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Number 54033 (Part 1) / Cuban Legal Aid, Yaremis Flores

November 12, 2012 3 comments

By Yaremis Flores

The afternoon of November 7th I couldn’t imagine that I’d trade my name for a number. I went out at approximately two in the afternoon to take a serving of soup over to my father, who’d been admitted into a hospital. While I was going down the street I live on, the #950 patrol was driving slowly around the area. When I was almost crossing the road, I heard a sharp braking. An agent from State Security called me by my name and said the usual: “You have to come with us and turn off your cell phone.”

I had made the made the call to which I have a natural right and no one can deny me beforehand. Thus I at least was able to report my arrest. Because of my short height, the fact that I’m a woman and unarmed, I didn’t deserve the corpulence of badge numbers 29128 and 29130, by whom I was taken to the back seat of the patrol car without knowing the reason for nor the place of my destination. When I asked, the agent limited himself to saying “you’ll see where we take you, I felt like meeting you, but today you’re going to find out who I am.”

My surprise wasn’t much at seeing my destination was 100 and Aldabó. I’ll confess I thought at first it would only be a few hours’ detention. Under the pretext of spreading false news against international peace, they took blood samples from me and seized all my belongings. An officer told me that I must read a sign on which are listed the rights and responsibilities of detainees, as if they were worth much. Then I was led into a small room where they gave me a gray uniform and told me to always carry my hands behind my back: so that I’d not be reprimanded!

They gave me two sheets, a blanket, a towel and a mattress pad. I forget who, but someone said “she will spend a few days here.” During more than three hours of questioning, the case officer tried to decipher my thinking and collaboration with Cubanet. He sought an explanation of what his superiors classified as a process of metamorphosis: “from a judge to a counterrevolutionary.” Making it clear that that would not be our only conversation, an officer took me to a cell with two other prisoners, who had been there more than 30 days.

Many worries came to mind: my father’s health, my little 3 year-old girl, and the reaction of my husband, friends, and family. I showed calm. That night I ate nothing. I tried to sleep. When I almost succeeded, some blows to the cell bars and the jailer’s shouts startled me. “54033, 54033!!!” I didn’t answer. When she opened the cell, the bitter woman looked at me and said “Girl, you don’t hear me calling you, or they gave you a beating with gusto.”

Then I remembered that I had in a small blouse pocket a little piece of cardboard that said “54033/201.” It meant my prisoner number and my cell number. One of the girls told me “now this is your identity card.” Meanwhile, the jailer told me to get all my things together. A little dazed, I began to fasten my shoes and she warned me: don’t fix up so much, you’re not going very far, you’re going to another cell. “Then I’m going to another cell,” I answered. This was my first night in Aldabó.

Translated by: JT

November 12 2012

Cuban Justice Forsakes the Marginalized

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

For 15 days I participated as a spectator in two trials held in the Havana Court, both pursued for the crime of murder. The first, on November 28th, I was counsel for the family of the accused, six poor people from Mantilla — a bad neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo where I was born, grew up and live today.

They were judged for the homicide of a jeweler. The principal pieces of evidence? Traces of odor found in the ropes with which they tied the victims. Although there were only two attackers, the prosecution asked for 18 to 30 years of deprivation of liberty for all.

The goldsmith died after their aggressors fled with jewels and money. His wife gave him two pills, which he swallowed, despite a fracture in the toroid cartilage (Adam’s apple). The forensic examiner didn’t attend the trial, but in his report he certified that the victim had been violently strangled.

Those ‘insignificant’ details weren’t called to the attention of the bench. On the contrary, the bench showed special interest in the criminal histories of the accused. None had killed before, but with this criminal history, surely they were likely to have done it, which is equivalent to calling them guilty.

The other was heard on December 13th. On that occasion, I was counsel for the family of the victim – also from Mantilla. Amado Interian, an ex-police officer, shot Angel Isquierdo Medina, a 14-year-old boy, a crime that shocked the community. Four witnesses were present when the trigger was pulled. Even so, the prosecution asked for a 17 year prison sentence for the victim.

“This was no murder, it was manslaughter”, said his defense attorney. An easy thing to prove with the legal death certificate. The projectile entered through the left buttock, crossed the kidney, the aortic artery, the left lung, and exited through the shoulder; but the cause of death was acute anemia.

Again the bench placed special interest in the history of the accused. 30 years of service performed by an ex-officer on the police force diminished the fact that he fired at three black adolescents, on top of a honeyberry tree.

Angel’s family members asked me if they could appeal. The decision depended on the prosecution, who supposedly represented the victim. They are right and it’s very sad; cows have more protection from the State than does a person.

“What more can we do?”, the mothers of those six imprisoned men and the family of the adolescent asked me. Have faith and patience. We keep cheering for the lady with the blindfolded eyes, with the scales in one hand and a sword in the other.

