Saturday, May 27, 2006

Late Cuban doctor played role in torture of dissidents, exiles say

Posted on Fri, May. 26, 2006

Late Cuban doctor played role in torture of dissidents, exiles say
Knight Ridder Newspapers

Cuba's daily newspaper Granma observed the passing of Dr. Eduardo
Bernabe Ordaz last week, chronicling his climb from shoeshine boy to
guerrilla fighter and then head of the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana
for some 40 years.

But the obituary did not mention one issue: allegations that political
dissidents were given electroshocks as a form of torture at Ordaz's
hospital, better known as Mazorra.

``He was a tool in the bloody machine to destroy people's minds,'' said
former political prisoner Jorge Alejandro Ferrer, 60, who resides in
Dade County, Fla. ``I was tortured in this place where they were
supposed to cure people. My life was destroyed in that place.''

Ordaz's public persona was of a cheerful doctor, known affectionately as
El Loco Ordaz, who sported a cowboy hat and was known for providing odd
jobs for mental patients. He was said to have even helped some people
who had fallen out of favor with the government and could not find jobs.

Patients had their own chorus, baseball team and garden, and could take
ballet lessons.

According to Granma, the 84-year-old native of Bauta, and 1951 graduate
of the University of Havana Medical School became a captain in Fidel
Castro's forces. He was a founding member of the Cuban Communist Party
and a National Assembly representative from 1976 to 2003.

Ordaz drew the ire of South Florida's Cuban community when his name
appeared on the list of those seeking visas to watch the Cuban baseball
team play the Baltimore Orioles in 1999.

``The outside picture of Ordaz was of this jovial character,'' said
exile activist Ninoska Perez, one of those who ultimately blocked his
trip to the United States. ``This was really a place where they took
people to annihilate them as potential enemies of the revolution. They'd
end up losing their minds.''

In published reports over the years, Ordaz acknowledged holding
dissidents but for legitimate reasons. But Armando Lago, co-author of
the 1991 book, ``The Politics of Psychiatry in Revolutionary Cuba,''
said Ordaz had signed an agreement with Cuba's State Security department
giving it control over ``punishment pavilions'' at Mazorra.

``Dissidents held there would get electroshock between their legs. When
the families came to complain, he'd say, `I have no control over what
goes on over there,''' Lago said. ``I think he was a coward, and
obviously had no moral scruples.''

Witnesses, including Ferrer, said Ordaz also used patients as his
household servants.

Although there was no proven therapeutic value to the hospital orchestra
or sports teams, life for the true mental patients was probably
pleasant, Lago said. The torture, he alleged, was reserved for the 5
percent of patients who were political dissidents.

After 10 years in prison and some 20 electroshock sessions at Mazorra,
Annette Escandon, 70, now lives as a virtual shut-in in her Westchester,
Fla., apartment.

``They would take me to see naked men tied in chains getting
electroshock,'' she said. ``Meanwhile Ordaz was treated like a king,
because he gave mental patients jobs, took them out for walks on the
street or to play ball. It's a facade, like a movie where there's one
thing on the screen and there's something going on behind the scenes.''

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