Laritza Diversent and Cubalex Begin Their Life In Exile

Laritza Diversent (center) before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami/Havana, 4 May 2017 — The team at the Cubalex Legal Information Center and its director, attorney Laritza Diversent, have obtained political refuge in the United States following the intensification of repression against the nonprofit organization dedicated to legally advising Cubans.

Diversent, told 14ymedio, from a stop at Miami International Airport this Thursday, that this was a “very hard” time for her and her team.

“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba,” he said. continue reading

On September 23, 2016, agents of the Interior Ministry raided the Cubalex headquarters in Havana and confiscated their work equipment as well as two hundred files of people who were advised by the organization.

“We are saddened that we can not continue to provide legal advice to people within Cuba, especially to many of the prisoners we helped, but since last September our work has not been safe in Cuba”

One day before her departure from the country, the lawyer was summoned by the Attorney General’s Office to inform her of the legal proceedings brought against her by the authorities.

“It seems it is a new strategy to raid the headquarters of organizations. It already happened with Convivencia and with Somos+,” recalls the lawyer.

Diversent explained that she was accused of violating self-employment regulations.

“The State assumes that as we receive financing from abroad we hire people. As legal guardianship is not recognized as an activity to be carried out independently we are accused of violating the law,” she says.

She also reported that they had told a “string of lies” about supposed gifts given by her in exchange for speeding up procedures to legalize her home.

The Prosecutor’s Office ruled against a ban on her leaving the country, Diversent was able to verify. “They told me they knew I was working on the immigration process, and that they would allow me to leave, but that if I returned they would activate the investigation again,” she said.

“They threatened to accuse me of forgery and bribery if I returned to Cuba.”

The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government.

The lawyer says that independent organizations such as hers are a direct target of State Security and are exposed to all kinds of harassment by the Government

“State Security is aimed directly at us. The international community does not have a strong position with the Government, so we are subject to double discrimination: that of the State that calls us terrorists and mercenaries and that of international organizations and countries that do not support us because they seek to maintain good relations with the Cuban government,” she said.

Family reasons also carried great weight in this decision:

“I am a human rights activist, but I am also a mother. I have a son 17 and I don’t want anything to happen to him. In the case of women, the first thing they do is attack their children,” she said.

Diversent explained that she will be based in the state of Tennessee and that the rest of his colleagues will travel in three groups between May 25 and June 5.

The organization, based in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo in Havana and founded in 2010, provides legal advice but is not legally recognized within the island, despite the numerous reports it has drafted for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, among other international organizations.

In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the State already defends the people.”

In July of last year the government refused to legalize Cubalex, after ruling that in Cuba no independent legal aid organizations are needed because “the state already defends the people”

Cubalex members, who have received refugee status, will be based in different states of the United States. However, the lawyer is confident that they will be able to meet at some point to restart the work. For now they have dismissed Miami as a possible site.

Two members of the group, Julio Iglesias and Julio Ferrer, must remain in the country because they are under criminal proceedings or in prison. Ferrer received a change of the precautionary measures against him this week.

“It really hurts me, what is happening to those in Cuba because of the commitment they have made to the people and the work they have done,” Diversent said.

The lawyer explained that for nine months they have been denouncing “violations of due process” in those cases but have not been able to do anything despite exhausting all the resources.

Following the raid on Cubalex’s headquarters, Amnesty International called for urgent action to “call on the Cuban authorities to allow members of Cubalex and other human rights lawyers and activists to operate freely without harassment or intimidation.”

“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the island”

Laritza Diversent’s trip to the US coincides with Thursday’s release of a communiqué from the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which reports that there have been 1,809 arbitrary detentions in the first four months of 2017.

In April alone, the organization documented 467 arbitrary arrests, of which 335 were women, 132 were men and 147 were black people, ten of whom were “brutally beaten,” according to the activists.

The OCDH has stressed that a climate of repression prevails “at a time when the Cuban Government has achieved important international support like the European Union and the Government of Spain,” and warns that “in the coming months the political climate may be aggravated, as a result of certain nervousness of the Government before the difficult economic and social situation that is facing Cuba.”

