Discrimination in Accessing Justice / Lilianne Ruiz

Reina Ruiz Perez

“Are you going to tell me that the State has more rights over my grandchildren than I do, I who have raised them since they were born?” was the response of Reina Ruiz Perez to the prosecutor, the day she tried to make her case for adoption before the Havana Provincial Court.

Later, frustrated by the neglect, she warned the representative of authority of her desire to undertake a public protest and ended up detained for the umpteenth time in her life.

The prosecutor had suggested that “after the death of the mother, custody goes to the father. If the father doesn’t want them, (the children) go to the State.”

In 2010, after the death of her daughter, this grandmother started to sue for legal custody of her grandchildren; the fathers of both minors have to objection at all in ceding custody to the maternal grandmother, and in practice don’t take care of them.”

“The children have been living with me since they were born, but there are no legal procedures I can undertake to bring it formalize it,” said Ruiz Perez.

The Cuban courts “have denied (the grandmother) access to justice,” Cubalex attorney Laritza Diversent points out, when consulted on the matter. “In Cuba adoption is processed through a record of voluntary jurisdiction; this means it’s a matter of particular interest. In these cases the procedural law authorized going forward without legal representation. In other words, the grandmothers are legally authorized to adopt their grandchildren.”

Ruiz Perez also tells us that since the ’90s, when she became active in the non-violent opposition to the Cuban dictatorship, she has faced great abuse, which has included being imprisoned without a trial in the women’s prison known as “Manto Negro” (Black Robe); along with innumerable detentions in Police Stations to try to block her protest activities. Many of these arrests occurred within sight of her three children, and at least once she was taken the Police Station with her youngest daughter in tow.

“I went to the Calabazar Station up to four times a week,” the grandmother reports. “Once they locked me up in the Station Chief’s office with my youngest daughter, until the official ’in charge of minors’ came looking for the Station Chief. When she opened the door and saw the girl sleeping in my lap, she was shocked because it wasn’t even 8:00 in the morning, which betrayed that we had spent the night locked up there.”

With a long history of harassment and political persecution, at age 53 Reina Ruiz Perez has obtained a visa to live as a refugee in the United States. The problem lies in the fact that the Cuban State, so far, has not allowed her to take assume legal representation for her grandchildren. In practice, she has been the only one who has taken on the care of the minors, who have lived in her house since they were born, where they get a pension — their mother having been a State worker — which amounts to 100 Cuban pesos per child (the equivalent of $4.00 USD a month).

This legal impediment means that the children haven’t been able to obtain the documentation to travel with her to the United States.

After hiring a lawyer Ruiz Perez was not able to complete the adoption; as it says in the case file, “The process contracted on 29 August 2012 was shelved indefinitely.” Later, following the recommendations offered by Cubalex — the legal information center — covered in the articles of the law that authorize it, she presented a brief to the Court to activate the adoption proceedings herself, but the Court refused to recognize the procedure.

The last time State Security visited Mrs. Ruiz Perez, the agents who presented themselves as “from Immigration” expressed “concern” for the situation of the children, and argued that it wasn’t the Cuban government that was “holding things up,” but “your American government that doesn’t want to give them the visa.”

But it’s not only the political police that has expressed that argument.

According to what is also stated in the case file, the president of the Boyeros Court “treated Ruiz Perez disrespectfully” and said that “it is the fault of the American that they aren’t allowed to leave, not the president of the Court’s, and that there no adoption is accepted.”

One wonders what is the objective of refusing the grandmother in question the ability to complete the adoption as established.

In maintaining this situation the Cuban State is violating the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which demands that the best interest of the children always be considered.

21 June 2013