consulate in Miami.
In July 2022, they went higher up the ladder and sent a letter to Spain’s Ministry of the Exterior through the Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos (OCDH, Cuban human rights observatory in English), begging for the Spanish government’s intervention and including all the documentation related to their son’s case.
His parent’s reminded the Spanish government “with their hearts in their hands,”
Spain has sovereignty and legitimacy to protect Mario Josué Prieto Ricardo and to take action and demand that the Cuban authorities transfer him to Spain. The Spanish State is obliged to protect him because he is a Spanish citizen who is a political prisoner in Cuba, a country where the conditions and treatment of prisoners do not comply with the minimum established by international law, even more so, when they suffer from serious health problems that put their lives at risk.
They have yet to receive any response.
“Doing nothing is the worst option,” the OCDH told Periodico Cubano. “The pressure from Spain could be decisive in obtaining the release of Mario Josué Prieto Ricardo.”
According to the newspaper, the Cuban government currently has 900 political prisoners behind bars merely for their opposition to the regime.
Hopefully, Spain’s government will intervene for at least one of them.
Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.