Diversent agrees.

“There is much to be done in international human rights organizations. There is a lot to do with the organizations that are inside Cuba, to support them,” she explains.

“Cubalex will be legalized in the United States and will continue its work from here focused on supporting civil society organizations on the Island.”

The Risks of Defending Human Rights in Cuba / Cubalex

Cubalex, 4 April 2017 — In the cycles of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR), held in 2009 and 2013, the Cuban State rejected 32 recommendations calling for an end to repression against human rights defenders and lifting restrictions that impede freedom of speech, opinion, association, assembly and peaceful demonstration.

Members of the Human Rights Council suggested that the state ensure a safe, free and independent environment for human rights activities, without the risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution or violence. continue reading

They recommended that the state refrain from abusing the criminal code to repress and harass people. In addition, all necessary measures should be taken including a review of the legislation, to ensure that all cases of aggression against human rights activists are investigated by independent and impartial bodies.

The Cuban State objected to these recommendations, on the grounds that they were inconsistent with the exercise of the state’s right to self-determination; they claimed that this would imply implementing a policy conceived by a foreign superpower, with the aim of destroying Cuba’s political, economic, and social system.

However, the government claims that, in the country, human rights defenders are protected, on an equal footing, and act with total freedom and without any restriction that is incompatible with international human rights instruments.

The state adds that there are the millions of people who in Cuba are grouped in thousands of organizations, and who have all the guarantees for the exercise of their rights. They do not need different protection from that of anyone with Cuban citizenship. They are not a threat, they are not in danger, nor do they face the possibility of an act in violation of the conduct of their activities.

You Know Why Cubans Flee Cuba En Masse… / Cubalex

Cubalex, 30 March 2017 — Because there is no democracy or rule of law. Nor do the conditions exist to exercise civil, political, economic, social and cultural freedoms. The elite of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), maintains power through the structures of the State and the Government with repressive methods.

Workers have no right to strike nor can they freely create trade unions. The government refuses to legalize any social organizations that do not share the policies of the party elite. Dissidents and human rights defenders are stigmatized, harassed and ultimately imprisoned. continue reading

Opposition to the government can not be organized. There are no legal mechanisms for the existence of political parties. The PCC is the only party recognized in the National Constitution, which was drafted by the founders of this political organization, senior military commanders who have remained in power for almost 60 years; almost sixty years with two presidents, brothers named Castro.

This military elite, does not tolerate opposition, nor pay any political or economic price for harassing and repressing it. They are not open to public debate. Through the Law they harass people who openly criticize them.

They count on making an example of those who oppose them. The rest of society refrains from expressing their political preferences. They fear negative consequences in their lives. They are controlled by social and mass organizations.

The electoral law does not allow political parties to participate in the elections, but the PCC participates in them, through the mass organizations. They control the electoral process. They avoid competition and ensure that the members of this political organization are elected and appointed to hold office in government. Their leaders occupy positions in the highest party and state structure.

As a consequence, people with citizenship and residence on the island cannot run on equal terms. Nor do they have the mechanisms to participate in political and economic decision-making. The election of the members of parliament does not depend on their votes and political preferences.

They are excluded from intervening in the national economy, a privilege only allowed to foreigners. While the country’s economic situation is precarious and worsens, the State limits its ability to generate income. It obliges them, through the exercise of self-employment, to carry out non-professional economic activities with only minimum profit margins.

If Cubans dramatically flee the country, it is to seek better opportunities for their lives, but also to seek freedom. “When the people emigrate, the rulers are superfluous,” is a phrase of José Martí’s that today is fully in force.

Cuba Denies the Work of Informal Civil Society in Defending Human Rights / Cubalex

Cubalex, 3 April 2017 — The defense and promotion of human rights in the world depens on the work done on the ground by civil society organzations, documenting human rights violations.

It does not matter whether the internal context of a country is more or less repressive, or whether the regime is more or less democratic. Civil society is the one that monitors the universal and effective applications and implementation of human rights. continue reading

These organizations are the mediators between individuals and the State and an essential pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracies and the rule of law. Without civil society, there is no legitimate state.

