Taking on the Cuban Regime with Laritza Diversent

Laritza Diversent, Cuban lawyer, journalist, and human rights defender who serves as Executive Director of the nonprofit Cubalex, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On lack of democracy in Cuba:

“The judiciary does not exist.”

“The state and individuals who lead the country control more than 80% of the country.”

On being persecuted by the Cuban regime:

“I was accused of being a foreign mercenary.”

“In 2013 our office was raided.”

“They confiscated our telephones and computers. They prevented us from eating for the 11 hours of the raid. Five of us were obliged to strip naked.”

“One month after the raid, the public prosecutor interrogated our clients. As if we were terrorists.”

“We feared having a trial without due process. We feared ending up in prison and not being able to do our work.”

“It has been 3 years. I haven’t been able to return, to hug my mother. I couldn’t say goodbye to my grandfather when he died last year.”

“My story is not exceptional. It is the same for all human rights advocates. The only difference is that many of them can’t escape or don’t want to escape.”

Full Remarks in Spanish. See below for English

Seguramente ha escuchado que todos los derechos humanos son iguales, necesarios e interdependientes. No se puede restringir unos para garantizar otros. No importa el sistema político o la ideología en el poder. Los estados están obligados a garantizar, promover y respetar todos nuestros derechos sin distinción de ningún tipo.

También debe haber escuchado que la educación o salud gratuita es una obligación de los estados. En mi país es un logro del gobierno y ha sido alabado en el mundo entero por ellos. También por haber sobrevivido a las acciones de su vecino del norte, el más poderoso, pero todos obvian que existe un único partido y una sola ideología, donde los que piensan diferente no tiene posibilidad de expresarse o participar en el gobierno.

Hay elecciones periódicas, pero no son libres ni transparentes. Un grupo político ha permanecido en el poder por más de 60 años, sin alternancia. Una misma persona ocupa cargos políticos en varios órganos del estado. Participa en la formulación de las leyes y también es su ejecución. El poder judicial no existe.

El estado y los individuos que lo dirigen tienen mucho poder. Controlan más del 80% de las tierras en el país, todos los hospitales, las escuelas y los medios de comunicación. Es el principal empleador. Nadie puede revelarse. Supuestamente las críticas son de las personas que reciben dinero para representar los intereses de una potencia extranjera.

Publicar una nota periodística en un medio digital independiente, un comentario en sus redes sociales o reunirse con personas que piensan diferente, es suficiente para que, en nombre de la defensa y soberanía nacional, le detengan, interroguen, amenacen y lleven a prisión. Incluso, ellos pueden impedirle moverse dentro de su país y salir de él.   

En 2007 hice publica mis ideas en medios alternativos de prensa. En 2010 fundé Cubalex, una oficina para ofrecer asesoría legal gratuita. Junto a mi equipo, investigamos y denunciamos violaciones de derechos humanos durante 6 años. Si, me convertí en una abogada defensora de derechos humanos, pero también fui acusada de ser mercenaria al servicio de un gobierno extranjero.

El 23 de septiembre de 2016 mi casa, sede principal de la organización, fue allanada. Llegaron de sorpresa y con muy malas intenciones. Cortaron las comunicaciones para evitar que diéramos la voz de alerta.  La orden era ilegal. No les importó que apelara a mi derecho constitucional de inviolabilidad del domicilio. Aun recurdo el dolor en mis mandibulas. Apreté tanto los dientes para no reaccionar mientras ellos rompían las puertas y entraban por la fuerza.

Confiscaron nuestro teléfono y computadoras. Se llevaron todos los documentos de nuestro trabajo, clientes y propiedad del inmueble. Nos impidieron ingerir alimento durante las 11 horas que duró el registro. Nos interrogaron. Cinco mujeres fuimos obligadas a desnudarnos. En sus rostros ví el placer de vernos humilladas. Se llevaron a mi colega preso por un año. Todavía me pregunto ¿qué fue lo que hicimos para merecer tal castigo?.

Un mes después del allanamiento, la Fiscalía, una institución que supuestamente debe velar por los derechos de los ciudadanos, interrogó a varios de nuestros clientes. La mayoría de ellos personas privadas de libertad. Los grababan mientras los cuestionaban por haber requerido los servicios de “un grupo ilegal”, como si fuéramos terroristas. A los que estaban en prisión les propusieron privilegios o beneficios de excarcelación a cambio de declarar en contra nuestra.

Teníamos mucho miedo, a un juicio sin garantías del debido proceso, a terminar en la prisión a no poder continuar con nuestro trabajo. La ansiedad y depresión hicieron estragos en nuestros cuerpos. Nada ni nadie podía protegernos. Nuestra única salida fue solicitar refugio.  Ellos lo sabían y nos forzaron a ello.

Emitieron una alerta para evitar que saliera del país. Un día antes mi salida, la fiscalía me informó que tenía pruebas en mi contra para llevarme a prisión. El recibir recursos de la cooperación internacional y contratar personas para ofrecer nuestros servicios, infringía las normas legales internas, me dijeron. La asesoría legal gratuita no está entre las 240 actividades que el estado permite a los ciudadanos ejercer como una forma de autoempleo

Tenían una factura falsa con la firma del copropietario del inmueble que nos servía de sede. El documento supuestamente fue utilizado para legalizar la vivienda. Además, tenían las declaraciones de una empleada estatal que escuchó cuando otras personas comentaban que yo había entregado regalos a funcionarios del estado para que agilizaran trámites. Esas eran sus pruebas para acusarme por falsificación de documentos y cohecho, delitos que le aseguraba sancionarme entre 3 y 8 años de prisión, además de confiscar la vivienda donde operábamos. Permitiremos tu salida del país, pero si regresas reactivaremos la acusación en tu contra, me advirtieron. Llevo casi tres años sin regresar, sin poder abrazar a mi madre. No pude darle el último adiós a mi abuelo cuando falleció el años pasado. Aun lloro la ausencia de todo lo que conocí durante la mayor parte de mi vida y me ví obligada a abandonar. No sé si podré volver, pero estoy aquí precisamente porque no me doy por vencida.

