New Reforms to Emigration Policy? / Laritza Diversent

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

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

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

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

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

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

16 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

From Jurisconsulto de Cuba, by Laritza Diversent

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Michaela Klicnikova

11 June 2014

Manual of Rights and Duties / Laritza Diversent

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

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

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

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

8 March 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Cubanet

18 September 2013

Laritza Diversent Reports from Geneva / Laritza Diversent

Photo: In the background on the right, Laritza Diversent and Yaremis Flores

Introduction by Tania Quintero

On December 10, 2010, without resources, publicity, or fanfare, attorney and freelance journalist Laritza Diversent founded a modest office in her home to provide free, independent advice to Cubans and foreigners on national and international legal issues and human rights. She established the Cubalex Legal Information Center. Over time she was joined by other lawyers, such as Yaremis Flores and her husband Veizant Boloy. These three young people are of Afro-Cuban origin and humble backgrounds. Cubalex also investigates and reports to international and regional organizations regarding individual complaints of human-rights violations on the island. It is located at the corner of 169 Lindero and Angeles, El Calvario, Havana, Cuba 13900. Telephone: (0053) 5-241 5948 (Laritza’s cell). Email: centrocubalex@gmail.com Any help is welcome.

On Cubanet you can read the two reports presented by Cubalex in Geneva, at the 55th meeting of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which on July 8 and 9 was dedicated to analyzing the situation of Cuban women. The following is the report of Laritza Diversent.

Report from Laritza Diversent

Cubalex presented a “shadow” (alternative) report to CEDAW. Yaremis Flores and I, representing the Cubalex office, participated in the meeting of the experts with NGOs from the countries that were studied at the 55th session, including Cuba.

On Saturday, July 6, we traveled to Switzerland, coincidentally sharing the flight with some members of the official Cuban delegation that participated in the examination. Upon arrival at the airport in Geneva, there were other members of the delegation. One of them, after talking on the phone and looking at us repeatedly while we were waiting for our luggage, came over and took our photo without our permission.

He said it was “so we would look beautiful in the press” and sarcastically welcomed us to Geneva. We told him we were prepared to be photographed by State Security. Then he said he was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that he had studied at the Law School, had graduated in 2004, and knew us both. A pity that we didn’t remember him. If he publishes our photo, we will post his, when giving messages to the members of the Cuban delegation.

On Monday the 8th we turned up early at the United Nations headquarters for the process of accreditation; we had previously requested this and had received confirmation that we were accredited. Yet strangely, our registration did not appear in the database. We had to wait two hours for the confirmation of our accreditation.

After verifying the location of the private meeting with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), we made sure to contact the International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW), an NGO that organizes the private meetings between the Committee and NGOs from the countries that are being examined, to confirm our presence.

Representatives of this organization were surprised that an NGO based in the island presented a report critical of the situation of Cuban women, because the rest of the national organizations, including the National Union of Jurists, and the Cuban Association for Animal Production, supported the state report.

Earlier that morning, NGOs recognized by the Cuban government had presented themselves there to confirm their participation. Strangely, they asked if there would be other participants. Until then, IWRAW was not aware of our presence in Geneva.

We returned to the room where the meeting would take place and found the supposed lawyer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We then learned that our presence had caused problems in the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva. They thought we were going to pull out posters and yell anti-government slogans.

As a precaution, we stayed in the meeting place and waited until it started, to head off any manipulation or government action. After the presentations, the NGOs recognized by the regime, instead of speaking privately with the Committee about the problems of Cuban women, devoted their efforts to discrediting us.

They claimed that Cubalex consisted of only five members, who responded to the interests of the United States, a country which for more than 50 years had imposed a “blockade,” the main cause of violence and discrimination against women in Cuba. They also said that our report lacked objectivity, had little technical rigor, and manipulated the information.

Among other insults, they categorized us as amateurs. They questioned the financing of our trip, claiming that they had to seek help from UN agencies. The Committee had to ask them to stop their attacks and concentrate on the problems of Cuban women.

But they were unable to answer direct questions from the Committee about prostitution, civil unions, and whether a woman who was a victim of violence could be represented by a lawyer. They sowed confusion and wasted time on political speeches, preventing the Committee from clearing up its doubts on these subjects.

For our part, we raised these issues, which we consider the most alarming about the situation of women in Cuba. We warned about recent amendments to the Criminal Code and how it might affect women as victims.

The strategy of these government NGOs, both in the private meeting and at the meeting of the Committee with the NGOs from the countries to be examined, was to consume the time allotted to the country, to prevent us from speaking. They repeated everything that was in their reports, supporting the government. A position that was also requested by the Committee.

At the meeting with NGOs in the countries to be considered at the 55th session (Cuba, Dominican Republic, Afghanistan, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom), one of the experts directed a question to Cubalex, and members of the official Cuban NGOs consumed all the time, and we could not answer. That position was requested by the Committee Chair, who asked us to present additional information in writing, which we did the following day.

Our perception is that the quasi-state NGOs and the Permanent Mission of Cuba in Geneva were nervous and undiplomatic in the face of our unexpected presence. The person who said he was from the Foreign Ministry accosted us at our arrival and tried to intimidate us, hostilely taking our photos without our permission. The NGO officials showed a lack of education and respect.