Lamentably its members often are exposed to dangers. Many times they are tortured and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, including murder. They are vulnerable worldwide, due to undue restrictions on freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Of the 43 thematic mandates of the special procedures of the United Nations, the rapporteurs who deal with the exercise of these rights are those who send the most communications to the States. Cuba is no exception. These rapporteurs were the ones that sent the most communications, either individually or jointly, between 2011 and 2016.

However, the Cuban State disagrees with the rapporteurs’ characterization of the people who make up the organizations that defend human rights in Cuba. The State considers it inadmissible that they should be recognized internationally as such and as a part of Cuban civil society.

The State says that these human rights defenders aim to openly transgress the laws, undermine, subvert and destroy the political and social system, the internal legal and constitutional order, established in a sovereign way by the Cuban nation, acting against the purposes and principles enshrined in the International agreements on human rights.

It asserts that they are everything from invaders to terrorists, hiding behind the mantle of human rights defenders. it states that they receive funding from the United States government to fabricate excuses that justify their policy of hostility, blockade and aggression against Cuba.

The government denies the work of defending human rights on the part of informal civil society organizations, and discredits them, to increase their vulnerability.

Cuba: Government Affirms That There Is No Torture In The Country / Cubalex

Recent photos of Cuban human rights activists during and after their interactions with police and state security forces.

Cubalex, Havana, 16 March 2017 — In the two cycles of the Universal Periodic Review undertaken in 2009 and 2013, the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council recommended that the Cuban State ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture as soon as possible and without reservations, and pass laws to make it clear in national legislation that torture as a crime.

The Government took note of these recommendations, arguing that it ensured respect for the physical and spiritual integrity of persons and that it had effective national resources to ensure the rigorous implementation of the Convention.

It added that international investigations confirmed that people residing in its territory enjoy the fullest protection and enjoyment of the rights and remedies established by international human rights instruments.

It affirmed that there were no practices of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the country. Consequently, it did not consider it necessary, to assume obligations with procedures and instances of supranational jurisdiction, for the processing of individual petitions.

The treaty bodies responsible for interpreting and monitoring the application of international human rights instruments are not authorized to hear individual complaints from individuals with Cuban citizenship and residence. Cuba does not recognize their jurisdiction.

Cuba: “Revolutionary Integration” As A Form Of Social Control / Cubalex

Cubalex, 2 March 2017 – It is common for people living in Cuba, once they start school at about six and pass from one educational level to another, to join social and mass organizations. First, in elementary school, the Pioneers, and then, at age 14, the social and mass organization and later the student organizations.

Once they start their working life they join the country’s only union, and the organization for their professional sector. Most do not have any assigned function, but they pay their dues.

The rule is that everyone is integrated into several of the social and mass organizations — all of them the only ones of their kind in the country — according to their educational level, their professional sector or specific interests. Their lives, social and work, and that of their families depend on this integration and on participating in patriotic, political and military activities.

“Revolutionary integration” violates freedom of association, which includes the right not to be forced to join an organization. It is a requirement to obtain a university degree, to get a job, or to ascend in the workplace, where one also is required to be integrated into political organizations.

State institutions, including schools, demand and verify your membership. Sometimes directly, others through a business subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. Security and Protection, or the organs of criminal investigation, coordiante with the social and mass organizations.

For example, the administration of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), when a case is being investigated, provide private and intimate information and opinions, in many cases personal and subjective, that are later used by the prosecutor.

In the sentences of the courts, in addition to the personal data, it is taken into account whether the accused person participates in activities “targeted or programmed by mass organizations” or whether the person publicly expresses disagreement with socialist principles. This determines whether he is good or bad person.

“Revolutionary integration” is the mechanism of social control that allows the political group in power to establish systems of rewards and punishments. People who do not join these organizations for religious reasons, or who publicly express their political opinions, are condemned to work immobility, isolation and social discrimination.

Broken Dreams / Cubalex

A montage of photos of Cubalex on the day of the police raid and mail from the people they help.

