Cubans Want More Severe Laws for Criminals / Iván García

Cuban prison. Taken from the blog of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta.

Iván García, 6 May 2017 — Some people in Cuba, not just a minority, want blood. And more severe laws for criminals.

While the Catholic Church and different international institutions are advocating a crusade to eliminate the death penalty on the Island, there are people who, for many reasons, think firing squads should be reactivated.

If you ask Gisela about the subject, her eyes fill hopelessly with tears. At one time this woman, who is pushing 50, was a brilliant nurse. She formed a model family together with her spouse, an ex-official of a foreign business. They lived in a well-cared-for apartment in Reparto Sevillano, in the south of Havana.

But the night of December 14, 2010, their marriage took a dramatic turn. “They killed our only son. He was only 15. He was with some friends in El Vedado. A gang assaulted him to take his clothes. Before running away, they stabbed him twice in a lung. After his death, our life changed and got worse. I always wonder, if God exists, where he was that night,” says Gisela.

After the loss of their son, the marriage dissolved. She became a habitual alcoholic. They sold their car and later exchanged their apartment for a smaller one. The money was spent on rum and psychotropics.

Gisela divorced the father of her deceased son, and they put him in a psychiatric hospital. When you ask her opinion about the death penalty or more severe laws for certain crimes, she answers without subtlety: “Whoever kills a person ought to be executed. Look at my case. The criminal who killed my son got 20 years in prison, and for good conduct he served only six and is now back on the street. It’s not fair.”

Those who have lost a family member or friends of violent crime victims are more susceptible and hope for the return of executioners and a State that decrees death.

In Cuba, the crime rate is notably low. Although official statistics are unknown, the Island is a safe place. But gangs of juvenile delinquents and home robberies have increased.

Since 2005, the Cuban Government has had a moratorium on the death penalty. The last convict executed was called “Crazy Victor” in the world of the marginal underground, and he was a sinewy mestizo almost 6’6″ tall, with an assassin’s soul.

At the end of the ’90s, he killed an old woman inside her house in the neighborhood of La Vibora. The day of his arrest he had a shoot-out with police in the style of an American action film.

In the spring of 2004, the Council of State ratified the death penalty for Victor, which was carried out in the adjacent courtyard at the Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison on the outskirts of the capital.

Fidel and Raúl Castro have not held back from pulling the trigger. From the very beginning of January 1, 1959, they used the death penalty to eliminate their recalcitrant enemies and even peaceful dissidents. A lawyer, now retired, relates:

“When an objective academic study is done, without political passion, the exact number of Cubans that the government of Fidel Castro has executed will be known. On principle, they eliminated criminals from Batista’s police and army. Several of these trials were real Roman circuses, televised to the whole country, without the proper judicial guarantees. They took advantage of the situation to deliver justice in order to liquidate the enemies of the revolution.

“In one step, the laws sanctioned the death penalty for betrayal of the country by soldiers, as in the case of General Arnaldo Ochoa. Or the execution of 19 people in an air base in Holguín in 1963, most of them war pilots. Fidel, Raúl and Che signed quite a few death penalties. The figures vary, according to the sources. Some say that 500 were executed; others, 3,000 or more.

“Dissident jurists consider these to be crimes of the State, because they were established offenses that didn’t necessarily call for capital punishment. But the Government claimed it was being persecuted by Yankee imperialism.”

In 2003, after a summary trial, three young black men, residents of Centro Havana, were executed for trying to hijack a boat to leave the country, which they weren’t able to achieve. “It was a counterproductive political error. It was an an act of Fidel Castro’s meant to set an example that cost him the condemnation of world public opinion,” said the ex-lawyer.

In the spring of that same year, among the 75 peaceful dissidents punished with long years in prison by Fidel Castro, who used only words as a weapon, the Prosecutor of the Republic requested seven death penalties. “It was something appalling. Luckily the Government didn’t carry it out. It would have been a crime in all meanings of the word,” said the old lawyer.

As in any revolutionary movement, whether in France, Russia or Cuba, violence begins with force. The death penalty always was a weapon of combat for intimidating the enemy. However, several people consulted considered that while political adversaries were sanctioned excessively or executed in a pit in the fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, Cuban justice was too permissive with some blood crimes.

“Right now someone who kills a cow gets more years in prison that someone who kills a human being. I know cases where they got only four or five years in prison in spite of having killed someone. Those who slaughter beef cattle are condemned to 20 or more years of privation of liberty,” says an ex-prisoner.

There are quite a few ordinary Cubans who think that crimes like robbery in occupied homes, sexual violations and other mean-spirited acts should be considered by the State as crimes, and the killers should be executed.

“Although my religion is against the death penalty, I’m in favor of executing those who commit horrendous crimes,” confesses Mayda, who defines herself as a practicing evangelical.

Saúl, who works for himself. considers that in addition to “executing serial killers or psychopaths, they ought to punish other infractions with more years. As in the United States, where they give them life imprisonment for these same crimes. The thugs would think twice before breaking the law.”

But in the opinion of another lawyer, in the case of major crimes or by resuming the death penalty, “the State could be tempted to condition these laws and carry out a purge of the opposition. The subject of the death penalty, whether to abolish it or keep it, should be debated nationally and the citizens should decide by vote.” But Cuba isn’t Switzerland.

Translated by Regina Anavy