Cuba: Is Otero Alcántara More Dangerous Today Than Frank Pais Was in 1957?

Frank País, the bellicose, was released and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the pacific, remains imprisoned. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 January 2022 – When, half a year ago, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party said in response to the popular demonstrations against the dictatorship, that the combat order had been given, he was not uttering his worst phrase. No. The worst thing was when he said “They have to go over our dead bodies if they want to confront the Revolution! We are ready for anything, and we will be in the streets fighting!”

People of goodwill may not have imagined that the threat of being willing to do anything would materialize in the disproportionate prison sentences to which more than 200 protesters have been subjected to date.

The disproportion happens, first, through the legal definition of the acts, which converted what should have been classified, at most, as “public disorder” into crimes punishable with greater severity, such as sedition, attack, contempt, instigation to commit a crime and other atrocities. The disproportion also happens because of ignoring the discontent of the people before a State that abuses its prerogatives; the danger in which citizens feel themselves due to the inability of their leaders to guarantee their survival, and, above all, citizens’ belief that they are protected by a right: the right to protest.

It gives the impression that the judges and prosecutors who have tried these protesters have omitted what the Penal Code itself establishes in its Chapter III to define the “exemptions of criminal responsibility,” among them “legitimate defense” is mentioned, as it “state of necessity” and the “exercise of a right.”

Perhaps they should be reminded of what Magistrate Manuel Urrutia Lleó did on March 14, 1957 when Case 67 was initiated against the young people from Santiago who, on 30 November 1956, took the city of Santiago de Cuba by force of arms to support Fidel Castro’s landing (which ultimately took place on December 2 of that year).

On that occasion, Urrutia said that the young people could not be convicted, because what they had done was protected by the Constitution of 1940, which said that the people had the right to rebel against a dictatorial government. Specifically: “In view of the usurpation and illegal retention of power by Batista and his followers, the defendants acted in accordance with their constitutional rights.”

The 150 accused were not “protesters” but combatants. Led by Frank País and wearing the olive-green uniform, they took to the streets wearing an armband with the flag of the July 26 Movement. Armed as they were, they attacked the Maritime Police station and another police station in the city center.

In the same case, there were 22 expedition members from the yacht Granma, who confessed to having landed in Cuba under the direction of Fidel Castro, to fight to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and transform the economic, political and social order of the country.

On May 8, 1957, in the eleventh session of the Santiago de Cuba Emergency Court for Case 67 of 1956, the Prosecutor Francisco Mendieta Hechevarría stated that the confession of the accused “constitutes proof that they have acted out of love for the country and to give it a government that makes it happy and free from the anguish that it is experiencing.” A week later, Frank País, along with other detainees, left Boniato prison acquitted for lack of evidence.

There is the right to wonder if in today’s Cuba there are no longer judges and prosecutors like those. And also, with the forgiveness of those who are offended by the comparison: is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara more dangerous today than Frank País was at the time?

All the historical data mentioned in this text have been taken from Lucharemos Hasta el Final (We Shall Fight to the End), 1957, a volume edited by the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State of Cuba.


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