Three Key Proposals for Reforming the Cuban Electoral System / Laritza Diversent

Photograph: Red Mi Voz

Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2016 — On February 23, 2015 the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) announced that its VII Congress would take place in April 2016 and that the National Assembly of People’s Power would be asked to amend the electoral process and adopt a new law to govern the general elections of 2018.

Cubalex conducted an investigation of the Cuban electoral system and held discussions involving representatives of independent civil society organizations to identify obstacles to full and equal citizen participation in the political process. We consulted experts in Latin American electoral issues to take advantage of this region’s broad experience over the last 30 years. Continue reading “Three Key Proposals for Reforming the Cuban Electoral System / Laritza Diversent”

In search of political openness and a peaceful transition, we have formulated three key proposals to reform the electoral system by promoting comprehensive elections and eliminating restrictions on the right to elect and be elected in order to realize the constitutional precept that “Cuba is an independent and sovereign state, organized as a unitary and democratic republic for the enjoyment of political liberty.”

As an independent civil society organization, we are proposing three key reforms as instruments to encourage democratic change in our society. These include reestablishing the rule of law, democracy, political pluralism and respect for human rights — especially for those groups interested in participating in the process established by the PCC — by promoting “elections with integrity” based on democratic principles of universal suffrage and political equality.

1. Citizens would submit names of candidates for Municipal Delegate positions to direct public vote (by show of hands) at local nominating conventions. In circumstances in which a candidate is someone other than one nominated by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the final choice would be made by the citizenry. 

2. The system established by the current electoral law prohibits political campaigning and restricts the right of citizens to formulate and demonstrate their political preferences and obtain information from a variety of sources.

These proposals by civil society organizations would guarantee citizens the right to organize themselves into movements, political parties or civil-political associations based on ideological and political preferences for the formulation of proposals on public policy, the promotion of political debate and the observation of electoral processes.

3. Currently, the National Electoral Commission, the supreme electoral body, only operates during election cycles and is appointed by the Council of State. Its temporary nature and designation as a political body rather than an organization made up of professionals threatens its independence and impartiality. Furthermore, the Office of Voter Registration operates under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior, a military institution, which discourages citizens from requesting information necessary to exercise their political rights.

Our reform project seeks to generate confidence and guarantee the political rights of citizens as well as electoral integrity and transparency by means of a decentralized and permanent election commission and by charging the Office of Voter Registration with guaranteeing the full independence and financial resources of both institutions and of the officials which constitute it.

We are also soliciting help from the international community because of refusals by our government to listen to us or discuss this issue. The Cuban government responds to every civil society proposal with greater repression, stigmatization and discrimination. We need help in opening channels of communication with authorities. We need mediation and dialogue. We need help in achieving what all Cubans clearly want: a peaceful transition to a democratic, pluralistic, just and inclusive government.

It is worth noting that on May 1, 2013 the Cuban government underwent the Periodic Universal Exam and in a constructive manner agreed and voluntarily promised to adopt measures to promote effective participation by non-governmental organizations and civil society institutions and to adopt legislation to promote human rights.

About Cubalex

The Cubalex Legal Information Center — headquartered in Havana, Cuba — is a non-profit organization of attorneys and activists which defends human rights. Our mission is to promote and defend human rights in Cuba, establish the rule of law and democratize Cuban society.

We offer free legal advice in matters involving housing, immigration, inheritance, labor, criminal appeals, constitutional procedures and the defense of civil and political rights on a national and international level to Cuban or foreign citizens who request it.

We can be reached by email at centrocubalex@gmail.com or by telephone at (+53) 7-647-2216 or (+53) 5-241-5948

Follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ONGcubalex/?ref=hl

Web address: http://centrocubalex.com/

CENTRO CUBALEX

Black Woman: Double or Triple Discrimination? / Diario de Cuba, Laritza Diversent

The regime opponents Sonia Garro and Mercedes Fresneda bear the marks of beatings from Castro regime mobs.
The regime opponents Sonia Garro and Mercedes Fresneda bear the marks of beatings from Castro regime mobs.

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Laritza Diversent, Havana, 31 July 2015 —In Cuba there is a myth that says that there is no racism here because “all the races and cultures melded together forever in a happy synthesis.”