As independent lawyers based in Havana, we are pleased with our first experience at the United Nations. We were able to take the opportunity to criticize the Cuban government in a setting where it had never been confronted by an NGO that it does not recognize.

Despite the pressures and provocations, we maintained our equanimity, always respecting the place (Palace of the Nations, the main UN headquarters in Geneva), and the honorable members of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Before, it was very comfortable for the so-called Cuban NGOs to beguile with many words, without saying anything and without fear of contradiction. The Members of the Committee members felt uncomfortable about the hostility and lack of diplomacy that the Cuban delegation showed toward us.

Translated by: Tomás A.

11 July 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Laritza Diversent 

Translated by Chabeli Castillo

Monday, July 1, 2013

Universal / Yoani Sanchez

sif2013Someone sitting at the table behind spoke in French, while in chairs at the side two Brazilians exchanged ideas. Two steps further on some activists from Belarus were talking with some Spaniards who had also come to the Stockholm Internet Forum. An event that began on May 21 in the Swedish capital bringing together people interested in digital tools, social networks and cyberspace. A real Tower of Babel where we communicate in the lengua franca of technology. The global and virtual village is now contained in an old factory on the edge of the sea. And in the midst of this back and forth of analysis and anecdotes, are six Cubans, also willing to contribute their labor as cyber activists.

This is without a doubt the most enjoyable stage of my long journey and not because other places haven’t been filled with beautiful impressions and lots of hugs, but because here I have met up with several colleagues from the Island. Some of the people who, in our country have grabbed hold of new technologies to narrate and to try to change our reality, today are gathered here. The young attorney Laritza Diversent, the director of Estado de SATS, Antonio Rodiles, the keen blogger Miriam Celaya, the information engineer Eliecer Avila, and joining us for one day as well, the independent reporter Roberto Guerra. Here in Stockholm it has felt rather like Cuba, though certainly not because of the weather.

The Internet Forum has allowed us to feel like citizens of the world, to share experiences with those who live in different situations but, in essence, surprisingly similar ones. It’s enough to chat with another attendee for a little while, or to listen to a talk, to realize that in every word spoken here is the eternal human quest for knowledge, information… freedom. Expressed on this occasion through circuits, screens and kilobytes. This meeting has left us with the sensation that we are universal and that technologies have made us into people capable of transcending our geography and our time.

like_webb23 May 2013

Court Suspends Eviction / Laritza Diversent

Digital StillCamera

Laritza Diversent

On January 21 the Havana Court suspended Yamilí Barges Hurtado’s eviction, planned for March 22, from her house facing the Cohiba Hotel, as well as that of the heirs of the other partner in the house-swap in the east of Havana.

According to Barges Hurtado, a sheriff from the court of justice announced the decision to representatives of the state-run organizations in her neighborhood, at approximately 5 pm. The official said the court of justice suspended the eviction because of questions of security. “Nobody told me,” Bargas Hurtado said.

Eleazar Yosvany Toledo Rivero, 34, responsible for removing Yamilé from her property, was also informed, by a phone call from neighborhood leaders, of the decision. Supposedly the plaintiff told the court on January 18 of the impossibility of carrying out the eviction for lack of transportation. Continue reading

The House Across from the Hotel Cohiba / Laritza Diversent

yamile-posible-desalojada-1

Yamilé Barges Hurtado

HAVANA, Cuba, December, http://www.cubanet.org. On November 15, the People’s Provincial Court (TPP) in Havana planned to evict Yamilé Barges Hurtado from her home, located across from the Hotel Cohiba, after annulling a home-exchange that made nine years ago.

That day they also planned to evict the heirs of Teresa Luisa Rivero Domínguez, the other party in the home-exchange in the Bahia neighborhood, a suburb to the east of Havana, Yamilé’s birthplace. According to anonymous sources, the eviction was not due to lack of transportation.

To date, the TPP of Havana has not changed its decision, an action taken at the direction of the Municipal Housing Office (DMV) in Plaza. In the Cuban legal system there is no eviction action. Evictions, euphemistically called “extractions” are made by the DMV, after declaring the occupants of a building illegal.

Yamile Barges Hurtado received a court notice on November 27 to appear on December 6. The Rivero Dominguez heirs were also cited.

In judicial practice, after a sentence has been handed down it is not usual to summon the parties again. But the judges warned that in January they would be cited again to review the case and carry out the eviction, although Yamilé is not an illegal occupant.

The Plaza DMV must act when the TPP recognizes the property to one of the heirs of the dispute. The action of the court is limited to communicating its decision to the Housing officials.

Yamilé’s mental state deteriorates with each threat of “extraction.” She broke the doors, windows and floor that she managed to build with so much effort. “I will not leave my house with the amenities that I created for my family to anyone,” she said.

She argues that she can’t live any more with the uncertainty. “I think my problem is already solved,” she added. Her daughter stopped going to the university so as not to leave her alone for a single minute. Her depressed state and the effects of her medication are obvious.

February 4 2013