Translator’s note: The references here to the empty offices and the inability to work relate to a police raid that occurred in September of last year, during which much of the organization’s equipment was confiscated.

Cubalex, 20 February 2017 – It is an ordinary November day. Cubalex members are visiting the headquarters, the emptiness of the offices hardly bearable, their faces are not the same as before, but they continue to be united.

“A letter has arrived,” says an assistant. “Read it out loud,” everyone says. “It is a new case, I don’t recall the name,” she affirms. “But start reading it,” exclaimed the investigator.

“OK, I’ll start,” she says. “Havana, 16 November 2016, Dear Laritza and the Cubalex team, I recently wrote to you, another inmate gave me the address. Today I received an answer from you in which you explained the process to be able to help me. continue reading

“And I felt like the happiest prisoner in the world. I had written to all the state institutions and none responded to me. I am speaking to you from my heart, that you have given me back my hope and a desire to go on living.”

The emotion was visible on everyone’s face, after so many days without being able to do our work this letter filled the space and all of us with emotion. It was the first pleasant emotion we had felt after more than 90 days of anguish.

“A million thanks,” she continued reading, “love and blessings to you all, a thousand thanks for the help you can offer me, I have no way to thank you. I once again want to live. In you, I have found different human beings.

“I will send you all the documents you asked me for, I am serving a sentence for a crime I didn’t commit, while the real culprit walks free. They accused me of the theft and slaughter of cattle, and condemned me to 12 years* and I swear to you I am innocent.

“Soon I will turn 21, you are my best gift, just by responding to my letters. I was planning to go on a hunger strike, but I knew of Cubalex’s existence and the help you have given to many inmates here. May God always accompany you and thousands of blessings to you,” she concluded reading.

“He’s just a kid,” said the group’s senior sadly. “Where is it from?” “From Agüica,” replied the reader, looking at the envelope. “We have to answer him,” said the psychologist, “even if it’s on a blank sheet and with a pen. We must explain what happened at our headquarters on September 23. He has his hopes set on us.”

“I have an envelope, and I saw that they left the stamps on the day of the [police] operation, you’ll find them in my drawer,” said the secretary to the assistant.

“Who will answer him?” She asked. “I will,” was the answer that was heard in chorus. “That’s like pouring a bucket of cold water,” said secretary said. “It would be better if the psychologist answered.”

The silence was an expression of the anguish captivated them. “Send him the phone number to call us,” advised the Director. “At least we can guide him. Let’s keep the letter, to show it to the teacher Julio on the next visit to the prison. By the way, who is going to make this visit?”

“I am,” replied the social investigator. “Don’t worry, I’ll give it to him.”

*Translator’s note: the penalties for unauthorized slaughter of cattle in Cuba are very severe, and it is literally true that a person may serve more time for killing a cow than someone else serves for killing a person.

Cuban Apartheid / Cubalex

“Law No. 118. Law of Foreign Investment”

Cubalex, Havana, 14 December 2016 – In Cuba there are no conditions under which economic, social and cultural rights can be exercised. “All Cubans have free healthcare and education,” is a claim that is easily refuted. We continue the debate with another question: Who decided we Cubans could not invest in a hotel or form joint ventures with the state?

First absolute silence, then a bombardment of stones. In the end, Pedro threw a pea! The National Assembly and the Council of State are those who dictate the laws, he responded, doubtfully.

“Have you read any law that says Cubans cannot invest in the national economy?” the professor asked. No, but the law is called “The Law of Foreign Investment” and it assumes that only they can participate in the national economy at the same level as the Cuban government.

Is it fair? He asked again. No, he said. Do you believe it is a violation of human rights? He continued interrogating him. I don’t know, he replied, annoyed. He approached him and slapped his shoulder twice. Yes, the state excludes us, discriminates against us, he said, while looking at him and nodding.

“We all have the right to equality and non-discrimination. It is a universally recognized right,” explained the professor while walking back and forth in the improvised classroom. The critics of this law call it Cuban Apartheid. Do they know this is a crime in the current Cuban Penal Code?

