Dissent outlawed by the Cuban Constitution? [response to reader]

[A reader named Martin writes, citing Human Rights Watch on “the arbitrary imprisonment of dissidents” by the Cuban state.]

amerikanbeat responds to Martin: I don’t agree “the arbitrary imprisonment of dissidents” goes on in Cuba in any very interesting way. Certainly, there isn’t any evidence of it. I probably would not object on principle to an actual “crack down”—but the Cuban “dissident movement” is so miniscule and marginalized by ordinary Cubans that the state has no incentive impose it. (An American acquaintance of mine who lives in Cuba could not think of any Cubans who have ever heard of the Varela project.) It would hand propaganda points to the U.S. for absolutely no gain.

Of course, I can’t vouch that absolutely nobody has ever gone to a Cuban jail unfairly. Like every state, Cuba is certainly capable of making mistakes in the application of penal justice. This being minded, “dissidents” do go to jail in Cuba, but not for “dissenting,” just as blondes and pizzamakers go to jail in the U.S., but not for being blonde or making pizzas. It is certainly possible (a) to express one’s dissent in the form of behaviors that are illegal in any country, or (b) to dissent and then proceed to commit illegal acts—and be caught and punished. The crimes that prompted the Cuban “crackdown” in Spring 2003 were of (a) type; the actions HRW defends as Cuban “dissent” are inevitably one or the other. (Note: Like other states, the Cuban state has perpetrated wrongs against gays and victims of AIDS; it has ceased and repudiated these errors. This change is largely an “organic” response to the will of the populus, the sort of cause which the fetish for bourgeois forms of procedural democracy causes folks to overlook in the assessment of Cuban democracy.)

Martin continues, arguing that “dissent” is outlawed in the Cuban Constitution:

Here is the full text of Article 62 [of the Cuban Constitution]: ‘None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to…the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law.’ Now I ask you: how can one dissent without compromising the objectives of the state? If one is dissenting presumably it is against a state action (therefore objective).

amerikanbeat writes: We can look at this in two ways. Parsing the words alone—as you have—it is clear that a statement that is “contrary to…the existence and objectives of the…state” is not the same as a statement which expresses some opposition to the fact that the state exists or has x-objectives. I can say, “the state sucks and doesn’t do what I want it to do—it should cease to exist” without violating Article 62 because simply stating this will not threaten the existence or objectives of the state. It expresses something contrary to these entities but does not “do” anything to threaten or undermine them (at least not necessarily). I could make statements contrary to the existence of the sun, but this could contribute nothing to actually undermining this state of affairs.

A second (and far more useful) way to evaluate this amendment—again, not the approach you took—is to see that, no matter what the damned words “say,” the Cuban state does not enforce this law as you have parsed it. As stated earlier, barring isolated mistakes which are possible in any legal system, people don’t go to jail in Cuba for “dissent” per se.


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