Cuba: The Power Behind the Penal Code

Extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power in which the new Penal Code was approved. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 May 2022 — The recently approved Penal Code punishes with sentences of up to ten years the citizen “who arbitrarily exercises any right or freedom recognized in the Constitution of the Republic” if that exercise has as its purpose “to change, totally or partially, the Constitution of the Republic or the form of government established by it.”

The previous paragraph is the result of reading articles 119 and 120 of the aforementioned code, which I recommend reading in full and not partially, citing as I do here.

Article 119.1 allows punishing even with the death penalty “whoever takes up arms to obtain by force,” among other things, a total or partial change of the Constitution of the Republic or the form of Government that it establishes.

Article 120.1 provides sentences of up to ten years for anyone who “with any of the purposes stated” in article 119 “arbitrarily” exercises any right recognized in the Constitution.

What does it mean to arbitrarily exercise a right granted by the Constitution?

Article 80 of the Constitution says that Cuban citizens have the right, among other things, to “exercise legislative initiative and constitutional reform.”

Title XI of the Constitution approved in 2019 has four articles on the subject of constitutional reform. Subsection F of article 227 specifies that citizens are recognized for the constitutional reform initiative “through a petition addressed to the National Assembly of People’s Power, signed before the National Electoral Council, by at least fifty thousand voters.”

Just in case, so that no one is mistaken, article 229 makes it clear that “in no case are pronouncements on the irrevocability of the socialist system reformable.”

Neither by hook nor by crook does the Constitution allow the socialist system to be discarded. But the Penal Code goes further, by punishing the intentions of those who hide behind their constitutional rights to expose the reasons for taking the definitive step that leaves behind the socialist system, or what remains of it, which is nothing more than monopoly of power by one party.

It is clear that the purpose of those who argue in favor of a transformation will always be to make it happen. But you cannot condemn the one who proposes a change as if he were imposing it. It would be like punishing the one who proposes to remove a traffic signal with the fine that falls to the one who does not respect it.

Citizens who prefer another economic or political system should be left no choice but to move to another country. The fear that is evident in this Penal Code is that if dissidents are allowed to express themselves and organize, they will end up convincing the rest of the population that their goals are legitimate and, then, those who rule Cuba today would lose power.


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