Conviction / Laritza Diversent

Once Cuban trials have declared a person’s guilt, they then order the destruction of incriminatory evidence.

Jesús Daniel Forcade Portillo, 29 years of age, and Ramón Echevarría Fernández, 40, were punished with 35 years in prison for the assassination of the jeweller Humberto González Otaño in the early morning of 14th September 2010, whilst they robbed his house of money and garments to a value of 206,193 pesos local currency.

According to the sentence enacted by the Court of Havana, after the robbery the accused gave a blood-stained blue denim jacket, exactly like that of Esther Fernández, the jeweller’s wife, the only surviving victim and sole eyewitness, to his accomplice.

Traces of his scent were also found at the scene of the crime. There was no identification by fingerprints or DNA samples. In spite of the technological advances, in Cuba, there are few cases where these tests are used, currently the most reliable, to confirm or destroy a person’s innocence.

The Law of Penal Proceedings allows crime investigators to order scientific tests when they consider them necessary. The courts for their part, don’t demand the tests be completed in order to he entirely certain of their ruling.

The court was fully convinced of Jesús Daniel and Ramón’s guilt. Their relatives, on the other hand, are fully convinced of their innocence. Betty Anne Waters, a young North American, divorced with two children, who registered at law school to take on her brother, Kenneth Water’s defence, had the same belief.

Her story was played by Hilary Swank, an actress awarded two Oscars for best female actress, in the film ’Conviction’, from director Tony Goldwyn in 2010.

In 1983 Kenneth Waters was found guilty of the murder of Katharina Brow on 21st February 1980. The attacker’s blood was found at the crime scene and his blood was found to be of the same type. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without hope of bail.

His sister, Betty Anne, became a lawyer and succeeded in reopening his case in 1999 after finding evidence which, according to the laws of the State of Massachusetts, should have been destroyed in 1993. The DNA test gave negative results. In 2001 he was acquitted after spending 18 years in prison.

Regrettably, Forcade Portillo and Echevarría Fernández won’t have the same luck as Kenneth Waters in spite of their relatives’ conviction. The jacket, a piece of evidence of the crime, was not found amongst the garments of which the court ordered a seizure.

They didn’t order its retention either. The accused assured that the garments weren’t theirs and their families stated that no garment had been returned to them. In these conditions it will be very difficult to review their case in the future and try to prove their innocence.

Their case isn’t the only one in which the evidence has been destroyed or has disappeared. In 2007 the Court of Camagey sentenced Delvis David Peña Mainer to 40 years imprisonment for brutally stabbing to death a young married couple in January of the same year.

The court stated that both victims’ wounds were caused by a left-hander, like Peña Mainer, with a short, blunt instrument. David was in possession of a mocha, a type of machete used to cut cane.

According to the sentence, blood was found in the ’inside part of the handle’, ’although it could not be determined to which species it belonged’ the court was told during the sentencing.

The Camagueyan Court was well convinced of his guilt and it seemed unnecessary to compare the blood found on the murder weapon with the victims’ DNA.

Furthermore they sent the mocha to be handed in to a job centre and ’the destruction’ of several of the couple’s garments with ’spots of blood’ and bloody footprints from the crime scene.

A different situation came with Rafael Ramos Utra, sentenced by the Court of Las Tunas to 20 years imprisonment for the sexual attack of a minor inside his own house in March 2005.

’There is no relationship between the semen present on the panties’ recognised the Cuban Central Forensic Laboratory in its first DNA tests, referring to the garment that the 6 year old child was wearing and Ramos Utra’s blood sample.

In a second test it was found ’that the yellowish stain on the panties’ of the minor matched that of ’her own blood sample’. ’It was not possible to establish the genetic profile of the semen present on the panties because the seminal material was used up’, the laboratory recognised.

The likelihood of finding two people with the same genetic information is one in fifteen million. In spite of the certainty of the first exam that proved Utra’s innocence, the Court of Las Tunas declared him guilty and also ordered the incineration of the panties, a piece of evidence.

