December 29, 2011
HAVANA TIMES, Dec 29 — Upon hearing the news of the pardon of 2,900
prisoners, a friend who's a "revolutionary" warned me that "the streets
are going to turn bad"; while a dissident complained to me that "the
Cuban government's decision was too limited." The controversy sparked my
interest, so I went looking for some of those who were released.
I talked with three of them for a good while. Though those conversations
didn't get me any statistical parameters, it was enough to make me
realize that not necessarily all of those men and women would return to
the streets to repeat the crimes committed in the past.
This also made me wonder about how fair it is to keep a man locked up
for 36 years — married and trained in prison as a level "A" technician
in electricity for machine assemblies — for a crime he committed when he
was a 17-year-old adolescent.
It's certain that some of those pardoned will fail to re-integrate
themselves into society and will return to crime, but that cannot serve
as an argument to deny all the others a second chance.
Prisons shouldn't be used as punishment, but as places of confinement
for those who are unable to live in society without harming the rest of
us. But under this criterion, there's no justification for keeping them
behind bars when they're not dangerous.
It's very healthy that each year the authorities will be obligated to
review the cases of people placed in their custody to serve a sentence;
men and women should never be denied the right to rehabilitation.
The 2,900 released at Christmas time adds to the 200 political prisoners
released since Raul Castro assumed the presidency, and to those figures
should be added the commutations of the death sentences of dozens of
We can hope that this is a first step towards the elimination of capital
punishment, because it's a penalty where there is no turning back, even
if justice is mistaken. It's also a cruel punishment that denies human
beings the opportunity to correct themselves.
I know that my opinion is not shared by many Cubans. In street
interviews on the topic, most people with whom I spoke were in favor of
maintaining the death penalty for serious crimes.
In any case, deputies in parliament raised the need to revise the Cuban
penal code, and I imagine this will be one of the items on its agenda.
However it's certainly not the only one, because the challenges facing
Cuban society today are enormous.
Despite Raul Castro's insistence on the need to prosecute cattle
thieves, the sentence for that crime shouldn't be greater than that
applied to those who caused the deaths of dozens of mentally ill
patients from hunger and cold.
If, as the president said in parliament, the main enemy of the nation is
white-collar corruption, it seems logical that the government would arm
itself with a strategy and a legal structure that allows it to fight
harder and more efficiently.
How much has the country lost through the embezzlement and theft in the
areas of civil aviation, nickel, cigars, telephone services, food
imports, biotechnology, transportation and spare parts, sugar and even
within some companies run by the military?
The truth is that any of those convicted leaders or officials did much
more damage to the national economy in one year than could have been
done in the whole life of some Cuban cattle rustler killing cows.
If the government fails to eliminate the milking of the nation's
industries, it will mean little if ordinary Cubans increase productivity
on their jobs, use less electricity or stop receiving subsidies. The
sacrifices of the people will end up in private bank accounts abroad.
In parliament, the president blasted them as "corrupt bureaucrats." He
accused them of holding positions "to accumulate wealth, counting on the
eventual defeat of the revolution" and he warned that "we will be
relentless" in the fight against that "parasitic plague."
In the same address he announced that there are documentaries and filmed
interviews of "white-collar criminals." Nonetheless, these can only be
viewed by deputies and other leaders, denying that opportunity from most
Can people be asked to understand the gravity of what is happening when
most of the information is hidden from them? Is it correct to maintain
secrecy around an issue that affects the entire nation? And will the
national media again bury its head and pretend nothing is happening?
From what has been leaked, few of these cases have anything to do with
national security. The silence only serves to keep people passive in the
grandstands circulating rumors – some true, and others preposterous.
The lack of transparency in fighting corruption seems to prove the
correctness of Cuban writer Lisandro Otero when he concluded that under
capitalism, citizens don't know what will happen, while under socialism
they never find out what has happened.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original)
published by BBC Mundo.