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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Finding defense attorneys hard for dissidents

Posted April 08, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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Ana Leonor Díaz, Grupo de Trabajo Decoro

HAVANA, April ( [url=http://www.cubanet.org]http://www.cubanet.org[/url] ) - Finding a defense attorney has turned into a near impossibility for the 78 jailed dissidents and independent journalists who are facing sentences of between 12 years and life in prison in summary trials taking place in several Cuban cities.

The government opponents, all arrested within the last two weeks, are accused of treason for associating themselves to a foreign power, the United States.

Prosecutors have given them, or rather, their relatives, between 24 and 48 hours to secure the services of legal counsel. A few fortunate ones have found a lawyer, who, in the best of cases, has had one day to examine the case files.

Yolanda Huerta, the wife of poet and journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal, for whom the prosecution is asking 18 years in prison, managed to hire a lawyer the day before Vázquez’ trial.

Most, however, have not been able to obtain legal representation. In Cuba, there are slightly more than 4,000 lawyers who do civil matters, but barely 100 who do criminal work. They all work for the government, the only lawful way for a Cuban lawyer to practice.

Criminal lawyers routinely defend thieves, embezzlers, and even murderers. But they generally refuse to defend political activists, opponents of the government, and independent journalists, because they consider those cases to be lost before they even go to trial.

In fact, in 44 years under the current government, there hasn’t been one single case in which someone accused of being a “counterrevolutionary has been found not guilty. In extremely few instances, such as with the mother of a newborn, or a terminal patient, sentences have been reduced from 30 to 20 years.

At least one of the 78, independent journalist Víctor Rolando Arroyo, for whom the prosecution is demanding life in prison, told his wife not to bother finding an attorney because he considers his sentence has already been signed.

Laura Pollán, the wife of political dissident and independent journalist Hector Maseda, tried to hire a renowned criminal attorney practicing in Old Havana for her husband. The attorney declined to take the case, saying that to get involved in a political case is a losing proposition.

The head of a legal office in Central Havana had to compel the lawyers in the office to take seven cases after the lawyer who had originally accepted them resigned, alleging a sudden illness that forced her to stay in bed.

Attorneys in those cases had a day to prepare the defense, and in the majority of cases, the accused have not had access to their attorneys, and the attorneys have had to rely on the statements of the family members and any evidence they may have been able to provide

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