I leave them to their first task: reading paragraph (b) of Part 1 of Article 120 of the Penal Code. Explain in 140 characters, that is in a Tweet, if the situation just described could define the crime called “Crime of Apartheid.” See you next Wednesday. Don’t miss it!

See also:

‘El Sexto’ Moved to a Criminal Prosecution Center / 14ymedio

Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)
Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2016 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), was transferred Sunday from the police station at Zapata and C in Vedado to the Bivouac Calabazar criminal prosecution center in Havana. The graffiti artist’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado, visited him on Monday morning and told 14ymedio that the prosecution could keep him there for up to two months.

Machado’s meeting with her son only lasted 10 minutes, in which the artist was able to eat food brought from home, but still refused to eat food provided by the prison.

Machado said that the investigator in the case, Fernando Sanchez, informed her that her son could be held “up to 60 days in preventive detention.” The official explained that the detention would be extended “until the file is investigated.” Machado presented a petition for habeas corpus, with legal advice from the independent legal association Cubalex, and in particular from the attorney Laritza Diversent who leads that association.

El Sexto is accused of causing damage to state property, a crime “that does not exist in the Criminal Code,” Cubalex emphasized in an article published on its digital site. “Painting the walls or facades of a hotel constitutes a violation against public adornment. Inspectors of the communal system are entitled to impose, in these cases, a fine of 100 Cuban pesos (roughly $5 US),” says the article.

Habeas Corpus for ‘El Sexto’ / Cubalex

Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)
Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)

Cubalex, Havana, 6 December 2016 – On Monday, María Victoria Machado González, mother of Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto,’ petitioned the Provincial Court of Havana for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in favor of her son. In the petition, she asked the court to order the detaining authority to bring him before the court.

‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), 33, was arrested on the morning of 26 November. In the early hours of that same day he had painted a graffiti on one of the exterior walls of the Habana Libre Hotel, after official media announced the death of Fidel Castro, 90.

It is presumed that the arrest was carried out with violence. Witnesses said they forced his head between his legs. He was taken to 4 different detention. Currently he is in Vivac, in the Havana municipality of Boyeros.

The authorities informed Maria Victoria that on 5 December, nine days after his arrest, the prosecutor decided to keep him in preventive custody. The investigation is being carried out by the criminal investigator Fernando Sanchez. Maldonado is accused of damaging state property. This crime is not mentioned in the Criminal Code.

El Sexto’s mother also requested that the court order the immediate release of her son. The Criminal Code provides for a prison term or a fine for destroying, damaging or making unusable the belongings of another. This conduct does not correspond to Danilo’s actions.

According to the petition, preventive detention of El Sexto is arbitrary and illegal. Painting the walls or facades of a hotel constitutes a violation against public adornment. Inspectors of the communal system are entitled to impose, in these cases, a fine of 100 Cuban pesos (roughly $5 US).

Machado González also reported that her son was beaten by a Major of the Guanabacoa police when he asked for medical assistance because of asthma. She adds that Maldonado made the decision to only eat the food brought in by his relatives. He suspects that the meals offered at the detention center have sleeping pills in them.

Amnesty International Calls For “Urgent Action” to Support Cubalex /14ymedio, Miami

The State Security raid on Cubalex (Cubalex)
The State Security raid on Cubalex (Cubalex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 19 November 2016 –The non-governmental organization Amnesty International (AI) called on Friday to take “urgent action” to protect members of Cubalex, an NGO not recognized by the Cuban government against which there has been a resurgence of actions.

“Since September, the Cuban authorities have intimidated members of Cubalex, which provides free advice in Havana on legal matters and human rights,” AI said, detailing the raid on the organization’s headquarters where they confiscated laptops and documents,” according the Cubalex director Lartiza Diversent. continue reading

AI also mentioned the humiliating treatment of the security forces, including forcing at least one woman to disrobe. In addition, the Havana Provincial Prosecutor gave notice that Cubalex is under investigation regarding taxes.

AI also detailed the testimonies of two members of Cubalex who were summoned for interrogations, which lasted about an hour and 45 minutes. The authorities have also summoned people who have taken advantage of the legal advice offered by Cubalex.