Nonetheless, in reality, invisibility is on the rise, and a concept of “racial democracies” is maintained.

The invisibility of Afro-descendants’ poverty, along with enduring stereotypes and prejudices, contributes to the perpetuation of historic situations of segregation and exclusion, racism, and racial discrimination. Afro-descendant women, in particular, face major obstacles to the enjoyment and exercise of their rights, be these civil, political, economic, social, or cultural.

Official statistics state that men and women of African heritage on the Island constitute a minority. However, the general perception is that the official information does not reflect reality insofar as the ratio of races is concerned. Continue reading “Black Woman: Double or Triple Discrimination? / Diario de Cuba, Laritza Diversent”

In the 2002 Census, the Cuban population was tabulated at 11,177,743 inhabitants. Of these, 65% were categorized as white, 10.1% as black, and 24.9% as mixed-race. In 2012, there was a reduction in the number of blacks: 9% men, and 8% women. The State admits that this tendency towards reduction can be traced back to 1981, when blacks made up 12% of the population. Presently, they comprise 9.26%.

As of today there is no official information to explain this trend. There are various potential reasons. The first is related to self-identification. There is no “Afro-descendant” option as a Census category, nor are questions asked that would identify the heritage and ethnic membership of the Afro-descendant population.

Official data do not distinguish between ethnicity and race. They are focused on personal identification, based on “skin color,” which provokes social inequalities.

The data-collectors operate totally according to their own judgment, and without surveying the interviewees, because they consider the question of little importance, or “offensive.” What they do not realize is the impact of skin color on the answers.

Meanwhile, the State does not provide public education and consciousness-raising about the categories, which would promote correct self-identification on the part of Afro-descendants, nor does it sensitize the data-collectors about this subject.

Regarding skin color, the Census provides information only as it pertains to gender, age, marital status, residential zone, and working vs. retirement age.

It is impossible to know from the data of the last Census what percentage of professionals in the country are black, and in what region, provinces, municipalities and neighborhoods they are concentrated.

Statistics are fundamental. They paint a picture of the situation and are a way to discern one group among others. Data facilitate the design and adoption of public policies that take into account concrete needs. Without reliable data, without indicators and periodic measurements, it is impossible to make political decisions geared to confronting the problem of discrimination.

The current trend is for the mixed-race population to increase. Between 1981 and 2012, this segment grew by 4.62%, while the black population decreased by 2.74%, and the white by 1.88%

Racial Profiling

How can we identify racial profiling and bias in the criminal-justice system that persist in practice and directly affects the Afro-descendant population, such as the mechanism for selective and discretionary detention and investigation? And how can we develop strategies to eliminate it?

The practice of racial profiling, or the establishment of racial profiles as a “repressive action,” is adopted for supposed reasons of security or public protection, and is based on stereotypes of race, color, ethnicity, language, heritage, religion, nationality or place of birth, or a combination of these factors—and not on objective suspicions. This practice tends to single out in a discriminatory manner individuals or groups who meet erroneous criteria for propensity to certain types of criminal behavior by people with certain characteristics.

The establishment of racial profiles includes the practice by police officers and other law enforcement officials of using race, color, heritage, or national or ethnic origin as a reason to subject people to activities for purposes of investigation, or to determine if they are committing criminal acts.

The Afro-descendant population is more susceptible to being suspected, persecuted, processed and sentenced. Selective detentions of persons of color based on racial profiles, unjustified police surveillance, and negative interactions with the police are common, as are elevated arrest rates and an over-representation of persons of African origin in the criminal justice system.

These circumstances are exacerbated by a lack of information provided to the persons detained by the police (and a lack of self-identification), and because the more individual discretion an agent has in handling a situation, the more he or she relies on stereotypes.

People of color, especially young people, invest vast sums of money in their appearance and dress, so as to avoid negative interactions with security agents. The latter exert more intense control over them than over people with white skin in terms of requiring identification documents, and performing searches and seizures, primarily because of the established “suspicious person” profile: generally young, male and Afro-descendant.

The police maintain the notion of the “suspicious person” and utilize categories constructed on the basis of “intuition,” “experience,” “sense of smell,” or “facial bearing.” There is also labeling done, according to which the harsh living conditions that many black people must face, classifies them as more prone to commit crimes, principally of property.

