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New Cuban Penal Code: Repression without Limits

Código Penal, El American

Available: Español

[Leer en español]

Cuba’s National Assembly, a legislative body subordinated to the dictatorship, approved on Sunday a new Penal Code, which is even more repressive than the previous one. The text aroused total rejection among the opposition to the regime. It further punishes “crimes” on the internet and aims at shielding the totalitarian system. Cuba is living through moments of high tension after last year’s massive protests, when crowds took to the streets protesting shortages, to the rhythm of the moving song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life).

New Penal Code

Submitted to a “vote” before the deputies present, the code was approved. According to its authors, it protects the communist political system from any activity engaged against the constitutional order or that foments instability. Cuba will thus “legally” prosecute non-violent opponents.

The crime defined as “enemy propaganda” constitutes a brutal violation of freedom of expression. Attacks on state security include any criticism of the prevailing system. They are described in very vague terms. Whoever uses the media to carry out opposition propaganda will receive a sentence of 7 to 15 years. The penalties, which are particularly harsh for this “crime,” are a powerful deterrent to free speech. Police can arrest citizens without a warrant and try the suspect behind closed doors, in a special court. Prisoners do not even receive a copy of the court decision convicting them (65).

Dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel attended the meeting. The Assembly tightened the Penal Code written under Fidel Castro to avoid new popular protests. A code tailored to a revolution that no longer exists, but wants to remain in power forever. The death penalty and life imprisonment are maintained. The old regime in Havana is thus trying to terrorize opponents and independent journalists, but the threat reaches all Cubans. Those who insult official officials will be sentenced to three years in prison.

Thirty-seven new crimes related to social networks, fundamental in the rebellion of 2021, were created. The unstoppable arrival of the Internet was a hard blow to the regime. The live and uncensored connections have checked the communication hegemony of the PCC. This is the reaction of a government without support from the growing plurality of civil society. The vote coincides with a period of high political tension on the island. The Code aims at penal expansionism and is designed to curb democratic activism.

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In a country where private media is illegal and reporters have no chance of obtaining local funding, banning international support is a death sentence for free journalism. The courageous opposition leader Yoani Sanchez, creator of the 14ymedio outlet, stated that the new law unleashes so much criticism “for its violations of freedom of expression… that it includes the prohibition of external aid to the independent press.”

According to René Gómez Manzano, president of the Corriente Agramontista, the oldest organization of opposition lawyers, the new Code is another official turn of the screw to intensify repression. Its defenders, on the other hand, affirm that the law reflects the humanist character of the revolution and is in tune with criminal jurisprudence, respecting human rights.

Reading the norm, one does not know if they believe what they say -hardly- or if they are mocking. My money is on the latter. Referring to the debate that took place among the legislators, the president of the monocolor Assembly, Esteban Lazo, clarified that “no matter how much study is done, there can always be contributions if there is participation.” And Deputy Jorge González Pérez, from San Miguel, pointed out that they voted for a severe work, stressing that in Cuba laws have no name because they are from the people and come from them. How the people participate, he obviously could not explain. It was an impossible mission.

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