“The director of Cubalex [Diversent] reported that in her recent travels she had been detained and interrogated several times at the airport. She believes that her home, which is used as a base for the activities of Cubalex, is under surveillance,” says the AI appeal.

The international organization calls on people to show solidarity with the members of Cubalex, by writing letters, email, faxes or tweets, to different Cuban officials on the island and abroad.

AI aims to sensitize international public opinion in order to allow members of Cubalex “and all other lawyers and human rights activists” to operate freely without harassment and intimidation.

Amnestey International also urges that the criminal justice system not be used abusively, nor that civil litigation be used to attack or harass human rights activists;

It calls for ensuring a safe and supportive environment in which it is possible to defend and promote human rights without fear of retribution, retaliation or intimidation.

Cubalex Launches Campaign For The Release Of Lawyer Julio Ferrer / Cubalex

Attorney Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamato
Attorney Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamato

Cubalex Center for Legal Information, Havana, 15 November 2016 – The Cubalex Center for legal Information is initiating a campaign in support of Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, an attorney by profession and a defender of human rights by conviction.

For years Ferrer Tamayo has faced alone a system where officials charged with following the law have used it as an instrument of domination, control and repression. He has denounced every violation of national legislation and international standards related to the guarantees of due process. continue reading

He has not emerged unscathed from his fight against the abuse of power. They have discredited him and acted against his wife. Today they are both in prison. He was charged in 2014 with the crime of falsifying public documents and in 2015 with the crime of contempt. He was tried and sentenced to 3 years and 6 months respectively.

The National Directorate of Penitentiary Establishments recognized the violations of the Law, but they keep him in prison because they cannot go against a judicial decision. The Supreme Court did not acknowledge the abuse of power of its officials in bringing charges. The National Assembly and the Council of State listened and remained silent before the abuses.

The sentencing court cannot change the decision, but prison officials allege that they have requested a correction of the combined sentence. There is no doubt, they are trying to resolve the abuses with more illegalities. Impunity is the order of the day. There is no intention to comply with the law, nor to punish those responsible for violating it.

There is nothing left for state institutions other than to listen to reason, but they refuse to budge. Their violations can only be corrected through a review procedure which, according to the law takes about three and a half months, but Ferrer Tamayo has already waited nine months for a response from the President of the Supreme Court.

Cubalex demands respect from the authorities for the National Law and asks anyone committed to freedom, democracy and human rights to join our campaign for the immediate release of Julio Ferrer.

Follow us on Twitter and use our hashtag #Free-Ferrer. Visit our Facebook page and give us a ‘Like’. Help us to spread our messages for his release on social networks. Add your voice to ours, we shout together in the phrase of José Martí: “In justice there can be no delay, whomever delays its fulfillment turns against himself.”

About Cubalex

The Cubalex Legal Information Center is headquartered in Havana, Cuba. We are a non-profit NGO, not recognized by the Cuban state. We offer free legal advice in matters of legalization of housing, immigration procedures, inheritance, labor, processes of criminal review, constitutional procedures and the defense of civil and political rights, at a national and international level, to Cuban or foreign citizens who request our help.

Twitter: @CubalexDDHH

Email: cubalexdd.hh@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CubalexLey

Laritza Diversent: “We Have The Right To Participate In The Social And Political Life Of The Country” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Video: Police search of Cubalex: breaking open the gate.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 September 2016 – The headquarters of the independent legal group Cubalex, this weekend, lacked the hectic bustle of the many users who normally flock to the site for legal advice, especially the families of inmates who come with thick folders of documents, appeals and demands.

When the attorney Laritza Diversent received us for this interview, the furniture had not been put back in place after an intense search that left everything “upside down” and, on the table, lay the shattered remains of a door latch, as physical proof of forced entry.

See also: Police Burst Into Cubalex Headquarters and Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment

The psychological scars are fresh among team members of this organization, threatened with a legal process and forced to strip naked during the search. However, on Sunday the legal work resumed its course, thanks to the solidarity of other members of civil society who provided two computers. A few papers comprise the first evidence of a case that will demand time and expertise from Cubalex: their own complaint against the authorities who seized their belongings but could not stop their work.