Access to Justice

The lack of mechanisms for complaint, judicial guarantees, reparation, and the lack of sensitivity of justice personnel (administrative or judicial) in relation to racial discrimination, contributes to the persistence of racism on the Island, deepens the resignation of the discriminated groups to their lot, and perpetuates patterns of segregation and exclusion.

The government does not report complaints or cases of discrimination. This shows how the victims lack knowledge of their rights and confidence in the police and/or judicial authorities, and how insensitive and inattentive these authorities are to instances of discrimination.

Such paucity of records of racial discrimination shows that such cases do not come to the attention of the justice system, nor have they been taken up by the courts, and it denotes the obstacles to legal access and the absence of effective legal guarantees for the dark-skinned population. It is common for the authorities to use inappropriate and discriminatory discourse against these persons.

Regarding criticisms and discriminatory comments, there is a total tolerance for them in the communication media and in recreation centers, where “jokes about blacks” and racist comments are freely bandied about.

There is no judicial recourse for their protection, which results from a process of “resignation in the face of historic and endemic injustice,” being that “there is no devolution of the processes of complaint that implicate a fault of the complainant.”

Afro-descendants’ lack of confidence in the judicial system is influenced by the obstacles they face in accessing the courts to pursue cases of racism: the racist insult, not being framed in the law, remains unpunished in the majority of cases.

Generally speaking, the police refuse to accept and settle these types of claims because they consider them irrelevant. There are, additionally, issues of difficulty in proving such accusations, and lack of adequate investigation, standardized procedures, or guidelines.

This same attitude is replicated at the judicial level, insofar as the judicial authorities do not, as a matter of course, process claims of discrimination, nor are they willing to receive such complaints.

Situation of the Afro-Descendant Woman

Racism in Cuba particularly affects Afro-descendant women, who historically have suffered a triple discrimination based on their sex, extreme poverty, and race. Although this is has been a reality throughout the history of country, during the last 50 years it has been buried under a supposed social equality. The special needs of black women—tied to other factors such as religion or beliefs, health, civil status, age, class, sexual orientation and gender identity—have been totally ignored by State policies, thus feeding contemporary forms of racism and racial prejudice in our society.

Such discrimination impacts Afro-descendant women in a special way. Statistics show that they are even poorer and have fewer possibilities of accessing housing, health care, and education than white men, Afro-descendant men, and non-Afro-descendant women, and even fewer possibilities to attain employment and political participation.

The Afro-descendant community overall lives in the poorest regions, but the weight of discrimination is even greater for women of African heritage because their multiple roles, both within and outside the home, and is not adequately reflected in their social position, employment, and salary. Compared to the rest of the female population, they are notoriously underrepresented in decision-making, such that “in the political sphere, only a miniscule number of Afro-descendant women have been able to obtain positions of power.”

There are no studies that contrast the situation between white women and their Afro-descendant counterparts.

Concrete Cases

Laura Masa: Afro-descendant woman 50 years of age, mother raising a son who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. She has resided in the El Morado district, La Lisa municipality, Havana province, since 1990. Her house, which is in a terrible state of disrepair, has wooden walls, a dirt floor, and an asbestos roof. It consists of one multi-purpose room (bedroom and kitchen), with no toilet, and is in danger of collapsing.

The authorities are aware of her situation, and recommend construction of a dwelling from the ground-up to avoid accidents. She has been requesting help from the State for 25 years. In August 2014, Masa asked the authorities to recognize her as the owner of the land she occupies and provide her with a construction subsidy. So far she has not received a response, and her situation is worsening. Water service is denied her because she does not hold the title to her real estate.

Yurliani Tamayo Martínez: Afro-descendant woman 33 years of age, mother of two daughters. She lives in the 10 de Octubre municipality, inside a school building that is in danger of collapsing, which lacks water and sewer connections, has leakages and broken sewers, and is infested with rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes. She has written to the authorities, but there are no available dwellings and, apparently, there are other, worse cases than hers.

In 2010, a day after Hurricane Gustav passed over the area, she entered the dwelling whose former residents had left the country. Functionaries and police officers tried to lure her out with threats of physical violence. The harassment continued, and Tamayo Martínez feared that if she went outside, her children would be snatched from her to force her to give up the dwelling.

