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Authorities in Cuba begin to punish young protesters in summary trials

Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Miriam Celaya told the Herald her niece was arrested Sunday in Havana because she was seen recording the demonstrations with her cellphone. “She is not involved in politics. Apparently, she was just recording the demonstration with her cellphone,” she said.

Camila Lobón, a visual artist and activist who has been helping to confirm details of those arrested, said in a phone interview that she is aware of another two cases of protesters who will be tried soon: Alexander Diego Gil, an actor, and Randy Arteaga.

“Arteaga was detained in Villa Clara, and he is the only child of an elderly couple. He is their only provider; they don’t have money to pay for a lawyer,” Lobón said. “They don’t even have a phone, so activists have to go to their house to communicate with them.

“It is a precarious situation for many families,” she added. “There’s ignorance of what they should do, legally. There’s helplessness and there’s fear, because many fear authorities would retaliate if they speak out.”

Summary trials, which began in the early days of the revolution, are not a thing of the past in Cuba. They have been used in cases involving dissidents and people allegedly breaking COVID-19 government restrictions.

“It is an express procedure for minor crimes,” said Cuban lawyer Laritza Diversent. “In summary trials, the time of ordinary proceedings can be cut in half. Someone can be sent to trial anytime between 2 and 45 days. The sentence is handed down orally; there is almost no documentation of the whole process, making any appeal difficult. It is very arbitrary.”

 

It is unclear why some demonstrators have been released while others will be tried. Authorities contend those charged had committed violent crimes, and many had a prior police record, but that doesn’t fit the profile of some of the people like Celaya and Troya currently being held.

“The fact that they are charging people with public disorder shows they were just peaceful protesters and did not commit any crimes,” Lobón said in a phone interview.

She said public disorder charges are frequently used against dissidents and activists like her that participate in public demonstrations against the government. She was one of the young artists arrested after a protest in front of the Ministry of Culture last year. She says that police and state security officers have prevented her from leaving her house for the past 29 days.

“So far, there are 537 documented detentions. They could not all be involved in ‘acts of vandalism,'" she said, in reference to the version peddled by the Cuban government.

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