I will probably be a hypocrite, I told myself, “to ask those mothers to have faith when I lost it some time ago”. It was then that I felt ashamed of being an attorney. I understood that sometimes I cry from powerlessness and others I cannot sleep.

It’s difficult for me to say that the luck of leaving the courtroom acquitted or convicted depends on whether you live in a bad neighborhood, if you’re black and poor, if you have powerful friends or convertible pesos to pay a lawyer, but not a defender, a learned one who might manage the benevolence of the prosecutor and the bench.

Those two trials left me with a bad taste and the certitude that everyone in this country runs risks. You don’t have to be a dissident. Whatever is exposed to judicial proceedings where the most minimal guarantees of due process are not respected.

Translated by: JT

January 20 2012

Many Cubans Steal to Survive

March 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Miguel, married and with three children, used to work as a cook in a State enterprise. He would get up at three in the morning and undertake a trip of more than 12 kilometers and arrive early to work. He paid union dues and on two occasions was chosen ‘vanguard worker’.

But his salary didn’t reach high enough to meet his economic needs. Sometimes more, sometimes less, Miguel took part of the food from the breakfasts of the other workers to sustain his family. Oil, rice, chicken, fish, eggs, meat, beans … he took what he could.

He had to assure the subsistence of his family. On occasion, very discreetly, he’d sell in his neighborhood some of the things he used to steal. With that extra money he used to cover other expenses. His kids needed clothes and shoes, things that are only sold in hard-currency-only stores; hard currency that he couldn’t earn because his salary was paid in pesos.

Somebody informed on what Miguel was doing. He was fired from the center. And because it was the first time, the court sentenced him to six months’ deprivation of liberty for the crime of larceny. He had to work in a correctional facility in agriculture.

In the sentence they didn’t take into account the motives that led him to commit what is called in good Cuban “robbery”. From his new location, when he’d leave on a pass, he’d continue taking food for his house.

Before 1959, in the Cuban Penal Code existed the character of the “family larceny”; a circumstance which, in some cases, exempted the actor of penal responsibility, and in others, diminished the sentence. It was taken into account when a person — hungry or indigent — took objects necessary for his survival and those people in his care.

“Revolutionary justice” eliminated this character of penal law. The supposition was that the government of the bearded ones attended to the needs of all equally. Supposedly, vagrancy, unemployment, mendacity, and vices and causes of misery had all been eliminated.

Seen in this way, this character was unnecessary in the new Penal Code. For socialist legislation, no citizen in the newly created conditions had any extreme necessity which would compel him to steal. It was assumed that Cuba was a nation in which all its citizens enjoyed opportunity and the right to work.

It is ironic that in actuality it should be precisely the ‘proletarian’ class which finds itself in a state of necessity such that it sees itself obliged to swipe the State’s resources to survive and maintain a family. It is one of the social problems that affects the national economy the most and that the government confronts as a “fight against illegality”.

What’s certain is that the justice applied by socialist society is interested more in punishment to set an example than in forgiving a criminal fact committed out of necessity. Fifty-two years later, experience demonstrates that the revolution has been incapable of attending equally to the needs of the population.

Laziness and destitution have increased and bribery and corruption have gone sky high. It remains proven that full employment, by itself, is insufficient to make misery disappear, and with it, the commission of “family larceny”.

Miguel’s story repeats daily in many Cuban families. You can count on different forms and with other people. But the reality is singular: the critical economic situation that has swept the nation for decades has led the majority of workers with labor ties to the State to convert the “swipe” into a way of life indispensable to survival.

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Translated by: JT

March 10 2011

The Curtain is Drawn, Matter Concluded

February 22, 2011 3 comments

The trial for the deaths at the  Psychiatric Hospital seemed like a bad theater set painted by the official press, which tried to adorn that which we all know with legal technicalities: The setback of public health, the weakness of the judicial system, and the hypocrisy of the communications media.

The daily paper, Granma, omitted the numbers of the involved and the deceased, but it gave details on the number of witnesses examined by the tribunal and the specialties of the members of the commission created — a little too late — by the Ministry of Public Health to investigate the cause and conditions that generated the “deaths that occurred”.

Did the judges of the Second Instance of the Penal Court of Havana see the pictures of the dead, which circulated the city surreptitiously? Skin lacerated by blows, evidence of physical maltreatment. The extinguished faces which, in vain, tried to protect themselves from the cold when rigor mortis caught up with them.

Starving bodies that received severe punishment because their mental illness didn’t allow them to perceive abandonment and protest it. Hunger flogged them with the same strength as their nurses and doctors, from whom need and fatigue took their human sensitivity; the same who, for altruism, travel to the most hidden places on the planet to bring health care in the name of Cuba.