14ymedio. What was the point of the raid against Cubalex?

Diversent. There were parallel purposes. On the one hand there were the architectural changes made on this house, where they were looking for the slightest violation of planning regulations. For example, they fixated on a bathroom that we put under the stairs as a service to the public. At the same time they wanted to monitor our work as an organization that provides legal services to the population. continue reading

14ymedio. Who participated in the police search?

Diversent. The prosecutor Beatriz Peña of Oz, the Attorney General of the Republic, at the head of about 20 people. Among them, a doctor, an employee of the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos, who led the operation from his status as an officer of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), another prosecutor of the province and an instructor called Doralis, who made the list of the equipment that was seized.

They also brought experts who took photos, a videographer who was filming everything, and other computer experts. They had several officials from State Security, two uniformed police officers and other MININT officials wearing the uniform typical of prison guards; a representative from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), another of the Institute of Physical Planning and another from the Ministry of Justice.

Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)
Laritza Diversent (Source: Cubalex)

14ymedio. Why was there a representative of the ONAT present?

Diversent. It was justified with the assumption that we are undertaking an activity defined as ‘self-employment’, that we are providing a service for which we are supposedly charging people, without having the necessary permit. We explained to them in every possible way that we are a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides a free social service, but they acted as if we hadn’t made that clear.

14ymedio. Why a repressive act of this nature at this time and against a peaceful group?

Diversent. It is very difficult to find the reasons for this action, which can be described as unconscionable. But it can be attributed to what we have done. First, our attempts to achieve the legalization of our organization, Cubalex. We have also filed complaints against official institutions such as the General Customs of the Republic, saying that books and other belongings have been seized from us at the airport without justification. That complaint we have taken to court. We have also made a policy proposal to the Communist Party of Cuba to change the electoral law.

14ymedio. So you think that is a response to these actions?

Diversent. You would have to ask them. As citizens we believe we have the right to make proposals and we have the right to participate in the social and political life of the country in which we live.

14ymedio. Did you resist the police officers who were entering the premises?

Diversent. The “resolution to enter the home” – the warrant – to undertake the search said that they were looking for “objects of illicit origin,” but it didn’t specify which ones. The law establishes that this detail must be clarified, so I denied them entrance and invoked the right to inviolability of one’s home. However, they broke the lock on the outer gate and also the one on the main door to the house.

The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises.(14ymedio)
The doorknob and lock to Cubalex headquarters which was destroyed by the police to enter the premises. (14ymedio)

14ymedio. The law also specifies that the search must be made with at least two members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution [local watchdogs] as witnesses. Was that requirement met?

Diversent. The witnesses were two members of the party nucleus in the zone, who did not behave as impartial witnesses, but as partners in the operation. To the extent that they sometimes suggested to MINIT officials where they needed to search, and they constantly used the term “we” with the sense of being a part of the operation, far from their supposed function as impartial witnesses. One of them was more than 85-years-old and boasted of being an unblemished revolutionary.

14ymedio. What was the final outcome of the search?

Diversent. They seized four laptops and five desktop PCs, including a server, and three multifunctional printers. In addition they took hard drives, memory sticks, cameras and all the cell phones were taken.

14ymedio. What has been the reaction of other independent groups to this search?

Diversent. Almost all the entities of civil society have expressed their solidarity.

14ymedio. Could the information seized pose a risk to you?

Diversent. More than 200 case files that we are working were taken, many of them regarding inmates anxious to see some improvement in their status as prisoners. There is a risk that these people, in exchange for any advantage in their prison regimen, might declare something that hurts us, such as that we charge for our services. But that is in the realm of speculation.

14ymedio. What is the worst thing that could happen?

Diversent. We are very concerned because they have made specific threats against us, such as that so far this is an administrative matter but that it could become another type of process.

14ymedio. Are you thinking of not continuing the work you have been doing?

