Unexpected search

December 1, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Since adolescence, my dream was to become a successful lawyer. I managed to become a legal professional, but to do justice and to comply with the law, is further from reality all the time in my country.

August 20th, on returning home at the end of my work day, I found a patrol car at the corner of the house. There were confused looks, until a neighbor woman advised me that the police were conducting a search of my house. The news made my stomach cramp and I felt like my heart was in my throat.

There was a Suzuki motorcycle and three agents from the Capri Station in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality. They were improperly dressed: wearing civilian shirts and uniform trousers. One of them observed while the other searched – and in the middle of the patio they gathered the items to be confiscated – all this while the third made an accounting on paper.

They were looking for my brother-in-law. The agents showed my husband, a young man who like most Cubans, doesn’t know the law and his rights, an anonymous complaint and they told him that they had to do a search. And even though he was not in agreement, he accepted it.

Actually, they did not enter my house, but according to what they said, they were going to search all the houses. I live with my husband’s family. Each of us is independent but the houses, all made of wood, are stuck side-by-side. We are several separate nuclear families, but with only one address and ration book.

I turned to the agents and asked them to show me the search warrant. They refused. They asked me for a document showing my credentials as a lawyer. The tension showed in their faces. According to them, they didn’t have to show me anything and so they didn’t. I was asking for something that they, in their procedures, were not accustomed to using.

They tried to give me a thousand excuses, they even told me that since I was an attorney, if I could prove that I had been retained by these people to represent them I could see the criminal complaint. I told them that they did not need to hire me. As a lawyer I could defend my family to the fourth degree of consanguinity and second affinity without the need for such a formality.

My insistence on seeing the search warrant made the first deputy, Emilio Barrio, lose his composure; in a fit of rage, he shouted like a madman. He had forgotten what his profession represented, and above all, that he was dealing with a lady. Without the slightest tact, he ordered me out. I decided to leave. I decided to leave so I would not make my family’s situation worse. However, they knew they could not proceed to search the other houses without the required warrant.

After a while, when the first deputy had the confiscated items in a truck, he told me that his superior had arrived and that I could speak with him. This guy showed me the warrant, but he refused to give me a copy. According to them, nothing required them to do so. I went inside and looked up the relevant article of the Criminal Procedure Act, but I didn’t have enough time to show it to them. They left right away.

They were looking for a “medallion factory,” without being any more specific. They confiscated a computer, 28 pounds of cheese, half a bag of salt, a refrigerator, a kitchen stove and everything else they felt like taking.

In addition to being enraged, the incident left me with a bitter taste as a legal professional: a taste of powerlessness and frustration. To see how they violate laws and civil rights with total impunity and how we are unable to do anything about it.

The officers proceeded to search a private home without satisfying the formalities required by the Law of Criminal Procedure. Their response led me to believe that either they were completely unaware of my right to demand a copy of the warrant, or they did not have one. I think there was a bit of both here.

The Law of Criminal Procedure, Article 218, requires the presentation of a reasoned decision by the Instructor [an official who carries out judicial and police functions], a copy of which is to be given to the person concerned, so there is due process.

What the chief of the agents showed me looked like boilerplate, not a resolution. Article 219 of the law requires a precise expression of the objective and reasons for adopting the measure. The document I was shown did not specify a single objective nor list any reasons.

Even though article 220 requires that diligence on the part of the authorities not extend beyond the strict object of the investigation, the agents seized goods that had nothing to do with an alleged illegal factory.

The conduct of the agents of the police unit at Capri, rather than demonstrating legality, showed their propensity for and lack of professionalism, which confirms the minimal preparation of the Cuban police. A course of six months is not enough to learn what the law requires, if that is taught at all.

In Cuba, wearing a police uniform converts certain people into beings superior to the rest of us mortals. The acquired power is such that these people think they are entitled to act with impunity, knowing full well that they are committing crimes and violating civil rights. They do so confidently and with the support of the system that protects them.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” That is how one could interpret Raúl Castro’s new motto: institutionalism, order and discipline. Citizens must be made to honor and respect the law, even though his agents violate it flagrantly.

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