Public Trials, a Clear Message to Citizens / Alejandro Tur Valladares

Public outdoor trial. Photo by Alejandro Tur
Public outdoor trial. Photo by Alejandro Tur

CIENFUEGOS, Cuba, August, As if it were serialized novel, the Public Prosecutions in the city of Cienfuegos just started what we could say is their third season, when on August 6 two citizens were processed and convicted in one of those covens — taking as its amphitheater the crowded Calzada de Dolores Avenue — for having stoned a passenger bus.

The practice of punishing presumed lawbreakers outside the courtroom is not new; it goes back to the beginning of the communist government in the late fifties, when elements linked to the repressive apparatus of the Batista dictatorship, first, and political opponents emanating from the ranks of the rebel army or organizations related to the July 26 Movement later.

Trials were held in public plazas so that the enraged masses could frenetically shout: “Paredón*! Paredón!”; trials without the benefit of the most basic procedural safeguards. The fact is that this did not matter then and does not matter now, as the main task of this process is to instill revolutionary terror in a particular sector of the population, not justice.

During the decade of the ’90s, the repressive tool was unsheathed again, this time seeking to silence popular dissent following the growing hunger, extreme shortages and endless blackouts that darkened the island from one end to another in what has been known as the “Special Period.”

Dozens of individuals, seeking an outlet, threw stones against the windows of shops, passenger buses, or simply damaged to public telephones; they were then paraded like animals in a fair before an audience far less effusive and committed to the powers-that-be, people who were limited to looking on silently, not daring to announce their disagreement with the way the revolutionary process was going.

The just concluded trial is part of the new government campaign calling for us to combat social indiscipline; it was given a push after Raul Castro’s speech last July 26. Since then, there has been a marked interest in reviving old methods of social coercion directed, not only at damming the waters not only of legitimate discontent, but especially the downright antisocial behaviors that are on the rise due to the loss of values that afflict our society. And in this strategy, Public Prosecutions play a fundamental according to the ideologues of the Castro regime.

I’m not trying, here, to justify unhealthy behaviors such as damaging a bus, obviously a social good, especially if those who carry it out have extensive criminal records and admit to having acted motivated by alcohol and the heat of a fight.

It is about understanding that justice must have as a priority the social rehabilitation of the individual, as a last resort isolating them from the community to which they cause injury, without taking on, as an additional burden, character assassination of those who commit crimes.

In short, if we think carefully we will see that this distorted form of administering justice involves more than a demeaning form of prosecution. It is not only that the procedural guarantees of the accused are weak, or that holding a trial in a public street in front of hundreds of bystanders involves additional punishment outside the framework of laws stipulating penalties, at the moral cost of infringing on the process, and on those who haven’t yet been judged.

The presumption of innocence is thrown into the trash, because I know of no similar experience in which those implicated have ultimately been declared innocent. What it’s really about is sending a clear message that is heard loud and clear in society, so that people can understand the risk of any attempt to undermine the Socialist order.

The treatment in this case is the same for career criminals, as for those who offend from necessity; for the discontented subject who breaks a window or posts a dissident sign as a single act of relief, as for the political opponent who systematically disobey laws that violate universally recognized human rights.

And this is well understood by the population. It is not by chance that one of those present at the scene told me, disgusted, “These are the ones who are making us starve. Why didn’t they hold similar trials for the corrupt Felipe Perez Roque and Carlos Lage? Why when a Party First Secretary is fired from his job for stealing is he not given the same treatment?”

The major emphasis of the lawyers is to try to prove the “Revolutionary” character of those they are defending, to ask for mercy because they were affiliated with the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and paid their dues.

They were content to base their efforts on an attempt to gain the favor of the “magnanimous revolutionary justice.” There was nothing of a brilliant defense or calling out suspicious allegations. Everything following a predetermined script. The defendants, before passing through that avenue to have their blind date with the scales of justice, knew that they were already condemned.


1376629443_alejandro-tur-valladares.thumbnailAlejandro Tur Valladares. Cienfuegos. Independent journalist since 2005. He founded the Cubanacan Press Agency, directed also by José Moreno. He has collaborated with various media such as Misceláneas de Cuba, Primavera, Radio Martí, Radio República. He is the director of the Jagua Press agency.

*Translator’s note: “Paredón” — To the wall — was the shout of the mob demanding the prisoners be executed.

15 August 2013