According to data from the film ’Conviction’, in the USA 254 post-sentence acquittals have been given between 1989 and 2010 thanks to DNA testing. In Cuba, this possibility looks well off whilst courts, based on their guilty convictions, order the destruction of incriminating evidence.

Translated by: Sian Creely

April 18 2012

The Incomprehensible Bastion of Faith in a Social Project / Dora Leonor Mesa

I was surprised when I compared myself to Teresa, one of the characters from Milan Kundera’s book ‘La Insoportable Levedad del Ser’ (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). In one of the scenes in the book Teresa takes some photos of the tanks in the Russian invasion of Prague to Switzerland and, instead of accepting them, the editor of an important magazine, saddened, shows the photos to a colleague who suggests the ‘pig-headed’ woman photograph cacti instead.

Something similar happened to me whenI started to promote the creation of an association focused on Cuban children, although instead of ‘photographing cacti’ they hoped that I’d throw myself at one of the prickly plants. No matter, that’s what happens with citizen activism in a place where the citizen is invisible.

Avoiding the troubles involved with my house and a state organisation, the steps were taken for the legalization of ACDEI (Cuban Association for the Development of Infant Education) and, shortly afterwards, we got the litigious and beloved documents which is recognised in Cuba as meaning ‘there exists no organization with the name and objectives of the Cuban Association for the Development of Infant Education’.

This has meant that the Ministry of Justice has bought time through not properly making things clear that the documentation we presented should have been directed ‘towards the organ, organism or state dependence which is related to the objectives and activities which the association will develop…’ based on that stipulated in Article 6, Chapter II of Law 54.

Supposing that the affair is resolved favourably thanks to the timely diligence of the Judicial Association of Cuba, forseeable legal obstacles still remain. Law No.54 ‘Law of Associations of the Republic of Cuba’ has certain regulations which strike fear into the instigators of a civil society. One of those is in Chapter I Article 5:

‘Associations must have 30 members as a minimum, except in exceptional cases in which the Ministry of Justice will be able to authorise their setting up and running with a figure lower than that specified above’. There’s no need to evenbother with Articles 7 and 8. They deal with the sporadic set up of Civil Society organizations.

We shouldn’t rule out the possibility that ACDEI will not be legalized, given the existence of the aforementioned Article 5, as well as the ‘inconvenience’ of activists with their selfless work and attitude, without intending to, calling into question the current work of play groups (state nurseries).

We should point out that private nursery schools have worked in Cuba for years, even though they are receiving more attention at present because of the economic situation in Cuba, without dismissing the work of ACDEI and this blog Plapliplo. In investigations that we’ve carried out and that are available online this topic is covered in detail.

Kundera’s Teresa refused to photograph cacti and was considered ‘limited’,’anachronistic’…We’re all like this, we of the ACDEI. Instead of thinking about earning money, we waste time in training lifeguards for our nurseries, children’s toys and furniture etc.

Although we’re far from saints, the words of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, comfort us:

‘If you’ve said that you’re an idealist, a dreamer, a madman, a defender of impossible aims and a friend of lost causes and, even so, you carry on…may you know that you are not alone’.

God is our judge and companion. He will decide the winner. Those who win are those who tell the truth and only that.

Translated by: Sian Creely

January 6 2012

A New Year and an Old Problem / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

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2011 is over. It’s a fact that for 365 days we follow the year’s coffin until its official burial on the last second of December the 31st.  In our own private assessment, we generally make an evaluation of our passage through those 12 months and weigh up the personal, professional and familial results.  We look at the national ones as well, because for those of us involved in the fate of our country, the repeated Cuban practice of thinking about our country and for it, we have created the habit not only of monitoring and condemning the problems that concern us, but also the responsible practice of offering possible solutions to them.

