I arrive at Lázaro’s house in Centro Habana and hear the immense voice of the troubadour Pedro Luis Ferrer upon entering. Play it loud on a speaker Delirium of loving menfabulous song from his album 100% Cuban, recorded in the early nineties as a hymn to tolerance and freedom in Cuba in its broadest sense: religious, political, sexual orientation, expression, thought and everything else. Lázaro tells me to shut up so I can pay attention. “He has a delusion of loving men / He likes strong and healthy men..”, says the letter, which immediately denounces: “They discriminate against him for being like that / in love with young men…”, and then ends: “And I wonder what would happen/ if that were the case with the male chauvinists/ who usually treat/ their women as slavers with impunity”.
Lázaro remembers that when Pedro Luis made that song “no one criticized the official reality as he did” and few attacked homophobia so openly, asking for respect for each person’s choice. “Then the issue here was still taboo, but luckily things have changed,” he says, citing the new Family Code as an example, which will be approved by the Cuban Parliament this summer and then submitted to a referendum. The new legislation admits the marriage of same-sex couples and also contemplates the right of adoption, “a remarkable advance in a country that for years marginalized and even confined homosexuals in labor camps, the famous UMAP, of disastrous memory”, see my friend.
“Probably before the end of the year the new Family Code will be approved and we will attend the first gay weddings in Cuba. It will be something historic,” he adds. He says that the road to get to this point has not been easy and that, to achieve this new law, the LGTBQI + community has had to work hard. Since the 2019 Constitution was approved, the issue of inclusive marriage was contemplated (“Every person has the right to found a family”, says the Magna Carta in its article 81), but either because of the resistance of various religious confessions, or because the thing had not yet been digested by the most orthodox sectors, the Family Code had to wait almost three years to become black and white.
After 24 versions, months of intense consultations among the population and clear official support, it will finally be approved by the National Assembly in its next session and then submitted to a popular referendum, surely before the end of the year. And that’s where Lázaro wanted to go: “I see all of this very well. But look how long they have been putting these debates on television and encouraging people to express their opinions, while the new Penal Code, which is just as important, has just been approved by Parliament with much less discussion and without a referendum.”
The issue is not trivial and will bring a queue, says Lázaro, who points out that since its approval (last May 15 by Parliament) it has been criticized on social networks and also by opposition and human rights groups. In order not to talk for the sake of talking, he proposes to review some articles and consult experts, and we get down to it while Pedro Luis sings.
He says that at the center of the criticism is article 120 of the new Code, which sanctions from four to ten years of deprivation of liberty to those who “arbitrarily exercise any right or freedom recognized in the Constitution of the Republic and endanger the constitutional order and the normal functioning of the Cuban State and Government.” The Cuban jurist Fernando Almeyda assures that this is outrageous, because “the legislator indicates that for the exercise of rights in Cuba (including human rights) it is necessary to have an authorization from the authority, that is, that they are not recognized ‘rights’ but ‘permissions’.
The historian Alina Bárbara López, coordinator of the digital magazine, agrees with him. The Young Cuba, which considers “extremely worrying that the Code penalizes the ‘abusive practice of constitutional rights’. He affirms that it is an “aberration” that indicates “the existence of an abusive practice in the prohibition of such rights”, which, in his opinion, is “intended to intimidate citizens so that they do not try to exercise a limited set of rights stipulated in the 2019 Constitution, such as those of demonstration or freedom of assembly and expression.”
This is not the only controversial thing. Almeyda points out that the crime of sedition is preserved in its entirety in article 121, “which equates civilians who demonstrate peacefully and make demands or practice civil disobedience, with a military mutiny.” He indicates that for this crime, for which dozens of participants in the massive protests of July 11 were convicted, sanctions of ten to thirty years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or the death penalty are established.
“In this way, an armed assault against a barracks is given the same treatment as a peaceful demonstration,” says this analyst, who points out that the Code clearly establishes throughout its articles that “its objective is the protection of ‘order political, economic and social established by the Constitution’ and is designed to develop a protection of what is established in article 4 of the Constitution, which speaks of the irrevocability of socialism in Cuba and the right to fight by all means to defend order established, which implies the absolute rule of the Communist Party”.
