Cuba, despite the latest changes – approval of a reform of the Constitution and the replacement in the Government in 2018 of Raúl Castro by Miguel Díaz-Canel -, continues to show itself to the world as one of the countries with the greatest repression and least respects the human rights of its citizens, especially if it disagrees with the doctrine of the regime. This is reflected in the number of arbitrary detentions and incarcerations, without court orders, without the right to legal assistance, with accusations for crimes backed by false evidence … The NGO Prisoners Defenders today presented an unpublished report in Madrid with current data on the number of jailed in the country –90,000 people–, the type of convictions –with special emphasis on pre-criminals– and the percentage of guilty convictions of the thousands of open processes –among 93 and 95% -. These data confirm that Cuba is the country with the largest prison population in the world.
The presentation has been completed by the participation of Cuban jurist Edel González Jiménez, former president of the Provincial Judiciary in Cuba and Special Reserve for the leadership of the Supreme Court of Cuba, who, aware of the problems presented by the Cuban criminal system, advocates a dialogue national among the different levels of the country that allows «to migrate towards changes more in line with the needs of human rights in the island».
González Jiménez does not hesitate to affirm that the main obstacle for this to occur is the “fear” that for decades has been established at all levels of Cuban society when it comes to claiming the regime any small advance in fundamental rights and freedoms. “The embargo and the blockade affect the economy on the island, but we have an internal self-blockade that is jointly responsible for the misery suffered by the Cuban people,” he reflects during an interview with ABC.
“The embargo and the blockade affect the economy on the island, but we have an internal self-blockade that is jointly responsible for the misery suffered by the Cuban people,” Edel González tells ABC
The Cuban jurist, who is currently expanding his training in Peru and conducting an investigation “on the effectiveness of the judicial system in Cuba,” spoke this morning in Madrid about human rights on the island as well as dialogue as the engine of change. During the conversation with this newspaper he has shown his concern about the drift that can lead to increased external pressure – by the US – and internal confrontation between the government and dissenting voices on the island, which It can lead to greater repression. He shares with ABC some of the measures he believes would contribute to improving the social situation in his country, as well as increasing respect for human rights. Very aware that his public pronouncement on this issue can have serious repercussions for him, on a personal and professional level, and even suppose him the prohibition of re-entering Cuba, he hopes that this step forward will be followed by many others.
He also wants to make it clear that he is not a dissident “or an opponent.” “I’ve never had any kind of link with those organizations, I don’t even know them.” González Jiménez describes himself as “a person who bets on the system because he is in a very positive process, although he is slow,” he admits. «I have the conviction that the new Constitution gives rise to a series of legal norms that tend to increase the freedom of Cubans. Although it is not expressly reflected in it that certain fundamental rights of the human being can be achieved in Cuba, that is, that they have a legal backing, the lower normative production can do it, ”he says.
While this is being achieved, Cuba, with 90,000 prisoners, is the largest prison in the world. To you, as a jurist, does this seem fair?
It is not fair that any country has 90,000 prisoners, but what you have to see is what is behind this figure. In almost all South American countries they have fewer prisoners, however, the insecurity of the citizen is breathed to the point that they are afraid of the police because there is high crime and police structures, which must defend that guarantee of the security of the citizen, they mix a lot with crime. In those countries there are low rates of prisoners, but high rates of corruption and impunity. From that point of view, those 90,000 prisoners in Cuba demonstrate that there is high legal certainty on the island. Another thing is that within that figure there are a number of unjustly imprisoned persons, to whom other types of sanctions can be applied, or also, that the system should decriminalize some legal figures in order to grant more freedom. There I do tell you that the Cuban legal system has to work and also the prison system.
For decades, the Cuban government has used its fight against crime as an excuse to justify the detention and imprisonment of opponents and dissidents. We have as an example the pre-criminal convictions, for which people who may be dangerous in the future are arrested. This is a clear violation of your rights …
Cuba defends that legal figure. Society must protect itself either by crimes or by behaviors that are harmful to it and may constitute a crime tomorrow. Jurists in Cuba have tried, based on legislative reform projects, to openly propose that this figure disappear from the criminal procedure law because it really is a retrograde figure. We are talking about something instituted by a more totalitarian system. We have also advocated that the alleged insured have more guarantee of rights in the matter of procedure. And we have not really been allowed to the jurists that in the penal code in the proposals of variants that figure disappears. From personal experience, I learned that, when I went deeply into probative matters to determine the guilt of this antisocial behavior, the information was falsified or adulterated on many occasions.