With respect to our archipelago, last year left us with the taste of a certain success for the Cuban opposition.  Although slight and without anyone’s direct or tacit recognition — but rather the exact opposite — the Cuban authorities themselves, every time they introduce reforms — as obscure and timid as they are — they guarantee and ratify whatever the opposition has pointed out and proposed for years.  It is the evidence of the effectiveness of those who propose and protest against the official intolerance, intolerance which hates and makes enemies.

It’s certain that the government distorts these protests with the smoke screen of moving public interest onto other issues, with the clear aim of intelligently erasing the opposition class in Cuba.  The old ruling class octopi and their professionals of subterfuge and intrigue extend their tentacles with their plan to divide and extinguish Cuba’s passive opposition and remain in power.  But although it seems that they have ignored our protests with proposals for years, it is in these that serve as reference to those — adjusting them to their interests — to set the emerging update of its failed model on its course.  It’s worth stressing that to apply fixed reforms they are falling into a contravention of their own constitution.  Will they soon have written a revised, updated Magna Carta?

In their global plan of ‘face washing’, they seem to be at the helm of social restructuring with a ‘mutated reconciliation’ (mutatis mutandis) towards their self-seeking interests.  I imagine that if they continue down this road we will soon see NGOs, which usually support dissident organisations on the archipelago, withdrawing troops and switching their support to Cuban investors — although many are themselves the government officials responsible for the farcical state of the country — to help Cuba to come out of the systematic crisis which is ruining us.  After all, one must forget the ‘peccadilloes’ of ineptitude which broke down our economy and divided us as a nation in favour of trying to spend future decades ‘trying to fix’ what the present system cannot, or has any real interest in resolving.

I accept that in the state domino the actions and dialogue of the opposition — incongruous with the arguments with which the governance show them as enemies of the fatherland — might be out of harmony with their programme to seduce the international community with their stuffy reconciliation. Up until the present they’ve chosen to secretly promote their agents by use of the media, and to keep those aligned to the beliefs of radical transition conventionally ‘besieged’.  On this platform I suspect that they count on places of relevance which have been hoarded (not only in Cuba); and I worry that it will happen as in the 60s, in that in the end State Security led almost all of the armed organisations which fought against the — at that time — young socialist government.

At the moment I will remain a proactive observer, and I support any movement destined to eliminate the injustice — however insignificant they may seem — that limit our ability to exercise our fundamental rights and freedoms and prevent us from being the owners of our dreams and destinies.  Because of the urgent need for improvements for our long-suffering people, I remain dissatisfied, but optimistic, about those who back the cautious steps which the government is taking.  This is the visible goal currently within our reach to start walking towards.

Translated by: Sian Creely

January 10 2012

All Roads Lead to Rome / Jeovany J. Vega

A sentence is never free, not when you live in Cuba. Here, the plan of absolute centralization is not only limited to economic relations but also, perhaps even to a greater extent, all reading material is given a pro-government hue. Undivided power in the essential condition for this to happen. Absolutism has made sure that all channels of social interaction move towards the central hub of decision making. Then, with military precision, the orders of the political-military duo, coming from the Communist Party-State Security pairing, will be executed. If oneestablishes a rigid manifesto, the other contributes the copious amounts of intelligence which, once analized in the only centre of power, means that the tactical or strategic decision most convenient for the establishmentis taken without any concern that this might directly contravene the written ‘law’. Nuestro caso (our case) is an excellent example of what I’m saying.

There are two moments in our history in which this modus operandi can be seen to be typically ignorant of the truth. The first in March 2008, aftertheattempted hunger strike mentioned here, we decided to restart negotiations with the State Departmentby conventional means. 10 days later the only response that we had received from the government in 5 years arrived. ‘…we have decided to inform the Ministry of Public Health, for your consideration and reply.’ That is to say, they sent us to the slaughterhouse one again, becoming both judge and part of the entity on which it called. A secondincident came three years later, last 15th August, when I wrote to the Granma newspaper– some days later I alsowrote to The Workers and Rebel Youth – only getting a couple of lines from Granma in reply. ‘Your letter has been sent to the Ministry of Public Health for your consideration and reply according to convention.’ Obviously, the uniformity of stylewarns that it is the same hand writing in both cases.