Mi historia, no es excepcional. Se repite en cada defensor de derechos humanos, periodista, artista o escritor que decide expresarse libre y públicamente. La diferencia es que muchos de ellos no quieren o no pueden escapar. Aun así, todos queremos lo mismo, el respeto de los derechos y libertades fundamentales de todos los cubanos, sin importar como piense o donde vive.

Tenemos muchos obstáculos en nuestro camino. Prejuicios que nos ubican en extremos ideológicos y posiciones radicales, sin darnos la posibilidad de escucharnos. Necesitamos de todos ustedes para combatir el silencio y la indiferencia.

Ustedes pueden ayudarnos a cambiar esa realidad. Ayúdenos a promover las voces y narrativas de periodistas y defensores de los derechos humanos. Lleven nuestros mensajes e historias a cada rincón del planeta en diferentes lenguas para que el público conozca la verdad sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en Cuba.

Full Remarks in English

You have surely heard that all human rights are equal, necessary and interdependent. Some cannot be restricted to guarantee others. The political system or the ideology in power do not matter. States are obliged to guarantee, promote and respect all of our rights with no discrimination of any kind. 

You must have also heard that free education or health is an obligation of the state. In my country, it is considered an achievement of the government and they have been praised throughout the world for that. Also, for having survived the actions of our neighbor to the north, the most powerful of our neighbors. However, everyone ignores that there is only one party and only one ideology, and those who think differently have no possibility of expressing themselves or participating in the government. 

There are regular elections, but they are neither free nor transparent. A political group has remained in power for more than 60 years, with no succession by other parties. The same person holds political positions in various state bodies. That person participated in the legislative and the executive power. The judiciary does not exist. 

The state and the individuals who run it have a lot of power. They control more than 80% of the land in the country, all hospitals, schools and the media. The state is the main employer. Nobody can be relieved. The criticism comes, supposedly, from people who receive money to represent the interests of a foreign power. 

Publishing a piece in independent digital media, a comment on one’s social networks or meeting with people who think differently is sufficient for one to be arrested, interrogated, threatened and taken to prison in the name of national defense and sovereignty. They can even prevent you from moving within your country or leaving. 

In 2007 I published my ideas on alternative press media platforms. In 2010 I founded “Cubalex,” an office that offers free legal advice. Together with my team, we investigated and denounced human rights violations for six years. That’s right, I became a human rights lawyer, but I was also accused of being a mercenary in the service of a foreign government. 

On 23 September 2016, my house, the main headquarters of the organization, was raided. They arrived by surprise and with very bad intentions. They cut our communications to prevent us from sounding the alert. The order was illegal. They didn’t care that I appealed for my constitutional right to inviolability of the home. I still remember the pain in my jaws. I gritted my teeth so hard so as not to react as they broke down the doors and forced their way in. 

They confiscated our phone and computers. They took all the documents of our work, clients and ownership of the property. They did not allow us to eat food during the 11 hours that the search lasted. They interrogated us. Five women were forced to undress. On their faces, I saw the pleasure of seeing us humiliated. They took my colleague prisoner for a year. I still wonder what we did to deserve such punishment? 

One month after the raid, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, an institution that is supposed to watch over the rights of citizens, questioned several of our clients. Most of them were incarcerated. They recorded them while questioning them for having required the services of “an illegal group,” as if we were a group of terrorists. Those who were in prison were offered privileges or release benefits in exchange for testifying against us.

We were really afraid of a trial with no guarantees of due process, of ending up in prison, of not being able to continue with our work. Anxiety and depression wreaked havoc on our bodies. Nothing and no one could protect us. Our only way out was to request refuge. They knew it and they forced us to that. 

They issued an alert to prevent us from leaving the country. One day before my departure, the prosecution informed me that they had evidence against me to take me to prison. As I was told, receiving resources from international cooperations and hiring people to offer our services violated internal legal regulations. Free legal advice is not among the 240 activities that the state allows citizens to exercise as a form of self-employment.

They had a false invoice, with the signature of the co-owner of the property that served as our headquarters. The document was supposedly used to legalize the property. In addition, they had statements of a state employee who had overheard other people commenting that I had given gifts to state officials to speed up procedures. That was their evidence for accusing me of falsifying documents and bribery, crimes that assured me would entail a punishment of 3 to 8 years in prison, in addition to confiscating the property where we operated. “We will allow you to leave the country, but if you return we will retrieve the accusation against you,” they warned me. I haven’t been back for almost three years, without being able to hug my mother. I couldn’t say goodbye to my grandfather when he passed away last year. I still mourn the absence of everything I knew for most of my life and was forced to leave behind. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back, but I’m here precisely because I’m not giving up.

My story is not exceptional. It is repeated in every human rights defender, journalist, artist or writer who decides to express themselves freely and publicly. The difference is that many of them are unwilling or unable to escape. Even so, we all want the same thing: respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Cubans, regardless of how they think or where they live. 

We have many obstacles in our way. Prejudices that place us in ideological extremes and radical positions without giving us the possibility of listening to each other. We need all of you to combat silence and indifference. 

You can help us change that reality. Help us promote the voices and narratives of journalists and human rights defenders. Take our messages and stories to every corner of the planet, in different languages, ​​so that the public knows the truth about the human rights situation in Cuba.

 

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