‘Cuban civil society fails to utilize the mechanisms to report human rights violations’

Attorney Laritza Diversent, Director of Cubalex

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, 30 January 2018 — Forced into exile by the Cuban regime, the Legal Information Center (Cubalex) has undergone a “radical and painful change”. However, reorganized in the USA, it aims to continue along the project’s same line: “to internationally denounce the Cuban State for its human rights violations, and spotlight the situation in the country. ”

Director Laritza Diversent spoke with DIARIO DE CUBA about some aspects of the organization’s work, what it has left behind, and, above all, the reasons for the lines it has drawn and the procedures they will use under the new circumstances.

How has Cubalex reorganized in exile?

Cubalex registered in the state of Tennessee in the USA. We currently have a Board of Directors that governs the organization. The team, which includes me, works online because we live in different states, mostly in Pennsylvania.

What has it meant for the members of Cubalex to have to leave the Island?

It was difficult to accept that you have to start a new life, and adapt to new customs and idiosyncrasies. Everything is missed, especially the aroma of coffee on the terrace where we met up almost every morning to begin our work, and working in the same physical space, and personally receiving those who visited us at the office in Cuba. Today we see each other on a screen. It has been a radical, difficult and painful change. All of us have shed tears of nostalgia. continue reading

Have your relatives suffered reprisals in Cuba?

As long as we continue doing the same work as in Cuba, which is vexing for the Government, and it continues to yield results, as we appeal to international human rights organizations and shine a light on the situation in the country, our relatives in Cuba will be at risk. It is one of the forms of punishment that the regime wields best. We have to recognize it. They are effective. We are powerless in this regard.

What difficulties does having to work from outside Cuba entail?

Obtaining the resources to keep the organization running and including the entire Cubalex team that left Cuba as part of the staff. On another front, making the activists in Cuba understand the importance of reporting, at the international level, the human rights violations of which they are victims, which is a difficulty that we had in Cuba. Thus far we have not managed for many to report the repression to which they are subjected. The record of complaints lodged with international organizations for human rights violations by the Cuban government is paltry.

Has the project had to modify its objectives given this new scenario?

Not yet. We changed the population group that the organization focused on. Between 2011 and 2015 54.85% of the cases we dealt with were related to criminal matters brought to us by persons deprived of their freedom. In 2016, up until the time that our headquarters was searched, 61% of the requests for our services were made by inmates in prisons, 48% of whom presented their cases directly at our offices, through a family member, generally mothers.

After leaving the country, we cannot continue providing counsel in a personalized way, at least not directly. The deficient Internet access on the Island makes it unlikely that we can keep up this pace of work. We are currently focused on monitoring and following up on activists at risk. But, as I said before, it is a difficult task that requires a lot of patience and perseverance on our part.

In Cuba, we assisted 982 human rights activists, members of different civil society organizations who claimed to be victims of arbitrary short-term arrests, repudiation rallies, official citations, as well as searches in their homes. We conducted 96 training workshops for 613 activists in eight provinces of the country, most of them in the east. We also provided legal advice to activists in an individualized manner, but the statistics compiled by our office show that of the vulnerable groups at risk, they are those who least turned to us.

One of the main struggles with activists in Cuba is to get them to follow our recommendations to document cases of violations of their rights, which is essential to carrying out our work at the international level. We are aware of the ignorance in Cuban civil society of the mechanisms for reporting human rights violations at the domestic and international levels. This prevents the development of strategies to mitigate the risks and threats to the activities they carry out.

How is the activists’ lack of awareness of complaint mechanisms, and their importance, evidenced?

In August of 2016 Cubalex prepared basic human rights courses to teach activists from partner organizations. We formally invited 13 organizations, but only 10 responded, of which 7 appointed a representative to attend the course. Then 6 confirmed they would appear, but the course was ultimately attended by 3. This means that there is not only ignorance, but also a lack of interest.

Cubalex has observed that most activists use social media as their favorite means of reporting violations of their rights. At the beginning of 2017 we surveyed 106 activists, and 84.91% said that they defended their rights through this channel. We also monitored the social media accounts (Twitter and Facebook) of 72 activists or members of at least 9 organizations operating informally in the country. The information was insufficient to monitor the specific situation and document human rights violations. Example: the names of the victims of the acts committed were not mentioned, who committed them, or when.

Social media, despite being the most used via by activists to denounce human rights violations and get the public’s attention, is not the appropriate way to attract that of international human rights organizations capable of pressuring the Government. These organizations do not use social media as a source of information. It is necessary to document the violations, draft a report, and send it to these institutions. Complaints on the social networks must be maintained, while improving posting strategies to provide more information about the incidents reported, but it should not be the main tool.

How do you get information from inside Cuba?

Directly from the victims, by telephone and by email. We use social media to identify activists at risk or to report violations occurring at the moment. If the person does not offer data to locate him, we inquire through other activists until coming into direct contact with the victim.

What is the situation like for those members of Cubalex who remained in Cuba?

