Dissident will go on trial for offending the Ministry of Interior
HAVANA TIMES – There is enough evidence to prove the Cuban regime is monitoring social media to identify (what it believes to be) any words against “State Security”.
Fines given to people, under Decree-Law 370, who publish anti-Government messages in cyberspace, are the clearest proof of this.
Despite the Government’s attempts to control what people say, fines and the confiscation of equipment haven’t been enough to stop social media platforms from becoming the closest thing to a public sphere in Cuba. Given administrative repression’s inefficiency, government authorities seem to have picked up on the use of Criminal law to punish divergent comments on the Internet.
This practice has been on the rise in 2023. According to the working group on politically-motivated arrests in Cuba, Justicia 11J, at least three people have been sent to prison for posting ideas or calling for protests on social media: Sulmira Martinez (Salem de Cuba), Jesus Guerra and Agustin Lopez Canino.
They are trying to add activist Leandro Pupo Garces, who lives in Banes, Holguin, to the list. Pupo Garces was arrested months ago after a post he shared on his Facebook page. He expressed his disapproval with job offers posted by the Ministry of Interior (MININT) for young Cubans and called the Cuban political system a “dictatorship”.
After being arrested and interrogated, authorities informed Leandro that he would only be given a fine. However, after a few weeks and not knowing his file was being processed, Pupo Garces received the provisional findings issued by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The document suggests that Leandro is being formally charged with a crime and will be taken to trial soon; unless the political costs of his prosecution stop the Cuban Government from moving ahead with his trial.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office claims in its provisional findings that Pupo Garces’ post hurt MININT’s “morale and reputation” and is a crime of libel against institutions and organizations of heroes and martyrs (regulated in Article 270 of the Penal Code in force today). The Public Prosecutor’s Office admits that the complaint against Leandro Pupo was filed by “State Security agents in the Banes municipality” who “had been surveilling [Leandro] because of his actions.”
The document issued by the Public Prosecutor’s Office is not only documentary evidence of arbitrariness and political repression in Cuba, but it is also proof of the constant surveillance of citizens’ comments on social media. The a priori justification for this surveillance is the “people being monitored’s” political stance and its sole objective is to find “potential” targets they can then repress, using criminal or administrative measures against dissidents or citizens who disagree with the Communist Party’s policies and dare to express this.
These kinds of investigations or surveillance are banned in many countries, as is persecution of an opponent dressed up as a legal investigation. This is even more important in Cuba because it is used as a way to restrict freedom of speech, like in Leandro’s case.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office has asked the Banes Municipal People’s Court to make Leandro Pupo spend the next four years of his life at a forced labor camp controlled by the institution that reported him and says it is has been “offended” by his words.
Leandro Pupo Garces’ case is amplified and becomes more important if you compare it to the Court system’s refusal to protect teacher Alina Barbara Lopez Hernandez. The philosopher from Matanzas filed a complaint against Pedro Jorge Velazquez, one of the youngest propagandists of the Cuban regime’s communication apparatus, weeks ago. Later, a judge from the Matanzas Provincial People’s Court refused to hold a trial against the Granma correspondent in Sancti Spiritus and ruled that Velazquez was innocent, without a discussion.
On May 18, 2023, after Iroel Sanchez’s death, Alina Barbara posted her public condolences to the Cuban official’s family on her Facebook page, while also acknowledging her joy at the fact she never agreed with the deceased. These and other statements encouraged Pedro Jorge Velazquez to write a post on Facebook defending Iroel; he also called Lopez “a witch and harlequin of the US Empire” accusing her of “intellectual indecency.”
With the far reach of the journalist’s statements and his position as a communicator working for the country’s main written press, Lopez Hernandez filed a complaint against Pedro Jorge Velazquez, at the Provincial People’s Court in Matanzas, for slander. The reasons were essentially the same as those used by MININT to take Leandro Pupo to court, but in this case Pedro Jorge’s comments weren’t to persecute her, but to discredit her honor and public reputation.
Yet, while Leandro Pupo faces the possibility of spending four years in a forced labor camp, a judge from the Court system that will try the activist hasn’t even summoned Pedro Jorge Velazquez to defend his defamatory remarks in a public hearing. Dozens of people like him have received this protection, the latest example being Humberto Lopez’s attack on Yeilis Torres Cruz (which ended up with the activist being sent to prison and the Cuban TV presenter being promoted to a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee).
Matanzas Provincial Court replied to the complaint filed by Alina Barbara with a decree dated June 30, 2023. In the document, Judge Jorge Feliz Diaz Corso said that Alina’s post provoked Pedro’s discontent “given his friendship with (Iroel) the deceased” and that the fact that he felt “offended” by Alina’s words legitimized Pedro Jorge to “respond in the way he did.”
The Matanzas judge’s reasoning has no legal basis. The most obvious reason is that Leandro Pupo Garces is one of the many Cubans offended by MININT’s work; but, unlike Pedro Jorge, his words can cost him prison time. There is no legal reasoning behind Diaz Corso’s arguments. The ruling logic here in the way Cuban Courts take action is what the president of the People’s Supreme Court, Ruben Remigio Ferro, announced in one of his ominous speeches: Cuban Courts aren’t the enemies’ Courts, they are the Courts of the Revolution and the Communist Party.
The Matanzas Court’s ruling is proof of relativism and the defenselessness of Cuban citizens; it also proves just how clumsy repression is in Cuba, even when they try to legitimize it with a judge’s signature of “legal” reasoning, who ultimately end up accomplices or direct culprits of clear human rights violations.