Cuba’s New Penal Code Maintains the Right to Kill

In most cases, the death penalty is applied in the name of defending the interests of the State and the legitimacy of its institutions.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 January 2022 — The death penalty, by firing squad, appears as one of the applicable sanctions in 28 articles of Cuba’s new Penal Code, still pending approval. Also included among the main sanctions are deprivation of liberty, correctional work with and without internment, home confinement, service for the benefit of the community, limitation of liberty, fine and reprimand.

Of all of them, the only irreversible sanction is death and it is imposed, leaving the accused with the hope of reducing it to a life sentence or 30 years in prison, as has happened since an imprecise moratorium was introduced, 19 years ago.

In most cases, this sanction is applied in the name of defending the interests of the State and the legitimacy of its institutions.

This is how it is expressed in the articles numbered from 112 to 116 that refer to the participation in an armed aggression under a foreign flag or engaging in espionage; article 119 typifies the different variables of an armed uprising with the purpose of changing the Constitution or the Government; 121, for those who organize or participate in a social revolt; 123, foresees the action of armed forces insubordinate to the central command or a palace coup, and others where mercenaryism, the violation of maritime or air space, the use of chemical weapons or explosives are mentioned.

Of particular interest is what is specified in Article 154, according to which the death penalty is imposed on “whoever executes an act against the life, bodily integrity, freedom or safety of any person who, due to the nature of the activities carried out, enjoys relevant recognition in society, or against their closest relatives.”

These crimes against the powers of the State probably do not excite the public enough to provoke enough approval to apply the death penalty; perhaps for this reason, as a “righteous bait” that will surely have the unrestricted support of the population, Article 344, refers to the murder of a person, and becomes explicit when narrating the presumed aggravating circumstances that would justify a sentence to the firing squad.

Among the aggravating circumstances is mentioned that the act has been committed for a price, reward or benefit of any kind; if it has been carried out against a person who is notoriously incapable of adequately defending himself; if it has been motivated by gender discrimination; if the suffering of the victim causing other unnecessary harm deserving execution for the crime; if it involved premeditation; and if, when executing the act, it was done knowing that, at the same time, the life of another person or persons was in danger.

Other aggravating details are added, such as acting out of sadistic impulses or brutal perversity; having illegally deprived the victim of his liberty before killing him; committing the murder with the motive or occasion or as a consequence of committing a crime of robbery with force on objects, robbery with violence or intimidation of people, corruption of minors or sexual assault. It is difficult not to want to punish these atrocities with death.

Once social acceptance of the State’s right to legally kill a citizen is achieved, a dissuasive weapon of enormous power has been achieved to prevent any destabilizing action.

The subject is thorny.

At the end of 2002, the Moderate Opposition for Reflection Roundtable published a Charter of Rights and Duties for Cuban citizens. The first article of that charter, which undoubtedly intended to inspire a new Constitution, stated: “Every Cuban has the right to life. No Cuban may be sentenced to death or executed.” In the debates that arose between various civil society organizations, the most controversial point was precisely that of the abolition of the death penalty.

As a spokesperson for that project, I had the opportunity to hear numerous arguments for and against. I remember what a passionate father of a family used to say, whom I will call Juan Martínez out of elementary discretion: “If someone rapes or kills a child of mine, he deserves the death penalty.” And someone replied: “And what happens if it is your child who rapes or kills another? Do we have to put in the Bill of Rights that the death penalty is correct if the child of Juan Martínez is the victim, but If it turns out that that child is the perpetrator, then it does not proceed.

There was a dramatic silence in the small room where the issue was being discussed. When the controversial point was put to the vote, everyone was in favor of the proposed wording, including the vote of Juan Martínez.


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