An Amnesty Law for all Cuban political prisoners will have to be introduced before transition to democracy will take place. This is not as easy as it may seem. For who are ‘political prisoners'? Is the bombing of a Cuban government building, causing death and destruction, a political or a criminal act? Should the perpetrator after transition receive amnesty? After all, he helped prepare the transition to democracy?
And also, did not Fidel Castro himself use violent means to obtain power? If Fidel was never punished, why should anybody else in Cuba who uses violent means to achieve political goals? These are difficult questions which we will try to answer, knowing full well that answers may have to be revised as understanding deepens and transition draws near. There is no doubt that the present regime in Cuba will be democratized. The only question is when and how.
Truth and Reconciliation
To make non-violent transition possible, it is absolutely necessary to offer the present regime full amnesty. For if you don't, they have no other option but to resist change. This means resisting change violently even, for we cannot expect anybody to assist in facilitating his own downfall and punishment, if there is a feasible way of avoiding it. The present regime is in power. They have a standing well-armed army. If they are not offered amnesty, they'll fight.
So even for practical reasons amnesty for the present regime is required. But there is more. The present regime got there, because they sincerely believed in a political ideology. The ideology proved too idealistic and contains certain errors of (ethical) thinking, making the whole scheme unfeasible, particularly if it is introduced by force and if the ends are believed to justify the means. Nevertheless, idealism motivated their actions. They truly believed they were ‘liberating the people'. And in a certain sense they were, albeit for a very short period.
Nevertheless, the crimes committed by the Cuban regime are of a totally different nature than those committed in South Africa. But even there the African National Council understood that revenge would not work. To end the crime of apartheid peacefully, Truth and Reconciliation was the answer. There was some violence in the end anyway, but on the whole the operation was successful. Cuba should learn this lesson and apply it. It is the right way and anyhow, there is no other feasible way. Hopefully the US realizes by now that ‘Shock and Awe' will not lead to ‘Justice and Law'.
If somebody in Cuba, working for a government print shop (and please note that all print shops in Cuba are government-owned!) prints a few leaflets to spread the message of change, he is stealing paper and time from the government. This crime is called theft. If he is convicted, he is not a political prisoner. He is a common criminal. Or is he? This example goes to show that common crimes may be politically motivated. Are people doing jail-term for such crimes ‘political prisoners'? And should they receive amnesty after transition?
This is quite a conundrum. Don't forget that all political prisoners have been convicted by a criminal court for crimes enumerated in the Cuban Penal Code. So how do you distinguish ‘real criminals' from ‘political prisoners'? We will find a good answer. For the time being we suggest that after transition a special Amnesty Court should be set up by an outside authority, preferably the UN, to consider all petitions for amnesty filed by those claiming to have been convicted for political reasons. The Amnesty Court will obviously have to consider the merits of each single case very carefully. Intent is the defining principle here, but how do you distinguish between criminal or political intent?
Who knows the answers?
In some cases it is clear. Somebody who has been convicted for the sole reason he spoke out in favor of democracy and human rights, obviously is a political prisoner. The economist who was convicted for having discussed the advantages of the free market system in University classes, clearly is a political prisoner. The obvious cases are not the problem. What to do in the less obvious cases. That's the problem. Is the seriousness of the offence of any importance? Is murder simply murder, irrespective of its political intent? Should Fidel Castro receive amnesty in exchange for truth, but somebody convicted for the assassination of a Cuban politician do jail-time?
The answers will come. We invite our readers to voice their opinions to assist us in finding the right answers in keeping with a human rights approach. The amnesty law granted by Spain after the transition from Franco's fascist regime to democracy may hold the key. This document has been posted in the Caribbean Knowledge Center, direct code 1179.