Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo
In Cuba, the right of assembly and demonstration is recognized in the Constitution, but is not defined. Criminal legislation protects it through the criminalization of conduct that infringes upon the legitimate execution of this right. However, it references legal provisions on the subject, to punish those who prevent the exercise of these rights and those who exercise it illegally.
In our legislation, however, there is no legal provision regulating the content and scope of the right of assembly and demonstration. However, there are frequent parades through downtown streets, all called and organized by the government and all with a distinctly political-ideological slant.
The absence of relevant legislation forced the Cuban government, represented by members of the Ministry of the Interior, in a verbal statement referring to the “Damas de Blanco” (Ladies in White), to greatly restrict these women from exercising their right to demonstrate. International practice, and not a requirement of the legal system, was used to justify this decision.
“In accordance with international practice, it is only allowed to tour in the area of the Church of Santa Rita de Casia, from 30th Street up to 22nd, by the Central Promenade, without affecting traffic, with the participation of the “Damas de Blanco” and ten supporters. On each occasion that will use this scenario, the person or persons assigned responsibility shall inform the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) in Zanja Street, 72 hours in advance…” (The senior officer of State Security, named ” Samper,” permitted Laura Pollan to copy a fragment.)
The Ladies in White comprise a group of women who attend mass at different Catholic churches in the capital to pray for their families, mostly political prisoners from what is known as the “Black Spring of 2003″.
They walk the journey to and from the temples in silence, dressed in white with gladioli in their hands. Other women walk with them in solidarity also demanding the release of the prisoners of conscience; they are labeled supporters of the Ladies in White.
However, globally, the right of assembly and demonstration is regulated generally by the legal instruments of the United Nations. That is, the UN establishes the principles or essential requirements that enable the right. It is up to each state to regulate, in its legislation, the requirements to exercise the right.
In this sense we can not speak of a uniform international practice with regard to the legal regulation of this human prerogative. What can also be seen, are the common elements used by different governments to regulate by law the right of assembly and demonstration within their territories.
It is a disgrace, however, to refer to international practice, if we are talking about the issue of human rights, when the top representatives of the Cuban government have decided not to ratify international treaties on the subject. Much more so, when you consider the demands on these same top representatives from the different democratic governments of the world to respect this right within the island, constitute unacceptable constraints and impositions.
Translated by: Sandu