Nonetheless, embezzlement weighs more than death of the sick themselves. Human beings abandoned by men and by sanity, a fact that Granma kindly called “insufficiency in patient care”.

“The prosecutor alleged that those involved knew that in the winter period an increase in deaths is produced by respiratory illnesses”, explained the journalist. Nonetheless, “the picture discovered in clinical progress” revealed signs of malnutrition, anemia, and lack of vitamins.

A cold front doesn’t produce these sufferings, they are consequences of lack of food for months, perhaps years. In those physical conditions, death was a question of time. The low temperatures were a catalyst, perhaps desired.

Many questions remain unanswered. Couldn’t this sad end have been avoided? Didn’t any medical analysis reveal these diagnoses beforehand? What did the government cadres or party members responsible for this institution do? Wasn’t there any inspection, did anyone check out the rumors?

In all that time, didn’t anyone go by there in review, a worthy manager? I forgot — that isn’t a strategic goal of the Revolution. Where was José Ramón Balaguer, the then-Minister of Public Health? He slept safe and warm while about thirty mental patients were dying of hypothermia.

Neither an apology nor his resignation, just silence. He was dismissed at the end of last July, like so many other incompetent ministers, but continued his work in the highest spheres of government. One of the untouchables with the right to taste the honey of power for him alone they sacrificed themselves, even the end of their days. Perhaps because of this the tribunal didn’t have permission to investigate him.

The curtain is drawn, matter concluded. Tomorrow nobody will remember the tragic facts, thanks to the press having disguised the human misery of a “sector that is proud and a bastion of Cuba and of many countries of the world”, and justice differentiated between cooks, cadres, and managers.

Translated by: JT

February 21 2011

Looking For the Guilty

January 10, 2011 2 comments

Heaven and earth came together for Danay when Lester, her ex-spouse, confessed to her with tremendous calm that he didn’t love her. He tried everything to save his 10 month-old marriage. The young lady, until yesterday a Christian, lost faith in God and in man. Today she is looking for the guilty party who left her with the bitter aftertaste of feeling used.

Danay de la Caridad Gonzales is 17-years-old. Since she was little her parents raised her in the dogma of the Protestant Christian religion. Today she resides in Mantilla, a marginal neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo, the poorest area in the City of Havana.

Lester Martinez is 23-years-old and is a native of Palma Soriano, in Santiago de Cuba. He’s been living in the capital illegally for three years. The biggest test of his love for her was that he should convert to her religion, despite the scant grace that God gave her and her bony body, which gives her away as a legitimate child of the “Special Period”.

God put them together in a simple ceremony before the parishioners of her church. They lived together in one of the rooms of the girl’s parents’ house. A housing unit constructed on what had been, years before, a garbage dump. A few meters away, the streams of the neighborhood’s sewers run. The authorities declared the area unhealthy.

To conform to the laws of God and man, it only remained to legalize Lester’s situation in the capital. His having come from another province in the country required that processing take place according to what was set out in Decree 217/97 of “Migratory Regulations for the City of Havana.”

There was a detail the youths didn’t count on. According to the rules of the decree, the local authorities don’t recognize a home as having a “permanent character” when the housing unit located in the capital is in an unhealthy zone. The unconditional love of Danay could not prevent Lester putting an end to the relationship. It wasn’t known if God or the rules of Decree 217/97 wanted it that way.

“Why did you marry me?” asked Danay. The young man arrived at the capital in search of better living conditions. However, it was impossible for him to get the 150 pesos of convertible currency together that they charge for making the change of address official. Because of this, he couldn’t continue his studies nor could he work legally.

Lester was tired of living the gypsy life. Avoiding the fines imposed by Decree 217/97, he spent three months around Bejucal, and another three in Mantilla, in the house of the cousins who’d helped him get settled in the big city, the one he couldn’t know nor enjoy for fear that he might be recognized by a policeman and be deported to his place of origin.

Nothing justifies deceit, Danay decreed. She looked at the sky and asked “Where were you, God, that you didn’t spare me this deception? Why did you permit me to be used this way?” Then she looked at the ground and, with irony, said to the young man, “Until death do us part, or until you realized you couldn’t change your address?”

The Lord lost a sheep from His flock and Lester, despite his guilt, learned that it wasn’t enough to marry a resident of the capital to make his change of address official, and with that to exercise his right to free circulation and residency.

He’s still reluctant to return to his home province. In the future, he will remember that his future wife must reside in a healthy zone and in a housing unit with minimum conditions insisted upon by the migratory regulations of the City of Havana (more than 25 square meters of livable space plus 10 for each co-resident).

Danay feels victimized by everyone, at least by those who put Decree 217/97 into effect; a rule that turns a Cuban into an illegal in his own country. The same one that lets Lester, as a means of legalizing his situation in the capital, marry with or without love.

Translated by: JT

January 8 2011

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