On 9 April 2010, at 4am, she was sleeping with her daughters of 4 years and 1 year of age, respectively. A rumbling frightened the smaller one. They started to scream. The electricity was cut off. A man said, “Open up, it’s your cousin, Noslen.” But Tamayo Martínez does not have a relative by that name. She took her little ones in her arms and tried, in vain, to prevent the intruders from knocking down the door.

Two uniformed policemen entered via the balcony. A plain-clothed man dragged her by one foot, while the others let in an official who tore her girls from her arms, despite the screams. They dragged her by the hair. Upon being immobilized, Tamayo Martínez couldn’t see, but felt a foot pressing down on her head while the men shouted obscenities at her. A hand squeezed her face. She instinctively bit a finger. A blow to her face loosened one of her teeth.

They picked her up from the floor by the handcuffs and took her and her daughters out into the hallway, barefoot and in their underwear. They led them down the stairs and put Tamayo Martínez in a patrol car. A female police officer slapped her while hurling insults. They took off at lightning speed but a few hundred meters away they remembered that they had left the little girls semi-clad in the chill of the dawn. They returned. They hurriedly grabbed the girls and threw them into the car. One fell backward on her little arms, and the other landed face-down. They screamed for their mother between sobs, while the officer yelled that they were under arrest.

After 12 hours they were taken to a doctor. The older of the girls and Tamayo Martínez had contusions. Because they had nowhere to go, the officials threatened Tamayo Martínez that they would take the girls to a home for children without parental protection, and that she would go to prison. Her family had to claim them. They returned to the hospital the next day. The orthopedist diagnosed a fractured elbow and a contusion in her shoulder. Her pains continued, caused by a fracture in the second vertebra where the spinal column connects to the cervical spine–a life-threatening injury.

Yaumara Brown Surit: Afro-descendant woman, 33 years of age. At 6 am on 7 September she was evicted by functionaries of the Municipal Housing Authority, who were accompanied by officers from the National Police. They kicked down the door and evicted her along with her two small children. Violence and bad treatment ensued at the hands of the State functionaries. Brown Surit was arrested along with her children, Sheyla and Maykel Valdivia Brown, 11 and 4 years of age, respectively, who witnessed the arbitrariness of the functionaries from the Housing Authority and the Police. Now, Sheyla does not want to go outside to play for fear of leaving her mother and something happening; she presents symptoms of regression, she awakens in a panic from nightmares, wets herself, and is under psychiatric treatment for anxious adaptive disorder.

Niurka Pérez Carbó: Afro-descendant woman of 60 years of age, suffering from ischemic cardiomyopathy, mother of a prison inmate. On 18 November 2018, she was attacked in the very police station where she tried to stop the detention of her son. The desk clerk struck her with the back of his hand, and then various police officers joined in the attack. They shoved her, dragged her by the hair and arms, beat her on the breasts and neck, and kicked her. One agent pulled on her left arm and caused a fracture of the elbow at the joint.

María Isabel Rodríguez: Mother of a prison inmate who since his adolescence has been a target of unjustified police surveillance, due to various members of his family having been tried in court. Her son was arrested for pre-criminal dangerousness and anti-social conduct for having gone straight home from work every day for three years. The local police authority, unsatisfied with the charges, continued harassing him.

María Isabel Rodríguez told the official that he was a liar and was lacking in professional ethics. He accused her son of calling him corrupt, and this resulted in his arrest. She went with her son and took responsibility for the action, but her son incriminated himself and pleaded for his mother to be left in peace. He was then transported to a prison cell by two agents.

María Isabel Rodríguez tried to stop the agents when Captain Jorge Luiz punched her in the chest, telling her to shut up, and the Section Chief gave her another blow in the same spot. She asked why she was being beaten, being that she had spoken the truth, and that the Section Chief is indeed corrupt. They then charged her with disrespect. When she refused to sign the complaint, they took her hand by force and marked the document with her fingerprint. They put a 1,000-peso bond on her son. She then demanded to file a complaint against the Section Chief for all the mistreatment inflicted on her and her son, but another official asked her if she was crazy, expecting them to “file a complaint against themselves.”