“The thing thickens”, says Lázaro, who proposes to listen to the delicate poetry of Pedro Luís Ferrer. It sounds on the loudspeaker: “Why do you run away from me/ who gave you a reason to run away/ is it the fear of losing/ the tenderness that your skin keeps/ why do you run away like that/ what a sacred mystery/ has given you the luck/ to love and suffer / what a mystery there is in you “. And from this beauty we jump directly to article 124, which reforms the old crime of Enemy Propaganda. Now it is renamed Propaganda against the Constitutional Order, and it sanctions from two to five years anyone who “incites” against the established order, international solidarity or the socialist State, whether orally or in writing. Almeyda affirms that “the governing verb incite it is unclear and allows an arbitrary interpretation by the authorities against any exercise of expression of thought”.
This jurist (30 years old and resident outside of Cuba) says that the new Code “contains at least seven crimes that can be used to directly attack journalistic activity in Cuba, criminalizing the expression of thought, the dissemination of news that the State qualifies as contrary to their interests, and any form of support of any kind, come from whoever, in whatever country, for opponents, dissidents and journalists.” Article 143, for example, “allows any person to be punished with sentences of four to ten years in prison for the mere fact of supporting, promoting, financing, providing, receiving or having in their possession funds, material or financial resources with the purpose of ‘defraying activities’ against the State and its constitutional order”, he assures.
“Is it coherent to reproach media outlets that are not admitted by Cuban legislation or recognized by it, that they receive financing from abroad?” asks the coordinator of The Young Cuba. In his opinion, there is “an ethical issue, which has to do with the fact that some of these media are weakened in the face of national public opinion because they receive funds from a government [el de EE UU] that it exerts constant and illegal extraterritorial pressure on Cuba and that it promotes ways to subvert the political system, an attribution that does not legitimately correspond to it.” But, he says, “another element should be added to this equation: that by not recognizing these media in Cuba, they are separated from being able to receive funds through more transparent and autonomous internal channels, such as donations, patio advertisers or other traditional channels and legal to sustain.
Both Almeyda and Alina Bárbara admit successes in the new Criminal Code, such as the disappearance of the Dangerous State and the Pre-criminal Measures, which allowed people to be punished with up to four years in prison for their “antisocial behavior” without having committed any crime, and others that criminalized bigamy or homosexuality. They also appreciate as progress “the regulation of a better criminal framework against domestic, sexual and gender violence.” “However, these positive aspects are overshadowed by a legislative project of a draconian nature,” says Almeyda. It draws attention to the fact that the new Code “exempts from criminal liability those who act to ‘repel or prevent a danger or damage to the social interests of the State”, while “includes a new section on the crime of attack, aimed at punishing to those who through ‘violence or intimidation’ try to prevent people who do not hold authority from acting ‘in compliance with their civic duty and contributing to the confrontation of acts of indiscipline that affect citizen tranquility, order and coexistence’. Taking the scenario of 11-J as an example, denounces Almeyda, “those who attack demonstrators in the interest of the Party and the Government would be exonerated from responsibility, while those who tried to prevent it would be sanctioned for attack.”
For Alina Bárbara and Almeyda, the events of July 11 and its slipstream are very present in the new legislation, something that the authorities flatly deny, assuring that the approved Code is much more guaranteeing than the previous one and that “it includes a catalog of sanctions based on the review of their predecessor, with the purpose of tempering them to the dynamics of contemporary crime and the need to preserve order and citizen tranquility”. Lázaro explains that we still have a lot to analyze, that not everything is black and white, that we have to keep asking and finding out, but that is for the next one. And before finishing, he puts on one of the great festive songs of Pedro Luis, Carapacho for the turtle, which begins: “I have a man / dreams of a child / a desire to jump / along the paths / I carry in my blood / the sun of my childhood / a simple clarity / of the morning”. And then she says: “I feel tremors / from seeing the devil / and when I hear thunder / the lightning has already struck.”
– “Listening to Pedro one always relaxes”, says Lázaro.
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