Cuba’s Justice System Mustn’t Be Blind

Fernando Ravsberg

Inmates in a Cuban prison attending a cultural event. (Photo: Raquel Perez)

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 29 — Upon hearing the news of the pardon of 2,900 prisoners, a friend who’s a “revolutionary” warned me that “the streets are going to turn bad”; while a dissident complained to me that “the Cuban government’s decision was too limited.” The controversy sparked my interest, so I went looking for some of those who were released.

I talked with three of them for a good while. Though those conversations didn’t get me any statistical parameters, it was enough to make me realize that not necessarily all of those men and women would return to the streets to repeat the crimes committed in the past.

This also made me wonder about how fair it is to keep a man locked up for 36 years — married and trained in prison as a level “A” technician in electricity for machine assemblies — for a crime he committed when he was a 17-year-old adolescent.

It’s certain that some of those pardoned will fail to re-integrate themselves into society and will return to crime, but that cannot serve as an argument to deny all the others a second chance.

Prisons shouldn’t be used as punishment, but as places of confinement for those who are unable to live in society without harming the rest of us. But under this criterion, there’s no justification for keeping them behind bars when they’re not dangerous.

Raul Castro commuted the death penalty of all those awaiting execution, despite many Cubans favoring it remaining in the penal code. Photo: Raquel Perez

It’s very healthy that each year the authorities will be obligated to review the cases of people placed in their custody to serve a sentence; men and women should never be denied the right to rehabilitation.

The 2,900 released at Christmas time adds to the 200 political prisoners released since Raul Castro assumed the presidency, and to those figures should be added the commutations of the death sentences of dozens of other convicts.

We can hope that this is a first step towards the elimination of capital punishment, because it’s a penalty where there is no turning back, even if justice is mistaken. It’s also a cruel punishment that denies human beings the opportunity to correct themselves.

I know that my opinion is not shared by many Cubans. In street interviews on the topic, most people with whom I spoke were in favor of maintaining the death penalty for serious crimes.

In any case, deputies in parliament raised the need to revise the Cuban penal code, and I imagine this will be one of the items on its agenda. However it’s certainly not the only one, because the challenges facing Cuban society today are enormous.

Despite Raul Castro’s insistence on the need to prosecute cattle thieves, the sentence for that crime shouldn’t be greater than that applied to those who caused the deaths of dozens of mentally ill patients from hunger and cold.

If, as the president said in parliament, the main enemy of the nation is white-collar corruption, it seems logical that the government would arm itself with a strategy and a legal structure that allows it to fight harder and more efficiently.

How much has the country lost through the embezzlement and theft in the areas of civil aviation, nickel, cigars, telephone services, food imports, biotechnology, transportation and spare parts, sugar and even within some companies run by the military?

Inmates taking part in a cultural activity. Photo: Raquel Perez

The truth is that any of those convicted leaders or officials did much more damage to the national economy in one year than could have been done in the whole life of some Cuban cattle rustler killing cows.

If the government fails to eliminate the milking of the nation’s industries, it will mean little if ordinary Cubans increase productivity on their jobs, use less electricity or stop receiving subsidies. The sacrifices of the people will end up in private bank accounts abroad.

In parliament, the president blasted them as “corrupt bureaucrats.” He accused them of holding positions “to accumulate wealth, counting on the eventual defeat of the revolution” and he warned that “we will be relentless” in the fight against that “parasitic plague.”

In the same address he announced that there are documentaries and filmed interviews of “white-collar criminals.” Nonetheless, these can only be viewed by deputies and other leaders, denying that opportunity from most citizens.

Can people be asked to understand the gravity of what is happening when most of the information is hidden from them? Is it correct to maintain secrecy around an issue that affects the entire nation? And will the national media again bury its head and pretend nothing is happening?

From what has been leaked, few of these cases have anything to do with national security. The silence only serves to keep people passive in the grandstands circulating rumors – some true, and others preposterous.

The lack of transparency in fighting corruption seems to prove the correctness of Cuban writer Lisandro Otero when he concluded that under capitalism, citizens don’t know what will happen, while under socialism they never find out what has happened.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s Justice System Mustn’t Be Blind

  • Elizabeth,

    Are you insinuating that most Cuban inmates are black? Did you know that most of the Cuban population is mulatto, white, THEN black? Did you notice the picture at the top right depicting mostly whites?

  • In Cuba, black people are relegated to poor housing, are excluded from managerial positions, receive the lowest remittances from relatives abroad, are five times more likely to be imprisoned, and suffer the longest waits in healthcare.

    I’m relieved that prisoners are being released and will continue to be released.

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