After two years of living anonymously in Miami, the former chief of the Department of Prisons in Villa Clara, Cuba, broke his silence Thursday and acknowledged that he had been a high-ranking official of that country’s Ministry of the Interior.
“I was the director of [the ministry’s] Judiciary Department until February 1996, and my job was to supervise and monitor the judicial performance of chiefs and officials of the penal system in the province of Villa Clara,” said former Col. Crescencio Marino Rivero in an email to El Nuevo Herald.
In an interview he later gave to the Channel 41 television program América Tevé, he admitted that he had not informed U.S. authorities of his position with the Cuban government.
“The paperwork was done by someone who dealt with this type of documentation in the city of Santa Clara. At that moment I had been out of [the ministry] for 14 years and working as an adjunct professor at the university,” Rivero said. “Here, nobody asked me. The documents that I had to present to obtain residency were processed by an agency that specialized in this type of paperwork.”
Rivero denied that he abused and mistreated prisoners, and called three former political prisoners and dissidents who made the accusations “liars.”
“There are hundreds of honest and truthful people in this country who served time in some of the prisons in Villa Clara. If they know me, they would be aware of my ethical and moral behavior as chief of the Department of Prisons. I helped hundreds of them to move on to better prison conditions,” Rivero told El Nuevo Herald.
Dissidents in Cuba such as Guillermo Fariñas, who won the 2010 Sakharov Award of the European Parliament, and former political prisoners Rafael Pérez and Benito Ortega accused Rivero of denying medical treatment to a prisoner of conscience, making death threats and ordering the beating, among other humiliating acts, of a pregnant woman.
The Rivero case emerged recently when two immigration attorneys in Miami, Santiago Alpízar and Wilfredo Allen, contacted the U.S. Department of Justice to find out how Rivero and his wife, Juana Ferrer, a former immigration official in Cuba, could have entered the United States in light of their backgrounds and the allegations of their accusers.
Rivero and Ferrer are legal U.S. residents and apparently receive benefits paid by taxpayer money, the attorneys said.
Rivero accused Allen and Alpízar of seeking media exposure to gain “fame” among Cuban immigrants in the United States for the purpose of gaining new clients.
Rivero’s wife was a lieutenant colonel at the Ministry of Interior. Several dissidents say that she, with her husband, made threats and worked against the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba.
Earlier this week, Rivero refused to respond to an El Nuevo Herald reporter who knocked on the door of his modest apartment in southwest Miami. A woman who identified herself as Rivero’s daughter opened the door and briefly said that her father would not make public statements or have any contact with the news media.
Dissidents remember Rivero as an unpleasant man. Sources told El Nuevo Herald that Rivero worked for Cuban State Security in the 1960s and 1970s. He was later promoted to director of reeducation in juvenile prisons in the province of Villa Clara. By 1994, Rivero was in charge of all prisons in the province, according to dissidents.
Rivero wrote in his email that his job was to uphold the law. “Not applying personal criteria but only what the documents governing the system [required], not establishing privileges or hardening the applied sanctions to any detainee,” he said.
He said he was a lawyer and an adjunct professor at the Central University of Las Villas’ Law School.
“I will not make any more statements; the chapter is closed,” Rivero added at the end of the email. “I will also state what is pertinent to the federal district attorney or the courts if they were to ask me regarding the legal manner in which I entered this country and live in it.”
In Miami, Wilfredo Allen, the immigration attorney, rejected Rivero’s arguments and said his motive was not to boost his law practice.
“I have never received one single penny from anyone for representing and helping people abused and persecuted in Cuba,” Allen said.
Fariñas said that Rivero must accept his past of repression and face the consequences of his acts.
“Rivero demonstrates in that email that he is an excellent disciple of Fidel Castro,” Fariñas, the Cuban dissident, told El Nuevo Herald from his home in Santa Clara. “He is a great demagogue and liar.”