Female, Black, Poor, and… Dissident

Dissidents are, according to the Government, persons of low class. But if a dissident is also Afro-descendant, then she is also troublesome, rude, vulgar and disrespectful of the authorities. Madelaine Lázara Caraballo Betancourt, 45, y Sonia Garro Alfonso, 39, black women who are dissidents, were criminally prosecuted. Both reside in zones where Afro-descendants are the majority.

In both their cases, at the time of arrest, the authorities used excessive force. Both women were labeled “arrogant and problematic” and accused of consorting with persons of low social conduct to “demonstrate against the Government.” So as to stigmatize them, they contextualize the events using obscene phrases and language that is generally not employed in provisional summaries by prosecutors.

For her part, Madelaine Lázara Caraballo Betancourt, a carrier of HIV-AIDS, was tried for public disturbance, disobedience, and resistance to authority. On the afternoon of 1 October 2012, she tried to stop the eviction of her family. Her daughter, with her minor grandchildren, had occupied an abandoned and uninhabitable tenement block in Old Havana. According to the authorities, Caraballo Betancourt began screaming obscenities and hurled a spit gob that “hit the chest” of an official. She hung on to a railing at the entrance to the building. Agents beat her until she let go, causing a trauma to her left shoulder. Madeleine served almost two years in the San José de Las Lajas Penitentiary, a prison in Mayabeque province for HIV-AIDS carriers.

References

Arrieta, L. C. (15 May 2013). Initial Findings of the Prosecutor Against Lázara Madelaine Caraballo Betancourt. Havana, Cuba.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (5 December 2011). Situation of Afro-descendant Persons in the Americas. Washington D.C., United States of America.

Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (20 January 2010). Periodic Reports Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17 & 18 that the States Parties Should Present in 2007—Republic of Cuba. Reports Presented by the States Parties in Accordance with Article 9 of the Convention. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (15 December 2011). Periodic Reports Nos. 14 – 18 for Cuba (continuation)- Act resumed in the 2056th session. Examination of reports, observations and information presented by the States Parties in Accordance with Article 9 of the Convention (continuation). United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (2 November 2011). Periodic Reports Nos. 14 – 18 for Cuba- Act resumed in the 2055th session. Examination of reports, observations and information presented by the States Parties by Virtue of Article 9 of the Convention (continuation). United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. (8 April 2011). Final Observations of the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination- Cuba. Examination of Reports Presented by the States Parties in Accordance with Article 9 of the Convention. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.

National Office of Statistics. (September 2005). Census of Population and Housing-2002. Cuba.

National Office of Statistics. (2013). Census of Population and Housing-2012. Cuba.

Pérez, L. V. (7 August 2013). Provisional Conclusions of the Public Prosecutor against Sonia Garro Alfonso. Havana, Cuba.

Sentence No. 415, Case No. 2018/2010, for Crimes of Attack against Yurleany Tamayo Martínez (Fifth Chamber of the Provincial Criminal Tribunal of Havana, 30 September 2010).

Yeg, L. (21 June 2010). Provisional Conclusions of the Public Prosecutor against Yurleanis Tamayo. Havana, Cuba.

 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and "Raul" on two piglets / Laritza Diversent

After 90 days of imprisonment, there is no formal accusation against the artist, Danilo Maldonado.

Laritza Diversent, Havana, 25 March 2015 — Authorities are still imprisoning the artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), who was detained arbitrarily by the police.

Maldonado, 31 years old, is an urban artist and painter who finds himself accused of “aggravated contempt,” a charge that the Cuban State uses to incarcerate people who are critical of the Government. He presently is serving 90 days in preventive custody in Valle Grande, on the outskirts of the Capital.

On the afternoon of December 25, 2014, Maldonado staged a “show” in a spot in the city of Havana, when he was detained by police operatives. They arrested him for having two piglets in a sack. One was painted on the back with the name “Fidel,” and the other, with the name “Raul.”

Both names are common; however, the authorities assumed that they disrespected the Castro brothers, and they could impose on him a sanction of between one and three years of prison. Continue reading “Cuba: Artist imprisoned for painting the names "Fidel" and "Raul" on two piglets / Laritza Diversent”

Cubalex presented an appeal before the Havana tribunal for the authorities to explain the motive for the detention, a recourse that was denied.

