By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Cubans go wild with happiness when news comes that a police officer has been dismissed or taken to trial for a crime. Such only comes by word of mouth because this kind of news is rarely published in official media. This almost always relates to an “abuse of power” or “corruption” charge.
Also, it isn’t a matter of these crimes being rare or people wanting a strict police force; on the contrary. Rather it is a lot more common to hear that a public servant has “exploded”. Likewise, people prefer “malleable” police officers instead of inflexible ones, in a country that is full of bans and red tape.
It’s rather because, as the popular saying goes: “behind every extremist lies an opportunist.” It is almost always a coincidence that the police officers taken to trial are the ones that are most abusive.
The police are crucial to maintaining public order, nobody can argue that. It’s normal for there to be some people in a nation who commit crimes, from “white collar” crimes to livestock thieves, and they need to be kept in check. However, unfortunately, the Cuban police aren’t very professional.
The reasons for this range from the short qualification courses they take and the absence of a rigorous Police Academy. Additionally, the absence of a Department of Internal Affairs, to the nature of national politics. This includes complicity and subordination of public order authorities to the Political Police (State Security), in cases that mostly involve dissidents.
Many more negative things could be said, about popular complaints and viral videos on social media with horrible scenes of police abuse and a clear lack of ethics and professionalism in officers. However, the worst thing that really stands out right now, is the already infamous practice of charging people with contempt or attacking authority.
In most of the cases where citizens are charged with these crimes, it is the citizens themselves that have been abused, harassed, and beaten by the police. Instead of being taken to trial and questioned, the same uniformed officers serve as witnesses and turn victims into the aggressors. These end up serving very tough sentences.
With public safety in any normal country, it would be an embarrassment for a police officer to repeatedly accuse citizens of “contempt or attacking authority.” It would almost be proof that they don’t inspire respect. So, the police advise and try and persuade their target before turning to this wild card, which is the way it should be.
However, it’s a weapon in their line of work here in Cuba, a tool for brutality and coercion. If only we had access to the statistics. I’m sure Cuba is no.1 in the world for locking people away for contempt and or attacking authority. The fact that these cases thrive in the Police, prosecutors offices and courts is proof that this isn’t an isolated practice, but rather an institutional policy that includes different ministries.
This is why State Security also finds it easy to take opposition members, independent journalists, anti-establishment artists, dissidents in short, to trial for this alleged crime. This is how they separate them from public life; it’s how’s they control and punish them.
If you are a dissident, you only have to resist one summons, one arrest or have one unjustified home search and you’re a criminal, with a sentence similar to burglary. It’s easy to see that most victims of police brutality are black people, independent workers and dissidents, precisely the social sectors that are most stigmatized by the Government in today’s society here in Cuba.
It’s something that needs to change, but I have no doubt this will only happen with the new democratic Cuba we need to build.