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Photo: elTOQUE.

“Snitches” in Cuba: from Executions to Impunity

26 / septiembre / 2023

“Informers” or “snitches” have been rejected by Cubans, almost unanimously, throughout history. In Cuba, these names aren’t synonymous with the testimony given about a crime. According to Cubans, “informers” aren’t witnesses that Fate casually chose as witnesses of an incident. They are people who – anonymously and without taking consequences for their words -, dedicate themselves to contributing towards state repression or, at the very least, in consciously taking part in an injust criminal trial, where they know the victim of their denunciation will never be able to enjoy due process.

The people who led the Revolution and brought Castrismo to power also rejected “snitches”. They encouraged the “executions” of informers as a way to make them pay for what they considered a despicable act. After the Revolution triumphed in Janary 1959, this led to “revolutionary trials” that ended up awarding the death penalty to informers, on many occasions. The most high-profile case was that of Marcos Rodriguez, who was the main source of information used by Ernesto Ventura Novo to kill members of the Revolutionary Directorate in the apartment at Humboldt 7, in Havana on April 20, 1957.

However, the people who once promoted executions, later taking “snitches” to trial after their victory, made the term more polite and created a system of “informers”, which currently upholds underground political repression and their criminal investigation and prosecution system.

Propaganda and the Law

In the June 17, 2023 broadcast of TV show Hacemos Cuba, Colonel Manuel Valdes Brito – the director of the Confrontations Unit belonging to the Investigations Technical Board (DTI) at the Ministry of Interior (MININT) – said that the DTI is fed by an “information system” that it has created “over the years”, that it has grown and reinforced on the island. The reference to “their own system” of information refers to a network of “informers” that extends “from one side to the country to the other.”

Valdes Brito admitted that there were people who were afraid to give information to Police forces. For this reason, it was MININT’s obligation to protect its “informers.” He also said that this protection forms part of an “ethical principle” to protect people’s identity, “even with safeguards against the Law when useful information is being contributed to investigative processes ,” he explained.

However, safeguards in place to preserve informers’ identity become a blatant violation of due process when information received via this channel become irrefutable proof to uphold the guilt of the accused. 

Investigation units across much of the world use intelligence to determine suspects or begin investigations, but this can’t be used as proof, only as a starting point to guide investigative processes. 

In Cuba, it’s very common for officers investigating a crime to appear as witnesses in trials of defendants and their testimonies hold weight in court in sentencing the person on trial. Officers on the ground appear in court and say they know the defendant is guilty because of their “secret work on the ground” (TOS). Secret work on the ground involves information from MININT’s network of informers, that it has the ethical duty to protect. 

By protecting informers’ identity, the police officer’s testimony that appeals to TOS as a source of information becomes indisputable and unanswerable. Given the fact this is second-hand information (hearsay), the officer’s credibility can’t be called into question – as is normal with regular witnesses -, nor can they be asked about direct elements linked to the incident (because only the person who was there and experienced it first-hand can answer these questions). 

For example, during a trial, it’s common for a lawyer to try and discredit the testimony of a witness who says they saw the defendant come out of the building where the murder took place by asking questions like: Where were you when you saw the defendant? How far were you from the building when you saw him come out? Was it day or night? Do you wear glasses? Were you wearing them at the time? Did you identify the defendant during an identity line up or from a photo that the police showed you suggesting it was him? These questions they ask direct witnesses can’t be asked to hearsay witnesses (as is the case when it’s a Police officer who apparently learned about what happened from others). For that reason, this kind of evidence isn’t admissable in many jurisdictions; and in others, the hearsay witness is forced to reveal the person who informed them.

The latter is the general rule in Cuban Law. Article 508 of today’s Criminal Procedure Law stipulates that the witness will state the reason for their testimony. If it is a hearsay witness, they will have to explain the origin of the news or information this person has provided and will identify them by name and surname, or by the signs of the person when they communicated.

However, despite the Law considering police officers’ testimony witness evidence, it also lays out special prerrogatives (the safeguards against the Law Colonel Valdes Brito spoke about on Hacemos Cuba). Article 518 of the Criminal Procedure Law recognizes that statements made by Police officers and agents and other law enforcement agents are witness accounts, and will be considered as much as far as common sense goes. Even when the Law considers police officers’ statements as witness evidence, Article 253, Clause b, of the Criminal Procedure Law says that public officials or members of the military aren’t obliged to speak out about “a certain individual or extreme of the facts that it can’t reveal without violating the secret, which it is their duty to protect.” 

The above makes it possible for police officers to be a hearsay witness for those who can’t be questioned about direct elements linked to the crime. It also turns them into hearsay witnesses who aren’t forced (unlike any other witness of this kind) to reveal the identity of their information source. If they say it is secret information, they take away any chance of having what they say being questioned.

The only tool the Cuban Law grants to fight these kinds of situations is stipulated in Article 254 of the Criminal Procedure Law. Article 254 stipulates that, if there are doubts about “inviolability of the secret and the individual in question, it can be key in determining the defendant’s guilt or innocence.” The only thing you can do is ask the Court or the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ask the “superior to decide if the witness can answer questions.” 

In other words, Cuban Law puts it in the police officer’s or their superior’s hands to decide whether they reveal the source or not, and to provide details that can be used to defend a defendant’s innocence. You can just imagine the kind of safeguard coming into play when one of the main superiors of police officers has appeared as a witness in court and publicly admitted that the protection of “informants” protection is the foundation of its investigation system and an inviolable ethical principle. 

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

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