Cuba retains the death penalty for several crimes. Besides the death penalty's inherent cruelty, Human Rights Watch believes that the fallibility of criminal justice systems everywhere creates the risk that innocent persons will be executed even when full due process of law is respected. The Cuban legal system's serious procedural failings and lack of judicial independence practically guarantee miscarriages of justice. Cuban law affords convicts sentenced to death minimal opportunities to appeal their sentences. The People's Supreme Court receives death sentence appeals within five days of sentencing, leaving little opportunity to prepare an appropriate defense for a capital case, and has ten days to render a decision. If the sentence is confirmed, the court forwards the case to the Council of State.145 Cuba's reliance on the Council of State—an entity presided over by President Castro, selected by the Cuban National Assembly, and considered the "supreme representation of the Cuban State" under Cuban law—as the ultimate arbiter in death penalty cases effectively undercuts any appearance of judicial independence. If the Council of State does not render a decision within ten days, then the Criminal Procedure Code creates a presumption that the body did not approve a commutation.146 This procedure would allow an execution to proceed even if the Council of State never reviewed the case.
In May 1995 President Fidel Castro told the human rights delegation led by France-Libertés and joined by Human Rights Watch that he intended to introduce a bill in the National Assembly for the abolition of the death penalty. At that time, he conditioned his action on developments in the economy and the U.S. economic embargo, apparently unrelated issues. But on September 30, 1997, the Cuban delegation to the United Nations reported to the Secretary General that "given the circumstances which [Cuba] has experienced and continues to experience, the total abolition of the penalty is impracticable."147 In March 1999, Cuba adopted thedeath penalty for two new crimes, international drug trafficking and the corruption of minors.148
Cuba has not provided figures on its total prison population, much less the number of death row inmates. In March 1999, Cuba announced that a Havana court had sentenced Raúl Ernesto Cruz Leon to death for terrorism, based on his alleged involvement in bombing Cuban hotels.149 Cuban prosecutors sentenced a second Salvadoran, Otto René Rodríguez Llerena, to death in April 1999.150 In January 1999, a Havana court sentenced Sergio Antonio Duarte Scull and Carlos Rafael Pelaez Prieto to death for the murders of two Italian tourists in September 1998.151 In March 1999, the provincial court in Granma announced the executions of two men, José Luis Osorio Zamora and Francisco Javier Chávez Palacios.152 Cuba re
portedly executed two prisoners, Emilio Betancourt Bonne and Jorge LuisSánchez Guilarte, in May 1998.153 Human Rights Watch interviews with former political prisoners reveal that up until early 1998, Cuba had several death row prisoners held in at least three maximum-security prisons. The ex-prisoners, who usually were confined in cells alongside the death row inmates, also believed that Cuba carried out executions in 1997.
Human Rights Watch received credible information that a Cuban firing squad executed Daniel Reyes, an inmate in the Las Tunas Provincial Prison, on October 29, 1997. Following his death, one of the prison guards who had participated in the execution apparently told the eight other death row prisoners gruesome details about the death and threatened them with similar treatment. Las Tunas prison staff apparently carry out executions on a nearby hill where guards tie prisoners to a large wooden post. Several government vehicles reportedly shine their headlights on the prisoner as the firing squad carries out the execution.154 Cuba reportedly executed another prisoner at the Agüica Prison in Matanzas in January 1997. A political prisoner confined there at the time recalled that the executed prisoner's first name was Gilbert, that he had been convicted of murder, and that he was blind.155 Cuba executed Francisco Dayson Dhruyet, convicted for the murder of his wife, in December 1996.156 We also received reports of possible executions at the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana in 1996 and 1997. The executions by firing squad reportedly take place on a hill known as Las Canteras, which is visible from some parts of the prison, from about 8:00 until 9:00 in the evening.157 At this writing, Cuban exile Humberto Real Suárez, who was sentenced to death in 1996, remains on death row at the Cerámica Roja Prison in Camagüey. As of February 1998, five other prisoners reportedly remained on the Agüica death row, includingLázaro Pino López. Erik Martínez reportedly was on the Las Tunas Provincial Prison's death row.145 Article 89, Constitution of the Republic of Cuba (July 1992). 146 Article 488, Criminal Procedure Code (1977). 147 United Nations Commission on Human Rights, "Status of the International Covenants on Human Rights: Question of the Death Penalty, Report of the Secretary-General Submitted Pursuant to Commission Resolution 1997/12" (New York: United Nations, January 16, 1998), E/CN.4/1998/82. 148 "Modificaciones al Código Penal," Granma Diario, March 2, 1999. 149 Anita Snow, "Cuba Sentences Salvadoran to Death," Associated Press, March 23, 1999. 150 "Cuba: Cuba Sentences Second Salvadoran Bomber to Death," Reuters News Service, April 1, 1999, and "Cuba: Cuba Seeks Second Death Sentence in Bombings," Reuters News Service, March 17, 1999. 151 Neither the Cuban government nor the Italian embassy in Havana revealed the victims' names. Reuters reported that the victims were Fabio Usubelli and Michele Niccolai. Andrew Cawthorne, "Cuba: Cuba Hands Death Sentences to Killers of Italians," Reuters News Service, January 28, 1999; and Anita Snow, "Two Sentenced to Death in Cuba," Associated Press, January 28, 1999. 152 The announcements did not include the dates of the executions by firing squad but noted that the sentences had been ratified on appeal by the Supreme Court and the Council of State. Tribunal Provincial Granma, "Ejecutada Pena de Muerte," La Demajagua: Organo Informativo de la Provincia de Granma, March 13, 1999, and Tribunal Provincial Granma, "Ejecutan Sentencia de Pena de Muerte," La Demajagua: Organo Informativo de la Provincia de Granma, March 6, 1999. Chávez Palacios allegedly had slain a local official, Pedro Armando Fonseca Fernández de Castro. His lawyer expressed concern that he lacked the mental capacity to be held responsible for the crime, since he had previously been diagnosed with developmental disabilities and psychiatric conditions. Conclusiones Provisionales, Cause #511/97, Sala I de lo Penal del Tribunal Provincial Popular de Granma, Lic. David Gaston Rodríguez Mulet, October 20, 1997. 153 Amnesty International, "Urgent Action: Death Penalty/Imminent Execution: Cuba" January 29, 1999. 154 Human Rights Watch interview with Marcos Antonio Hernández García, Toronto, April 13, 1998. 155 Human Rights Watch interview with Víctor Reynaldo Infante Estrada, Toronto, April 14, 1998. 156 Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1998 (London: Amnesty International Publications, 1998), p. 150. 157 Human Rights Watch interviews with Marcos Antonio Hernández García, Toronto, April 13, 1998, and Adriano González Marichal, Toronto, April 14, 1998.
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