The prosecutor didn’t even formally present the accusation before the tribunal. Maldonado’s lawyer asked the authorities several times to allow him to await trial in liberty, which request was also denied.

In Cuban law, the crime of “contempt” is an amplified term that includes defamation or insults toward other Government employees, and it carries aggravated penalties when it is committed against the Head of State. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has said that this type of rule goes against freedom of expression and the free demonstration of ideas and opinions, which do not justify the imposition of sanctions.

Let’s not forget that all those people who exercise public office or are important statesman, like the Heads of State or the Government, can be legitimate objects of criticism or political opposition. Freedom of expression should take place without inhibition in the public debate about Government officials.

Let’s ask the Cuban State to guarantee and respect Danilo Maldonado’s right to freedom of expression, without restrictions. Furthermore, let’s ask the international community to speak up for his freedom and his right to a fair trial.

About Cubalex:

Cubalex, the Center of Legal Information, is located in Havana, Cuba. We are a non-profit organization founded in 2010, not recognized by the Cuban State. We offer free legal advice on housing, migration, inheritance, criminal appeals, constitutional procedures and defending civil and political rights, in the national and international arena, to Cuban citizens or foreigners who request our services.

If you want a consultation, you can find us through our email: centrocubalex@gmail.com;

or by telephone:  (537) 7 647-226 or  (+535)-241-5948

Translated by Regina Anavy

Appeal against the arrest of graffiti artist El Sexto rejected; prisoner transferred to Valle Grande / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 7 January 2015 — The graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, remains imprisoned in Valle Grande prison after authorities rejected the habeas corpus appeal presented by the Cubalex organization, led by independent counsel Laritza Diversent.

The appeal denounced the “arbitrary detention” of El Sexto which took place when he led two pigs, named Fidel and Raul, to stage a performance in Havana’s Central Park on 26 December. The graffiti artist is accused of “insult.”

Diversent explained to Diario de Cuba this Wednesday that the authorities rejected the appeal “with very subtle arguments” and hid behind an assertion that there was “no legal basis” to consider the arrest as “illegal.”

The independent counsel recalled that her appeal did not cite the detention as illegal but “arbitrary.” Likewise, in her demand she specified that the names of pigs, Fidel and Raul, were “common” and that authorities had to “accept criticism.”

For now, according to independent counsel, there is still no trial date and she hopes that there will be a change of custody, because the events in which El Sexto is involved are a “misdemeanor.”

Also, Diversent said that she had sent information to international bodies so that they will speak out on the situation of graffiti artist.

New Reforms to Emigration Policy? / Laritza Diversent

Although recent legislative changes to immigration laws in Cuba represent a step forward, they still retain aspects that are political and restrictive in nature and in violation of the right to free movement.

The changes to immigration regulations do improve the legal wording and drop any reference to entry and/or exit permits and to the letter of invitation, which had been a tacit acknowledgement of Cubans’ inability to travel from an economic point of view.

In practice the situation remains the same. The requirements of most of foreign embassies located on the island and the high fees charged for travel documents, which must be paid in hard currency, make the possibility of traveling overseas an impossible dream for most Cubans.

However, new policies have been put into effect and new categories have been created. In residential real estate, for example, guarantees are now being offered to foreign residents and their families as well as to owners and renters of real estate on the island.

The state is clearly focusing on sectors with economic potential: foreigners and emigres. The latter are being given the opportunity to reclaim a residence on the island and with it the right to take part in elections, become self-employed, buy cars and homes, etc.

However, the possibility that the Ministry of the Interior might grant this right to Cubans living overseas — to people not physically living in the country — no doubt means that it will choose which emigres shall and shall not regain their rights.

16 June 2014

What Can an Independent Lawyer do in Cuba? / Laritza Diversent

In Cuba, professionals can’t work for themselves in the specialty in which they graduate. Legal counseling and consulting are not recognized as self-employed activities, the only actions that a lawyer can perform independently. The few that make this decision have to do it for free.

It’s also difficult to form an autonomous association. The red tape required to legalize a non-profit organization assures that the State has absolute control over it.

