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If you're black and Cuban, you had better stay away from Trinidad

What can victims of racial discrimination do in Cuba? Legislation on the matter is limited and inconsistent, warn lawyers.


Carlos Infante and José Samuel Cantón wanted to see a show at the Escalinata de Trinidad, but ended up spending the night in jail. The reason? They are from Cienfuegos and were "illegally" in Sancti Spíritus, the police told them.

They are also black. When the agents approached, they only asked for their identification.

"One of the officers told us that they had orders to incarcerate anyone who was not from Trinidad," says Infante. "The next day they booked us, like we were criminals, and cited us for being in the tourist zone and supposedly being 'prone to committing criminal acts.'"

Neither of them has a criminal record. Infante, 38, is an artisan; and Cantón, 29, is a dancer in a rumba group.

Infante posted what happened on his Facebook wall and many people reported suffering similar abuse. "They told us that it was standard practice for the police to turn drive non-Cubans out of Trinidad," he says.

"What hypocrisy, criticizing other nations for how they treat their immigrants, when the Cuban authorities make us immigrants in our country," reflected Infante.

In February 2017, Reiniel Eduardo Pool Rodríguez, a cultural promoter, heritage researcher and a worker at Trinidad's Office of the Conservator, had an experience similar to that of Infante and Cantón. In his case, he was arrested when he accompanied some foreign visitors, accused of "harassing tourists." He spent the night in a crowded cell.

He remembered: "95% of those who were imprisoned were young and black." Like him.

Multiple discrimination

Did the police act illegally or do Cuban laws support them?

Independent lawyer Wilfredo Vallín cites Article 43 of the current Constitution: "The State upholds the right, conquered by the Revolution, that citizens, regardless of their race, color, sex, religious beliefs, or national origins, may reside in any area, zone or neighborhood of cities, and stay in any hotel (...) anywhere in Cuba."

"Our Police have limited training. If they had it, these agents would have refused to comply with an order that runs contrary to the Constitution. No officer should violate it," says Vallín, president of the Legal Association of Cuba.

Laritza Diversent, Director of the Cubalex Legal Information Center: "the actions of the police violate the guarantees of due process, protected at the international level, but national legislation protects the agents' actions."

"Cuban law does not provide for the detainees to be taken before a judicial authority that determines their rights and obligations, nor to wait for a trial, whether free or in pre-trial detention," she explains.

"The police can detain anyone for up to 24 hours, without the need for confirmation by a superior or judicial authority. This allows them to advance reasons that are not expressly regulated in the law. They can act without judicial supervision, apply criminal law as if they were judges, and justify illegal acts, such as arbitrary detention," she explained.

Carlos Infante has pointed to the fact that the police were, allegedly, ordered to arrest anyone who was not from Trinidad, but they only arrested him and José Samuel Cantón.

At the police unit to which they were taken all the detainees were black. "There were no whites there who were not from Trinidad?" Vallín asks.

According to Diversent, it is evident that "there are two reasons for discrimination, one based on one's legal place of residence, and another on his skin color."

"Only Havana has restrictions (Decree 2017) on the right to movement, which includes the freedom to choose one's place of residence within the country. But we have seen cases of other provinces that have applied this legal provision to carry out arbitrary detentions, impose fines, or limit people's freedom of movement," says Diversent.

"It is good to clarify that Decree 2017 does not authorize detaining people or deporting them to their provinces of residence. Thus, we assume that it is a case of abuse of power by the police officers, thanks to the liberal discretion they are given, as previously explained," he added.

"People of African descent are more vulnerable to aggravated forms of discrimination based on the color of their skin. We may all be exposed to this kind of arbitrary treatment, but blacks are twice as vulnerable. Black women, three times," he laments.

Questioned about whether it is fair to hold the State responsible for racial profiling perpetrated by the Police, Diversent believes that it is.

"Any behavior by an agency of the State, or by a person or entity empowered to exercise powers of the public authority, that exceeds its charges or violates the instructions of the State (...) generates responsibility for it. The State must be held responsible for the actions or omissions of its agencies, even if they act arbitrarily. "

The legal system generates a lack of protection

As to what Cuban citizens can do in the face of manifestations of discrimination, Diversent clarifies that "legislation against discrimination is limited and does not cover all areas regulated in international human rights instruments."

"Article 295.1 of the Penal Code protects against discrimination in the exercise of the rights to equality established in Articles 41 and 42 of the Constitution, including residence and skin color as unlawful reasons for discrimination. But it omits others, such as disability, sexual orientation and political or other opinions."

Infante and Cantón "can file a complaint with the authorities, by virtue of the article in the Criminal Code (...) but it is unlikely that a police officer will accept a complaint against another," he laments.

Vallín points out that the Prosecutor's Office "is the guarantor of legality in Cuba, obliged to protect the rights of citizens."

However, "on countless occasions we have written letters to him to hold to account police officers who have violated citizens' rights, without receiving a response," he says.

According to Diversent, Cubalex "has filed complaints at national institutions alleging racial discrimination, especially in cases of requests for criminal review procedures in which it is evident that the authorities used racial profiling for the identification and prosecution of those accused."

"We also saw a trial against a former police officer who shot and killed a 14 year old. The racial motive was evident, but ignored by the court."

Carlos Infante and his friend did not file a complaint, but they did send letters to the regime's newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde.

Last year, a young black woman, a law student, reported the driver of a private taxi for a racist slur, and he was arrested. The newspaper Trabajadores published two articles on the matter, and the Attorney General's Office imposed an economic sanction.

Infante and Cantón, however, never obtained a reply from the newspapers. What they did receive was a threat from the police: if they return to Trinidad, they will be imprisoned.

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