Detained Cubans on hunger strike

Rio Grande Valley-based human rights organizers are reporting that two men from Cuba detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos have initiated a hunger strike in protest of their prolonged detention.

Detainees inside the center are alleging that there are now an estimated 216 individuals under quarantine for having come in contact with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The men, Julio Cutino Sanchez and another who prefers not to be identified by name, are under orders of removal and have been waiting for months to be returned to Cuba, according to a release published by RGV Equal Voice Network (EVN) on Monday evening.

“ They fear contracting COVID-19 in detention, and their demand is to be released in the United States or returned to Cuba. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has retaliated against them for exerting their First Amendment right to free speech by placing them in solitary confinement,” EVN wrote.

Those 130 detainees under quarantine also represented a significant jump from the week before, when detainees in communication with Valley-based advocates reported that a total of 36 people may have been under quarantine beginning May 26.

Inside PIDC, detainees share phones, tablets, and recreation equipment with hundreds of other people detained, many of whom are under quarantine, according to EVN. “People detained eat, sleep, and use the bathroom within feet of each other in crowded dormitories where it is impossible to maintain physical distance. Guards come in and out of their dormitories without masks,” the release stated.

Sanchez told organizers, “I have had an order of protection since February. ICE doesn’t return me to my country and doesn’t release me here. If there is no one outside to help us, we are going to die here on hunger strike.”

“ We would rather die of hunger than of the coronavirus here inside without any kind of attention,” added his fellow detainee. “We decided to go on a hunger strike because there are many cases of the coronavirus here that people outside do not know about. If they are not going to send us back to our country, they should release us.”

A protest organized by EVN, Angry Tias of the Rio Grande Valley, and Detention Watch Network is scheduled for Saturday. Details are available on EVN’s Facebook page.