To these limitations economic dependence is also added. The lawyer who doesn’t work for the State doesn’t earn anything. In order to survive, in a system where the economic crisis is permanent, independent lawyers collect extra honoraria, even when the regulation on the practice of advocacy, among other causes, considers it a serious shortcoming to receive honoraria that are not established or are better than those officially approved, whether in cash or in kind. A double morality is imposed by these conditions on the practice of advocacy in Cuba, and with it comes total submission to the system.

See Artículo 59.3 inciso c, Resolución No. 142/84 “Regulation on the practice of Advocacy and the National Organization of Collective Law Firms.”

From Jurisconsulto de Cuba, by Laritza Diversent

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 June 2014

Will a Complaint Be Enough to Defend Our Rights? / Laritza Diversent

According to international legal instruments, “Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals to be protected from acts violating their fundamental rights granted them by the constitution or by law.”

No national competent institution regarding the promotion and protection of human rights is recognized within the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba[1]. The Cuban government considers that such an institution is not an identified need for the people of Cuba, based on their willingness to continue to build a society that guarantees all justice[2].

According to the Cuban government, the state has a complex and effective inter-institutional system, which includes the participation of NGOs, in order to receive, transact and respond to any complaint or request made by individuals or groups, concerning the enjoyment of any human right.

The system provides for the reception of complaints, mandatory responses but no restitution if it was proven, and their transmission through the courts. The term to respond is too long and doesn’t provide for an exception for urgent cases or for irreparable damages.

In practice, none of them will go deep into the investigation of the case to verify alleged violations. Nevertheless, according to the government “this system has proven effective in practice and has the capacity to respond to the interests, complaints and denunciations of alleged human rights violations”.

Learn about the state bodies that intervene in this system and the obligations they have on: “National Institutions for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”, in the legal Cuban system?

[1] Information brochure No. 19 of the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, “National Institution for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights”

[2] Report of the working group for the Universal Periodic Review – Cuba, Council of Human Rights, 2009

Translated by: Michaela Klicnikova

11 June 2014

Manual of Rights and Duties / Laritza Diversent

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 11.03.01 PMMost Cuban citizens do not know the legal system in force on the Island, and the procedures they must follow to exercise a certain legal action, be it a civil, penal, administrative, family matter, etc., principally those that relate to their civil and political rights. Frequently they are victims of the arbitrary and selective application of the law.

With respect to Cubalex — the Center for Legal Information — tries to expand the pro bono representation and legal analysis available in Cuba, as well as the capacity for self-defense by dissidents, human rights activists and citizens who have no apparent political motivations, living inside or outside the national territory.

Cubalex offers its clients detailed information about the Cuban legal system, the legal the legal rules that apply to their case and the procedures to be followed in response to government, regional or international institutions.

The Manual of Rights and Duties / on-line, offers information about the ways in which Cubans can defend their rights as citizens facing an arrest, official summons, and search of their homes.

8 March 2014

Inmate Dies in Havana Jail, Possibly From Cholera / Laritza Diversent

19-carcel-1-300x200HAVANA, Cuba , September 18, 2013 , www.cubanet.org.- For approximately 15 days, several prisoners complained about cholera cases within the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. So far the authorities of the Ministry of Public Health have not reported anything.

Pedro Pablo de Armas Carrero, an inmate who leads a movement called Inner Reality from Prison (RIDP) ,created on April 9, 2013, in memory of all prisoners dead from hunger strikes in Cuban prisons, told this reporter that on Tuesday, September 17, between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning, the inmate Iyamil Garcia Benitez, 38, from the town of Parraga, in Arroyo Naranjo, died in that prison.

Armas Carracedo adds that, when his cellmates asked the guards to help the sick man, he was already dehydrated and vomiting blood. He also says that Garcia Benitez Garcia suffered from chronic ulcers.

carcel-2-300x221According to medical investigator Yasser Rojas, the cause of death of the prisoner may have been hypovolemic shock. The clinical picture could be complicated both by the bleeding as well as by the dehydration caused by diarrhea, a symptom of cholera.

According to information received from the prison, on 1 September 14 cases of cholera had been declared among the inmates. Ten of the contaminated were under observation in the center’s center, and four had been referred to outside hospitals.

