Cuba’s New Penal Code: Another Tool to Stifle Dissent

Photo: Abraham Echevarría.

Cuba’s New Penal Code: Another Tool to Stifle Dissent

3 / septiembre / 2022

Cuba’s new Penal Code takes effect on December 1, 2022, the end of the established 90-day waiting period after the law’s publication in the Official Gazette on September 1. The bill was unanimously approved by the People’s Power Assembly in May 2022.

As a result, those under the jurisdiction of the Cuban state who commit any of the crimes typified in the new code, will now be tried according to the rules established in its text.

The new code is substantively identical to the initial version posted on the website of the People’s Supreme Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Popular), the entity charged with drafting the text and presenting it to Parliament.

The deputies that approved the new code called it an example of the perfection and clarity of the Cuban legal system. However, the text opens the way for an increase in the repression of citizen protests, and a limitation of the fundamental rights.

Now, the Cuban government will be able to apply the death penalty for a greater number of criminal offences (24 crimes listed, four more than the 1987 version). Likewise, the number of offences punishable by life sentences increased: (31 types of crimes, an increase of 28 over the past version). In the case of the death penalty, the majority of the crimes were concentrated on cases related to State security.

In addition, they’ll be able to dictate sentences between four and ten years in prison for those who receive or independently finance what the authorities consider activities against the State and the Constitutional order. (Article 143).  

The criminal statute called “Other acts against State Security” didn’t exist in the 1987 Penal Code. According to this, the individual who “by themselves or in representation of non-government organizations, institutions of an international character, associations of any form, or any legal or natural entity in the country or of a foreign state, supports, foments, finances, supplies, receives or holds in their power funds, or material or financial resources, with the objective of defraying the cost of activities against the State and its Constitutional order” are subject to criminal penalties.

The organisms of political repression now have a new and clear penal statute allowing them to criminalize, for example, the exercise of independent journalism.

The new code also establishes sentences of up to eight years in prison for those who “habitually” leave or try to leave the country illegally. (Article 283.2). The Cuban government maintained this crime in the law, despite the commitments they assumed as part of the migration agreements signed with the United States between 1994 and 1995. Article 283.1 empowers the authorities to prosecute, without a prior judgment, those who are detained on multiple occasions in attempts to leave the national territory.

Prosecution will also be implemented for what the Code describes as “socially unacceptable vices” (Article 189.3). This variation in the crime of disobedience was created – as they argued during the exposition of the bill’s rationale – to confront “the actions associated with the practice of socially unacceptable vices that aren’t defined within the current criminal statutes.”

This will allow criminal sanctions for the person who repeatedly “disobeys or fails to comply with measures that have been legally imposed by the competent authorities, or with the warnings issued as the result of their inobservance of measures adopted by the organ or entity charged with social prevention.” In other words, citizens must now forcibly comply with any warnings or orders issued by Cuban police, even when it involves conduct that’s neither illegal nor criminal.

Article 120 of the new Penal Code considers it a crime to “attempt to totally or partially change the Constitution of the Republic or the form of government established therein, via the arbitrary exercise of Constitutional rights. Similarly, sanctions are established for “impeding the President or Vice President, or the superior state and government organs, from exercising their functions, completely or partially, even in a temporary manner.”

For doing either of these two things, an individual can receive sentences between four and ten years in prison. Effectively, the code legalizes political repression, given the non-existence in the country of peaceful and democratic channels to promote structural changes.

Hence, the publication of the new Penal Code in the Official Gazette began the formal countdown to the implementation of a repressive catalogue, specially designed to combat and avoid any dissent and protest.

Both of the latter have been on the rise in Cuba lately. The entry into effect of the Penal Code in this new context is yet another addition to the Cuban authorities’ attempts to detain, through the intimidation produced by repression, the new wave of social discontent.

The new Penal Code was triggered by the capacity for protest demonstrated by the Cuban public in the summer of 2021. Its principal vocation is that of serving the powers that be by legitimizing the state violence that’s been increasing since then, in a way that’s proportional to the rebellion of the citizens.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.
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