Recollections of Police Extortion: A "Rebar" / Frank Correa
Posted on April 24, 2014
HAVANA, Cuba – I recently participated in a course on Criminal Procedure
taught by Dr. Wilfredo Vallin, an independent lawyer, to members of
civil society. We learned what the law requires and how police are
supposed to act when making stops, searches, seizures, or arrests.
Each one of us there related some personal experience of police
misconduct. Dr. Vallin explained to us in each case what kind of
violation of the law had been committed by the officers. We finally
reached the conclusion that ignorance of citizens' rights is the primary
cause that encourages these infractions.
We learned that to carry out the search of a home, a warrant signed by a
prosecutor and two witnesses is needed. The search warrant must describe
the "specific object" being sought: they cannot seize any property other
than that "specific object." In addition, everything seized must appear
on a list, and a copy must be delivered to the person affected. The
confiscations must be presented in court, and if invalidated must be
We had a slew of examples of violations of this law. As with the other
one, Dr. Vallin explained: on the street, only a uniformed police
officer can stop you, never a plainclothes officer. And to perform a
search a police officer must present a warrant, or else take you to a
police station and search you there. This is a law that is violated in
Cuba every day; just ask the hundreds of street vendors who are stopped,
searched, and deprived of their property in full public view.
We also learned that you cannot be detained in a police station for more
than twenty-four hours without an arrest warrant. After that time an
investigator must be assigned to you, who has three days to present the
prosecutor with a report of the completed investigation. The prosecutor
has three more days to issue a decision—of a fine, detention, or
immediate release. Many of those attending the course complained of
spending days in a jail cell without any compliance with this law.
I remembered the meetings of the Agenda for Transition, in Jaimanita.
And how they detained me when I left my house in the morning so I could
not cover the news! They locked me in a cell in the 5th precinct
station, popularly known as "The Warehouse," along with other dissidents
also prevented from attending the meeting. Without a word of
explanation, they left us among dozens of common prisoners until late
afternoon. Then the "file folder" (receptionist) called us one by one,
gave us our identity cards and let us go.
I also remembered the time I was on a corner in Old Havana, talking with
my friends "El Mapa" and "Pulu," when I saw boy dressed in a school
uniform coming down the sidewalk, followed by a row of detainees. In his
hand he was carrying a bundle of identity documents and asked us for
ours and told us to get in the line.
I was stunned, watching how the men meekly followed single file toward
the police station in Dragones, but when I started to protest, "El
Mapa" told me:
"Don't even open your mouth! He's a policeman disguised as a student . .
. and he's vicious! Now they're going to lock us up and search us . . .
then they'll let us go for a 'rebar.'"
Without understanding anything I followed the line to a vast courtyard
inside the station. A captain ordered us to stand facing the wall and
empty our pockets. We complied. They didn't find any drugs, or weapons,
or anything that would incriminate the men against the wall, who didn't
let out a peep.
Then he left, and we sat on the stones in the yard or on the floor,
helpless, without an arrest warrant, without having committed any crime,
and not knowing how to assert our rights . . . or to whom.
After a while I saw that the men began to leave, one by one. Before
leaving, "Pulu" passed me the sign: the passage to the street cost a
"rebar" (1 cuc, national currency equivalent to one dollar). This was
well-known in the neighborhood about their police, but I, who believe
that bribery is one of our worst crimes, was not going to contribute to it.
I remained alone in the yard, with three other poor devils who had no
"rebar." Our passport to freedom that afternoon was to carry a heavy
iron tank between the four of us and load it on a wooden cart in the
Afterward they handed us back our documents. Without even thanking us
for loading the tank on the cart.
Cubanet, April 4, 2014
Translated by Tomás A.
Source: Recollections of Police Extortion: A "Rebar" / Frank Correa |
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