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'Justice the Cuban Way': Collusion between the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor's Office and the MININT

The President of the Supreme People's Court admits that, according to the universal theory of criminal law, Cuban judges’ impartiality is compromised.

La Habana
The president of the People's Supreme Court of Cuba, Rubén Remigio Ferro.
The president of the People's Supreme Court of Cuba, Rubén Remigio Ferro.

If there were any doubts as to the subordination to the regime of those charged with administering justice in Cuba (and therefore, in theory, being impartial) the president of the Supreme People's Court (TSP), Rubén Remigio Ferro, dispelled them in a video revealed by DIARIO DE CUBA entitled "How Justice Is Decided in Cuba."

The material is of a meeting chaired by the TSP's president, with Attorney General Yamila Peña Ojeda and TSP Vice-President Marisela Sosa Ravelo in attendance. Also present are the president of the TSP's Criminal Court, that of the State Security Crimes Court, and all the heads, at the national and provincial levels, of the Ministry of the Interior's (MININT) General Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Operations.

Although it is a November 2018 video, the trials of the 11J protesters, and the magistrate's words when referring to the "current and prospective context," show that nothing had changed in 2021, two years after the entry into force of the Constitution approved in 2019, or in 2022, when the trials and sentences continue against Cubans who dared in July 2021 to demand changes and the end of Communism on the island.

Remigio Ferro makes it clear that judges in Cuba are "judges of the Revolution and the Party." The TSP president himself recognizes that a meeting like the one we see in the video would be "unthinkable" in another country.

In democratic countries, where there is a separation of powers, and where defendants have the right to a fair trial, where judges have the duty to recuse themselves if for any reason they have a conflict of interest compromising their impartiality in a certain judicial process, there are no meetings in which the president of a court arranges with the prosecutor, behind the defense lawyers' backs, how he should proceed.

The President of the TSP forgot about Article 57 of the Constitution, which states that "the function of dispensing justice emanates from the people and is exercised on their behalf by the People's Supreme Court and the other courts established by law."

The people of Cuba, however, are not the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP). In fact, president Miguel Díaz-Canel himself recently acknowledged that of the little more than 10 million people who live on the island, only a little more than 1 million (including members of the UJC, the Young Communists Union, even though not all of them wish to join the ranks of the Party) belong to the PCC.

Therefore, judges in Cuba represent just only 10% of the population - the 10% that belongs to the Party. And, as the disproportionate prosecutorial demands and sentences of the 11J protesters have shown, those who challenge the Party and the Revolution, to which the judges bear allegiance, do not receive justice. Remigio Ferro himself contradicted the regime's position when, after the protests, he stated that demonstrating, or exercising one's freedom of opinion, of the press, of belief, and even of political and ideological affiliation, does not constitute a crime. In his own words, protesting was "an individual's constitutional right."

But constitutional rights in Cuba are curtailed, as evidenced by the new Penal Code, which criminalizes the "excessive exercise of constitutional rights." And the parameters governing the enjoyment of these rights are not determined by the freedom or rights of other citizens, but rather by the interests of the Party to which, Rubén Remigio Ferro acknowledges, judges in Cuba are beholden.

It should also be kept in mind that this video, recorded with the knowledge of those present, to be circulated only between the presidents and vice-presidents of the Cuban provincial courts, dates from to a time when the approval of the Constitution, to replace that of 1976, was being promoted

The Constitution approved in 2019, on paper, and according to the Cuban regime and the TSP president himself, does more to guarantee individuals rights than the previous one. For Remigio Ferro, however, these guarantees are a problem, as is the fact that the defendants in a trial can count on defense lawyers, from the beginning.

The magistrate refers to defense lawyers as "dogs in the tobacco" (that is, a nuisance), a position at odds with the impartiality that judges are supposed to embrace, especially him, as president of the TSP and its Governing Council.

It is somewhat understandable for the police and State Security officers to consider the presence of defense lawyers from the beginning of the justice process to be irksome, but it is outrageous that this is the view of those charged with ensuring that justice, absolute equality between the parties, and respect for due process, prevail.

The collusion between the president of the TSP, the Prosecutor's Office and the MININT against lawyers and defendants (note that any lawyers from the state’s Organization of Collective Law Firms were conspicuously missing from the meeting) is completely laid bare when Remigio Ferro addressed the issue of returning case files to the prosecution, which usually rankles public prosecutors and investigators.

By returning the files, however, the courts send "a signal," as explained by the TSP president, for the prosecution to redress deficiencies and weaknesses in the evidence that could end up forcing the judge to acquit the accused.

Remigio Ferro explains that if there are fewer returns there will be more acquittals (which in Cuba only constitute between 6% and 8% of the cases processed, which he considers good numbers).

His words were "we could remove the stress entailed by the returns (...) but you'd  see the number of acquittals rise."

The president of the TSP admits that, according to the theory of criminal law, it is not proper for the court to return files, as this means that it is compromising its impartiality, and that this is a "universal theory taught at universities." But these universal theories do not count in Cuba, where justice is imparted "the Cuban way," the magistrate acknowledged.

Although the meeting addressed common crimes and made no reference to prosecutions against citizens for opposing the regime (though this is never recognized in the country, where dissidents and activists are, formally, imprisoned for alleged common crimes) it is easy to deduce what those who openly demonstrate against the Government and the PCC can expect from the justice system.

The President of the TSP's remarks at this meeting in 2018 bear out the statements given by former prosecutor Raucel Ocaña Parada, from Palma Soriano (Santiago de Cuba) to the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH) in early May 2022.

Ocaña Parada, now in exile, protested that the trials against 11J demonstrators were being manipulated by "bodies and institutions subject to the interests of the State, the Government and the Communist Party of Cuba" and that it was "in the interest of the Government, the State and the Party" that they be sanctioned with the greatest possible severity, "without any kind of benevolence."

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