They are awaiting a final decision by the US Government in the political asylum case. We keep abreast of the status of each one, especially Julio Ferrer. We presented his case to the Working Group on Arbitrary Arrests while we were still in Cuba, and it worked. He is currently free, although he is not out of danger.

What has happened to the cases that Cubalex was handling? Did the regime’s action have any consequences for those people?

For now, we don’t know. The prohibitive prices of the Internet and telephone calls off the island make it impossible for people to contact us. We, from outside, also have economic restrictions on making calls to Cuba and following up on them. Our long-term plans including creating strategies and conditions so that the population, especially the poor, have access to a free legal advice service.

What lines of work is Cubalex currently pursuing?

We are following the same line. Reporting human rights violations by the Cuban State, and spotlighting the situation in the country. The filing of complaints in accordance with special United Nations procedures is one of the few tools we have to report human rights violations in the country, and the only one that the State officially reacts to. Between 2011 and 2016 the Government received 24 communications from UN bodies, and responded to 21 of them. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, however, reported 44,604 acts of harassment during the same period. Cubalex intends to change this reality.

Cubalex is working on another report on violence against women in Cuba. Why is it necessary to revisit this issue?

In general, women in Cuba, although they have access to education, health, employment, sexual and reproductive rights, and equal pay for equal work, continue to do most of the work at home, and to raise their children, despite the fact that most of them work outside the home too. Even so, Havana does boast high gender standards compared to other countries in Latin America. The Cuban State subscribes to the Convention for the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, but to date there is no gender law in the country that protects women from violence, and there are no shelters for victims of this scourge.

Added to this phenomenon is institutionalized discrimination, especially through criminal law. For example, the designation of people as “pre-criminal social hazards,” which allows the authorities to categorize and punish people for what they are, and not for what they do, perpetuates prejudices and stereotypes of a racial nature, based on gender, socioeconomic level, marginality, lifestyle, ideology and political opinion.

The “pre-criminal social hazard” measure, in addition to being selective and discriminatory, is an institutionalized form of violence against women. It is wielded against girls between 16 and 18 years of age who engage in prostitution, an activity considered by the authorities to be a socially reprehensible vice. Prostitution is not a crime, but the Government says it “does not tolerate it”. It represses those offering these services, but not those soliciting them, most of whom are tourists.

Many of the women offering sexual services migrate from rural to tourist areas in search of better economic opportunities. They grow more vulnerable when they are forced to submit to the sexual exploitation of pimps, to shield themselves from police repression and corruption. The “pre-criminal hazard” designation linked to prostitution is also used against trans women and other members of the LGBTI community.

Discrimination and marginalization on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation is a widespread phenomenon, but is overlooked even by civil society organizations that describe themselves as defenders of human rights, and whose members are also victims of institutionalized forms of violence and discrimination. This legal mechanism is also used to harass, threaten and prosecute human rights activists, who are stigmatized as “subversives and terrorists”.

Given this situation, what particularities do cases like that of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), who are systematically repressed, feature?

In the case of the Ladies in White, this violence acquires a special significance. They are victims of acts of torture and degrading treatment that places their lives in danger. In 2017 the organization was the target of 54.10% of the acts of harassment reported on the social networks and in other media. Its members constituted 45% of female human rights activists who were victims of repression. They suffered 53 violent attacks, which in 94.34% of the cases occurred during arrests.

The death of Ada María López Canino, a member of the organization, on December 12, 2017, is a wake-up call. In 2016 and 2017 she was arrested 81 times. She received several beatings during operations and acts of repudiation, and she was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, the result of cranial traumas inflicted by blows to the head.

This brain injury produces multiple symptoms, including strong and constant headaches, which do not go away by themselves. They can lead to complications over time and cause permanent brain damage. It is also aggravated by repetitive head trauma. Cubalex knows of other Ladies in White with similar symptoms.

The Ladies in White are part of a social group that is doubly vulnerable: as women and as defenders of human rights. They suffer from aggravated forms of discrimination and violence, not only from the authorities, but also from civil society organizations themselves, which find it difficult to accept women’s leadership capacities. However, this organization does not specifically and directly address gender issues. On the contrary, they defend and fight for the rights of political prisoners.

Note: Article taken from Diario de Cuba’s English site which can be viewed here.

Cubalex Identifies State Security Agent Who Led 2016 Assault on its Headquarters

Beatrix Peña de la O led the illegal assault on the headquarters of Cubalex, an independent legal aid organization, in 2016

Today, the attorney Laritza Diversent posted on her Twitter account a photo of the State Security agent who led the illegal assault on her legal aid organization in Havana more than two years ago.

An article from 14ymedio reported the assault carried out in September of 2016: continue reading

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… the police burst into the site which is also the home of independent attorney Laritza Diversent… 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.

The assault was captured on video from outside the site, and recounted in detail, later, by Diversent, the center’s director.

In her tweets today, Diversent responded to the assault and looked to the future of Cuba.

This search warrant was illegal.
Cubalex warns that there will be “a tomorrow” and those who illegally repressed Cuban citizens will be held accountable for their actions.

Justice, truth… and a different future.

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.