Last 3rd December, Latinamerican Medicine Day, Granma congratulated me with this succinct reply, this time sent by conventional post, for directing myself towards the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section once again, more than 3 months earlier. I’d already had a reply on the 10th October by email – that time must have been for my birthday – had begun, on 17th October, with an affectionate letter to its splendid editor Lazaro Barredo Medina. The stamped envelope, when it arrived at my door, reminded me that, in spite of the world having spun hundreds of thousands of times, whenever and wherever the emperors come to power, all paths, roads, boulevards, lanes, avenues, tracks and trails – even short cuts – lead ultimately to Rome.

Translated by Sian Creely

December 21 2011


The Imaginary Traffic Light Game / Dora Leonor Mesa

It’s complicated to prepare a preschool class according to present pedagogical standards if resources are lacking or the owners of a nursery don’t have a clear idea of what they need.  On top of small problems you must also teach preschoolers of differing ages.  The experts’ recommendations don’t matter when deciding on activities.  Generally it’s hard to bear them in mind if the children cry over joining in.

You run into cases of young children with brain damage who learn to count and interact the same as the others, or with kids only 3 years of age whose behaviour and reasoning is that of a 5-year-old.  Babies who refuse to stay in the play pen and must be given a book so that they might ‘join in’, they already know the colours and they make efforts to learn shapes, even recognising when a piece is missing.

The traffic light game is, in my regard, a good example of a pre-school class facing difficult conditions. There are several aims: to learn colours, vocabulary, to use a pencil, to follow instructions and to recognise the world in which they live.

The materials used are sheets printed with traffic lights — simple rectangle — the circles are outlined in the colour of the corresponding light, pencils and balloons in green, yellow and red and, if they are available, small chairs and tables.  If not, you sit down on the floor with the children and get going.

Part I.  The drawing.  Each child gets a sheet with a traffic light printed on it and should colour, according to their abilities, the lights according the colour of each circle.  The teachers should be checking to make sure that they colour each colour in its right place.

Part II.  The game.  The group of different ages (3 to 5 years old) play to be the traffic light — 3 students each with a balloon the colour of one of the lights — and driving their imaginary car or choo choo train (one child behind another moving in a zig zag).  Another child plays the traffic police and sets ‘very high fines’ to avoid accidents.

You should explain what an accident is with different examples and mime so that they understand better.  If anyone falls over say the word: fallen, accident.  Few cry unless it’s really painful.  As they say “crying as you please makes you ugly in the photo.”  The camera is always ready to show their face and they see the difference.  No one wants to be ugly.  For the others you say to smiling participants “the little frog will be fine come tomorrow morning time”…

The little ‘traffic lights’ are stood in a place which allows the ‘cars’ to pass in front, behind and to different places.  If a ‘traffic light’ child doesn’t react when someone is waiting for them, explain to them that the traffic light could break down at any time and the driver should be alert to any possible problems.

The length of the class is 30 to 45 minutes.  The owners and their employees, called teachers in our classes, are very alert to the most fidgety children, whilst they also learn simple techniques so that their students acquire essential social and intellectual skills during their cognitive development.

In Cuba it is not required for owners and employees of nurseries to have the indispensable pedagogical knowledge to carry out a service which entails so much responsibility.  The reasons are diverse, amongst them that it makes bad business and is not profitable and very few people are interested in teaching.

For the parents, choosing a private nursery is a matter to be taken very seriously.  I should admit that many owners are well prepared for working in the state nursery schools, but they don’t have the up-to-date knowledge.  However their daily job is decidedly selfless.  Sometimes I ask myself if society is grateful to them in any way.  I’d like to believe that they are fully aware of the social importance of what they do.  The majority of the mistakes they make is due more to a lack of proper training and resources than laziness.