An example of falsification of information is the case of dissident José Daniel Ferrer, who was arrested on October 1, and is accused of an alleged crime of kidnapping and injuries supported by false evidence, according to witnesses and the NGO Prisoners Defenders.
I was able to access all the evidence, and it really is a big challenge for the court of Cuba if it is able to be independent when assessing the evidence presented by the prosecution against which he [Ferer] It has in its favor. If he does so, Ferrer has a high probability of being acquitted.
At the moment, Ferrer does not even have a lawyer …
He has no lawyer because he has not wanted to. There are collective law firms. What happens is that the dissent and the opponents in Cuba believe that the body of lawyers on the island is subordinated to the interests of the Communist party and those of State Security, and that any exercise of defense of a lawyer what will be done It’s blaming him more. Dissidents should depart from that thought because there are many professional lawyers who are not subordinate. Although it is a challenge to exercise freely.
Is there independent justice in Cuba?
There is an independent justice for many things …, especially in matters of common crimes. Already when the case acquires a political relevance, as is the case of José Daniel Ferrer, it is perhaps not directly interfering with justice, but the fear of its members – lawyers, prosecutors, judges – that a decision is favorable towards a dissident or an opponent deprives of all the capacity of rationality and all the exercise of competence that the person who must make the decision may have.
Are you talking about self-censorship of justice itself for fear of disturbing power?
Yes, what is currently impacting the population in Cuba the most is the self-censorship that Cubans impose on us. We prefer comfort, not having any kind of conflict with State Security agents or with party agents, than favoring the justice that must be produced by normal channels. That is a problem today in Cuba that must be solved. It is necessary to appeal to jurists in Cuba and to all those linked to the right not to censor themselves, not to be afraid because, even, the Constitution itself and the organic laws that govern these institutions require them to be the first value What must be achieved is justice. But fear is instituted. State Security has a lot of weight, so when your interests are not favored in a judicial or administrative decision, then you can react negatively against people who have made those decisions using alternative mechanisms that can cause those people to lose credibility in the face of the same institution, or to investigate them looking for ethical faults. That information is then sent to the management structure of those agencies, and that person can lose his job or be transferred. These collateral consequences are those that still make Cuban society detach itself from its commitments for fear of the probable subsequent repression that may arise when it does an act of justice. We have to be able to erase that fear from the Cuban stage. In this way, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and all the people who have to defend rights in Cuba would make fewer mistakes.
«We have to be able to erase that fear from the Cuban stage. In this way, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and all the people who have to defend rights in Cuba would make fewer mistakes »
And how can that fear be eradicated?
First it would have to start from a political will, which has to meet with the judges, with the prosecutors and lawyers to tell them that their mission is to achieve justice, under any circumstance. And, on the other hand, curb the libertarian reactions that State Security officials have. Tell them that every time justice makes a decision they cannot go against the authorities that were involved in it. That is what causes the violation of rights. And that is why Cuban justice is constantly being accused in international human rights organizations. We, the jurists, must manage this issue and speak it in our congresses without fear; Transparent it to the direction of the country, so that it knows what is happening. A bad justice decision also puts the state leadership in a bad position internationally.
Does the Cuban regime really care about its image internationally? Every accusation he receives is denied, and ensures that there are no political prisoners in Cuba, when various NGOs recognize 126 political prisoners. Do you also believe that there are no political prisoners in your country?
According to the government there are no political prisoners. Certainly all those who are imprisoned, repressed, persecuted because they have a political thought, even if the crime that is typified is not properly political but common, such as contempt, resistance, disobedience, or crime of injury, which can be established as is the In the case of José Daniel Ferrer, we cannot be fools, obviously due to political confrontational positions. No to a common crime position. In that sense, the number of people who are being detained or serving prison sentences should undergo a judicial review process before a commission or judicial body that is given full confidence to review the 126 cases. A confidence that allows him to say that there is irrationality, that this contempt is due to that person manifested, and in the case of Ferrer he is given freedom. And that the police action was over, because demonstrating is a civic right of any person.