Diversent. No. Rather, what happened encourages us to keep doing what we do.

Cuban Police Seize Legal Center’s Work Equipment / 14ymedio

Cubalex's office (Source: Laritza Diversent)
Cubalex’s office (Source: Laritza Diversent)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 September 2016 – Friday’s police assault against the headquarters of Cubalex, Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, resulted in the seizure of six computers, several hard drives, USB drives and cell phones. The officers informed the lawyer Laritza Diversent that she could be accused of the crime of “illicit economic activity,” according to a report from the activist Kirenia Yalit to this newspaper.

The headquarters of the independent group was searched on Friday, by members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and members of State Security, who stormed the place breaking down the doors.

The thorough search of the building lasted until after eleven p.m. and “when it seemed that everything was going to end and they had concluded their interrogations” of the activists, they forced them to strip naked “and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies,” said Yalit. continue reading

The independent lawyers denounce the fact that they never showed a warrant that met the requirements for a search.

“They took everything, they just left some chairs and tables,” says Yalit, which 14ymedio was able to confirm through sources near the site. The prosecutor who led the operation informed the attorneys that the case “is of interest to the Attorney General of the Republic” and that they would undertake all relevant investigations to determine whether to proceed with an indictment against them.

Dayan Pérez Noriega, who was taken to a police station when he tried to send Twitter messages about what was happening, was released at around ten at night. The attorney Julio Ferrer, a member of Cubalex, remains missing after having been intercepted by the police on Friday.

After the operation at the property was completed, the lawyers received no  immediate injunction, fines or written summons.

Attorney Laritza Diversent intends to denounce “the outrage committed,” as she has done on previous occasions when she demanded the return of her belongings seized by Cuban Customs at the airport.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent agency that has provided free legal advice since 2010. The lawyers’ group also focuses on human rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application filed by the group’s members for legal status for the organization.

Police Burst into Cubalex Headquarters / 14ymedio

Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)
Attorney Laritza Diversent (left) with the activist Yalit Kirenia during a presentation at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 September 2016 — The headquarters of Cubalex, The Center of Legal Information, located in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, was searched by National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officers and State Security agents on Friday, as confirmed to this newspaper by the independent journalist Osniel Carmona.

After two in the afternoon, the police burst into the site which is also the home of independent attorney Laritza Diversent. Until after five in the afternoon all the phones of Cubalex members remained out of service and access to the house was restricted by the security forces, according to what this newspaper was able to confirm. continue reading

Seven people were inside the home at the time the search started, among whom were Ariadna Romero, Yamara Curbelo Rodríguez, María Bonet, Teresa Perdomo, Amado Iglesias, Diego Ricardo and Laritza Diversent herself.

During the morning Laritza Diversent had informed 14ymedio that there was a operation “organized by State Security agents and the police” around the house. She explained that several neighbors advised her of the presence of “buses and patrol cars,” so she feared they would eventually get inside the house.

T”a report on the status of freedom of expression in Cuba” that she presented “to the special rapporteur for freedom of expression” in the city of Geneva “in mid-August.”

“We feel that we are now at risk and are calling all our contacts asking for help so that the world knows that right now our office and our organization are at risk,” the attorney warned by phone.

The activist Kirenia Yalit Núñez, a member of Cubalex who is just a few blocks away, explained that the agency “had a judicial order but Laritza rejected it because it wasn’t valid.” However, a little later “they broke into the house with a crowbar and broke several locks.”

After six in the evening the activist Teresa Perdoma was released and she said that they had threatened Diversent with an accusation of “illicit economic activity.” The police also warned that they would take “all the equipment, like computers, flash memories and hard drives.”

She was arrested in the operation and taken to the Dayan Perez Noriega police station, where she tried to send Twitter messages reporting what happened. The other activists remained in the building until eight o’clock on Friday night. Two police patrol cars guarded the entrance.

The Legal Information Center, Cubalex, is an independent entity that has provided free legal advice since 2011. The lawyers’ group also focuses on Human Rights issues. In July of this year Cuba’s Ministry of Justice rejected the application for legal status presented by its members.