Translated by: Sian Creely

Trial of a Former Policeman Who Shot a Black Teenager / Laritza Diversent

The trial of Amado Interian was held on the afternoon of December 13th in Courtroom Number 7 of the Havana Court.  He is a former police officer who shot a 14-year-old teenager named Angel Izquierdo.  The trial had been suspended on December 9th due to a nonappearance by the defendant.

Amado Interian was dressed like an inmate, but it was not possible to find out in which prison he was being held pending trial.  The former policeman exercised his right to testify but he did not answer any questions.

The former policeman, in open court, cried and testified that he did not intend to kill anyone and he asked the victim’s family for forgiveness.  He also showed the court all of the injuries he received while serving in the police force.

The hearing began at 1:00 pm when the defense attorney arrived.  It lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes, with disorder and commotion in the courtroom.  The teenager’s family showed their disagreement with the trial and the charges brought by the prosecution and the way they tried to reduce his liability.

In its report, the prosecution acknowledged that Amado had no reason to fire his weapon at these helpless kids and kill one of them.  However, they only asked for a sentence of 17 years in prison for murder, a crime which is punishable by a sentence of 15-30 years in prison, or death.

Interian, who is 54 years old, underwent a psychiatric examination and was determined to be mentally fit and that at the time of these events, he had the capacity to understand the measure and extent of his actions.  However, there was no explanation during the hearing as to why he still had a license to carry a firearm even though he retired five years ago.

The police officer lives and works in the Montecito estate, in the village of Lajas in the Mantilla district of the municipal capital Arroyo Naranjo, where the events took place.  In the trial it was said that the estate belonged to him yet no reference was made to a deed which authorized his right to the property.

Nevertheless, it was made clear that the fruit tree was some distance from the residence of the accused and that the victim was up the tree when he was shot.  Marzo, as one of the witnesses identified themselves, owner of the estate neighbouring the ex-soldier’s and who witnessed the events, did not see when Interian fired his Colt, the murder weapon.

The witness told the court that on the afternoon of 15th July 2011 he went towards Interian’s house looking for his livestock.  He heard some voices.  He went running, machete in hand, and the ex policeman put on his shoes, shirt and took his weapon.

Interian’s neighbour first arrived at the bush where Ismael, 17 years of age, Angel and Yandi, both 14, were climbing.  All boys were of black ethnicity.  He ordered them to climb down when he heard the first shot.

Whilst the boys got down he heard the ex-policeman uttering profanities and asking his neighbours to ‘kill a black boy and f*** them up’.  Marzo heard the second shot and one of the teenagers groaning.  Angel became tangled in a branch and fell upon the impact of the bullet.

The medical expert testified in court and reasserted that the cause of death was acute anemia caused by the impact of the projectile.  The bullet entered the victim’s body in the lumbar region, went through the left kidney, the aorta and the right lung before exiting the shoulder.

The defence lawyer insisted that it was a simple case of homicide, that he was anticipating a sentence of 7 to 15 years, and that the court took into account the previous good conduct of the ex-policeman.  He also presented the medals that Interian had received during his 30 years of service in the National Revolutionary Police Force.  Maria Caridad Jiminez Medina, first cousin of the victim, exploded with rage as the defence gave its closing statement.

Immediately after, Lacadio Izquierdo, Angel’s uncle,  stood up to block the ex-soldier who moved away, guarded by more than a dozen uniformed officials of the Prisons Service of the Department of the Interior.  The officials, on more than one occasion, prevented relatives from reaching the accused.

The ex-policeman was chief of the area where the victim lived and is described as a violent and abusive man.  ’In this country you get 20 to 25 for killing a cow and for killing a child this man got 17′, said Nidia Medina, aunt of the murdered teenager.  ’We’re not going to resolve anything here, here there is no justice’ said others trying to calm the most upset.  The protest paralyzed the trial and continued in the street.

Translated by:  Hank, Sian Creely

January 5 2012