But security and police officers who harass the opposition with constant searches and arbitrary detentions obey orders that come from much higher …
I would say that there are national guidelines on confronting dissent and the Cuban opposition. But I am also of the criterion that there are many local initiatives that lead to confrontation. It is not only the fault that comes up when it comes to drawing guidelines to avoid the fruition of any organization that openly questions the regime. There are many State Security officers who act locally to receive a compliment. In the accountability of the Courts in the National Assembly of Popular Power, in 2017, we had a previous meeting with the secretary of the State Council, Homero Acosta, who was secretary of the president of the Republic at that time. Today he is secretary of the National Assembly and secretary of the Council of State, the highest organs of powers instituted by the State. That day, Acosta gave all the judges in the country the guidance, from fellow Raúl Castro, that we should not fear or be influenced by the Ministry of Interior or any external agent in matters of justice. But the problem is that the self-censorship that we Cubans have for that fear that gravitates above our heads, and that has been dragging on for years, has prevented us from being all effective and demanding so that in Cuba there is justice in matters of certain human rights I want this to be understood, because there has been a lot of talk about the guidelines that come from above about the judicial system, which we must fold to them. I lived cases in which I had to judge dissidents for crimes of contempt, resistance and even attack. At that time, I did not have the vocation to say that this arrest was based on an illegality, in which there should have been an acquittal. Today, I regret not having had that vision and having transmitted it to the judges. But it wasn’t because he received an orientation.
«There are national guidelines on confronting dissent and the Cuban opposition. But I am also of the criterion that there are many local initiatives that lead to confrontation »
So, do you admit to being unfair in some procedures?
I had to coordinate politics and justice in a province, and I take responsibility, along with some judges, for some acts of injustice against some of those people who are on that list today. I have to assume it honestly. And if I could pass it on to my classmates, as I am doing here now, I would do so with confidence and without any fear.
Do you see in the Cuban Government disposition to improve the situation regarding human rights?
We are called to that. But the Security of the State or the intelligence organs of Cuba I think are going one way, and the structures that have to do with the process of guaranteeing those human rights. We are going for another. If all of us, who have in our hands manage better laws, better procedures, greater justice to give quality of life to Cuban citizens, if all of us could agree that this has to be a goal to achieve, I believe that Cuba is in a position to move forward with regard to human rights.
What dominates Cuba today is the culture of terror …
There is fear of making any decision that goes against the interests of the party, of State Security, which are those that support that political will of the Communist party. That slows down all personal, professional and human capacity to give citizens more freedom and more rights. It is also true that in Cuba there is a lot of fear to transparent this type of issues. Something that we long for countless lawyers, prosecutors and judges, with whom I have shared work for 17 years. These kinds of things are paralyzed until someone takes the step. Meanwhile, we will continue to underdevelopment in the area of human rights.
You are taking a step forward by exposing this problem publicly and to international media, what is your next step, or your roadmap?
It has never been my goal to leave the country, I have many interests in Cuba, it is the homeland where I was born, where I became a professional and a human being, where I made mistakes but I also learned a lot. My intention is to return to the justice sector, if possible to the judicial sector to meet the objectives I set as a professional. I do not want to live outside of Cuba, or develop any type of dissident or oppositional activity because I am convinced that conditions are being created today so that in Cuba much faster steps can be taken as they are taking in the area of human rights. It also has to be an internal process, because we Cubans are never going to allow someone from outside to impose on us what we should do in matters of human rights. They can suggest, help, collaborate or advise us … When there is a dissident group that does not recognize the state model, which the people have recognized for 61 years, produces a confrontation that has an ideological base and that causes any attitude of change to stop within the country.
«The Cubans are never going to allow someone from outside to impose on us what we should do in matters of human rights.»
Does Cuba have people who support these changes?
Yes, many legal professionals, politicians, people within the government … The issue of human rights is a highly debated issue among us Cubans. And we are of the criterion that there must be certain freedoms for Cuba to leave the state of underdevelopment in which it is today. Even to have more international allies, and to get out of the pressure than the US Government. He has established about Cuba. All these people agree that these steps should be taken, but someone from the state structure, of the highest level, who tells them we are going to take it …
Is there that person?
I would say yes. The president of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel, for many criticisms he receives – he is still influenced by the past and is subordinated to the interests of the party – when I met him he did not like the issue of the violation of human rights. And he was in favor of the fact that in some issues the Cubans had to be freed, as in economic matters, from the point of view of an enterprise that allowed the development of the family economy, or also the regional and even national economy, as a complementary element of the state company. But there are internal regulations of a restrictive nature that prevent this political will that comes from above from materializing. And that has as a consequence that the development of economic and citizen freedoms does not advance. Another problem is that there is no jurisdiction where the citizen can go to resolve that damage. Today, Cuba, in terms of procedures that protect and listen to the citizen whose fundamental rights are affected, does not exist. This is another issue that lawyers should consider. So, who resolves those contradictions that exist between the rights included in the Constitution but that are violated by some norm of lower rank? There is no court that guarantees that these rights are respected. I think that the issue of human rights must be discussed in depth, something that is not foreseen, for example, in the schedule of new legislative norms that must be approved in the coming years. Twenty issues have been raised that the Cuban has today, but nothing related to human rights. A national consultative process should also be convened for everyone to participate and reach a consensus on the fundamental rights set forth in the Constitution, and which It is the lower standards that will guarantee these rights, as well as what are the judicial guarantees so that they are not violated. And if they are violated, a restitution process is opened. This is an issue that has never been opened in Cuba because of the fear of the word human rights. It is a taboo that everyone is afraid to speak in Cuba, especially among government technicians. And although we have many social rights on the island – health, sport, education … – there are many others that are limited, such as freedom of expression or peaceful association, which must be opened. Taking those small steps in a first stage, in two or three years we could consider deeper leaps.
