Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES — Early Saturday morning (June 9), Cuban law enforcement officers picked up two members of the Critical Observatory Network (OC) and drove them to the police station at Zapata and C Street of Havana’s Vedado district.
The experience was instructive in many ways, and one of them was that it allowed us to learn what’s frightening to law enforcement officials in this city.
The two OC members (Jimmy Roque Martinez and Eduardo A. Diaz Fernandez) were walking along the centrally located and well-lit G Street sometime after midnight when law enforcement officials asked them for their identification. In addition, right there in the street, the police searched a daypack that one of the two was carrying.
During this violation of their rights, the police discovered that the two men were in the possession of two cans of spray paint (red and black), which turned out to be sufficient grounds for the pair to be frisked, handcuffed, and taken to the jail at Zapata and C, where they had to remain for twelve hours without being charged.
Jimmy and Edward, both white, do not fit the racial profile typically used by the police in Havana, but it seems that seeing people carrying a daypack late at night was enough to trigger the police’s paranoia. That was all it took.
If the problem was carrying paint — “which can be used for anything,” as the suspicious police captain told me at the station — then everything is clear.
What’s curious is that this “life-threatening paint” is sold in state-run stores and has diverse uses. Should we imprison the managers of these stores for literally giving “ammunition to the enemy”?
The truth is that their detention was extended more than usual. The reason? They had to wait for the CI (Counter Intelligence?) officers to get to work the next morning to evaluate the matter.
What’s for sure is that none of the people detained that night were released at dawn, nor did they know when they would be released. From what I was told, this included a black man whose sole crime had been walking in the relatively upscale Vedado neighborhood though having a past criminal record.
“How could you think you could wander around in Vedado with a record, looking like that and with that color?” was what Jimmy and Eduardo were able to hear. What was saddest was that the racist officer was himself black.
In today’s Cuba, it’s not necessary to have committed a crime or disturbed the public order to be arrested. The “preventive” nature of police authority seems to justify the daily occurrence of this violation, without the citizens having effective legal remedies to stop or redress this distortion of justice.
Jimmy and Edward, together with three other people, were crammed into a dirty cell designed for two individuals for twelve hours. Finally, at 1:00 pm, they were given an “official warning” (which they didn’t sign) and were released.
So far the OC had issued a complaint on Facebook, Twitter, and in the organization’s WordPress blog. Fortunately, new technologies are able to accelerate the process of justice a little, though not enough to transform such absurdities.