Although casual contact with cholera-infected people is not a risk for becoming ill, in places where there is poor sanitation and overcrowding, as in Cuban prisons, the disease presents as an epidemic. The pandemic, when serious, is characterized by profoundly watery diarrhea that can lead to dehydration.

The inmates at Combinado del Este prison complain that the roofs leak from the sanitary sewer pipes. The leaks cause dampness in the 12 by 36 foot cells, where up to 36 prisoners live crammed together. The cisterns are totally contaminated by all kinds of insects and rodents. Inmates have to store water in jars and buckets. The prison was built in 1966 and has not had any major repairs.

From Cubanet

18 September 2013

Red Flag: The New Penal Law Threatens Human Rights / Laritza Diversent

The reforms of the Penal Code and the Penal Procedure Act adopted by the State Council to “ensure greater effectiveness and efficiency in the prevention and the fight against crime” raises a red flag about the situation of human rights in Cuba.

The amendments will come into force on October 1st. Their main objective is to expand the power of the police forces and lighten the burden of the courts, a solution that results in more than one problem. The main one is: Are the police officers trained to legally evaluate and judge a case?

Currently, police officers can address directly any infringement of the Penal Law, with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, without being required to report the case to the court. In October, they will be granted authority over offenses of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 50 thousand pesos, with the approval of a prosecutor.

This power enables them to judge and punish with fines, which represent 27% of the penalties established in the Penal Code. With the new amendments, these will now represent 52% of the penalties, and police officers will only need approval from a prosecutor to enforce 26%, a good way to contribute “to the consistent enforcement of the Penal Code policies outlined by the State.”

In the amendments the guarantees of due process were not taken into account. The police officers decide whether or not to take the citizen to court and the amount of the fine. In addition, the assistance of a defense lawyer has not been foreseen for any of these cases. Undoubtedly, a subtle way of violating the right to a public hearing in “court.”

The accused decides whether or not they will be judged by a policeman or a judge. Just think how dependent courts and prosecutors’ offices are on the instructions of the State Council and, therefore, the Ministry of the Interior. Judges and prosecutors are badly paid and overworked. In October, the number of cases that municipal courts will have access to will increase from 52% of all cases to 78%, and those in uniform can lighten this workload in 67% of all cases.

What could happen? Will they be acquitted, will they try to fine them again or will they be sentenced to deprivation of liberty? It’s better not to bet on it. However, the uncertainty will not disappear if the citizens accept to be judged by a police officer.

The fines currently enforced by police officers for infringements with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, range from 200 to 1,000 pesos, national currency, and can be extended up to 2 thousand pesos whenever the circumstances demand it.

In October, this range will reach the 2 thousand pesos and could be extended up to 3 thousand. For infringements with penalties of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines of more than 50 thousand, the fines will be from 500 to 5,000 pesos and can be extended up to 7,000.

Can you imagine this in a country where the basic monthly salary is 229 pesos? Taxes on self-employment allow for a 300 to 400 pesos revenue, without resorting to the black market or violating the law. Have they thought about the need citizens have to resort to illegality as mean of survival?

Perhaps it may be better to address the matter without going to court. One does not have to think that we are all innocent until proven otherwise. Once the citizen accepts to be judged by a police officer is he recognizing his own guilt?

Today, if the fine is paid within 3 days and the citizen complies with the terms of civil liability, the case is closed without penal implications. With the new amendments the time period to pay the fines was extended to 10 days. In these cases, property and goods can be confiscated as well.

What would happen if the accused does not have the money within that time? Will their charges increase? If the person fails to pay and to comply with civil liability, the case will be passed on to a court. What crime will they be judged for? For failing to comply with the charges from the initial crime or for the crime itself that the person committed and implicitly accepted? None of these questions are clarified in the Law of the State Council Decree.

Have the recently elected national deputies read the draft of the amendments for the Penal Code? Why doesn’t the National Assembly, the legislative body participate in the legal implementation of the “changes and transformation” in the economic and social arenas of the country? In short, did anyone think about us?

In any event, the lack of political will is evident when it comes to complying with the international human rights covenants for the drafting of national legislation. In contrast, the new legal amendments increase the state of legal uncertainty for Cubans. A good time to raise a red flag.

By Laritza Diversent 

Translated by Chabeli Castillo

Monday, July 1, 2013