Raúl Castro, as the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, is still the strong man of the regime, what role would he play in all this?
He, along with the party is the one who draws the general guidelines of the country. The deputies of the National Assembly have the power to question that political will, although fear also gravitates over them. But I insist again that Raúl Castro has announced and indicated that these deputies and all government officials are not afraid.
And don’t you think that posture could be hypocrisy?
I cannot assure neither the one nor the opposite, because we do not dare to use that freedom that is granting us.
And the Cuban civil society?
In Cuba, civil society does not admit any participation of opposition or dissident organizations. That is already a limitation. Therefore, in this process of inclusive debate, the Federation of Cuban Women (gathers more than 4 million women) would play an important role in introducing them. In Cuba, where there is a great empowerment of women, there is a big problem that is the exodus of young people who leave their families seeking prosperity. Afterwards, many of them, who express an opinion contrary to the regime abroad, cannot return to the country. This is an issue that should be raised by the Women’s Federation because it is something that violates family law. Something similar happens with the doctors of the missions that decide to leave the program – mainly due to economic problems -, so they cannot return to the country for several years. This break with the State should be treated from administrative or labor law, and not involve political implications for these people. By preventing them from returning, they cause the rights of their relatives on the island, who depend economically on them, to be lacerated. The issue of the prohibition of the entry of doctors is being heavily debated in Cuba and is causing great harm to Cuban women because it is affecting their family rights, which are confused with political rights and freedoms. This is delegitimizing the State and increasing its inefficiency, because it is demoralizing Cuban citizens.
Who can expose and debate these issues publicly is the Federation of Cuban Women. Women are the ones who suffer from economic problems, who see how they stop and imprison their children for their opinions … From the inside, they are the ones who can start this process of awareness and debate to combine all the diversity of interests and promote the improvement of human rights in Cuba. I would put my trust in them, without leaving out, of course, the dissenting opinion or that of the emigrants, who are already more than three million.
Are you worried about how your message can be received and interpreted by the regime?
I am very afraid. Fear of being misunderstood by the political system, the justice system, to which I belong, and in which I have valuable companions. But I think I’m doing it from the heart. At this moment I have neither a weight nor a guarantee of anything. I am not a dissident, nor an opponent. I am doing this because I am seeing that the confrontation between citizens and the State is growing in Cuba. People are losing fear, they are facing and transparent system failures. And I don’t see that there is a reaction in Cuba to be condescending to accept that these failures exist. That, every day that passes, enters an area of risk and a greater confrontation. And I would not like to see one day in my country an army or a specialized police pulling tear gas and repressing the population. We are in time to reach a consensus on how Cuba should work to avoid that situation.
«I am afraid, but I do this because I would not like to see one day in my country an army or a specialized police pulling tear gas and repressing the population»
Do you see it possible?
I have a lot of faith and hope. I know the immensity of political cadres of the party and the government because I have had the opportunity to be in all of Cuba in the 17 years of my judicial activity. I know a lot of professionals who want a process of advancement in human rights. Let us leave fear and stagnation behind. When this message arrives, I hope that will be transparent, if censorship does not restrict me. I think we will prosper. People have had an idea that all party officials are extremists and want to end dissent, and that is not the case. There is a part of militancy that does not agree with the way in which repression is repressed. Another thing is not to say it. A large number of senior government officials are hurt by this way of repression. They do not dare to give their opinion because of fear, but if it is managed, by the same State, to take a step forward on these issues, you will see how Cuba is going to open and we are going to move towards an upper stage of human rights.
Do you have any international support to carry out your proposed changes?
Yes, numerous European MEPs, politicians and businessmen, the NGO Prisoners Defenders, also Civil Rights Defenders, which is a Swedish organization. We are also in talks with the Euroamerica Foundation, by Ramón Jáuregui, who are very interested in the advancement of human and economic rights in Cuba. .