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"And you're told it's time to die": A Personal Contribution to the 2021 World Day Against the Death Penalty

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Excerpted from  Death Row Diary , by William Van Poyck. Van Poyck -- who maintained his innocence -- was executed by the state of Florida on June 12, 2013.  The 58-year-old, convicted of the 1987 murder of Glades Correctional Institution guard Fred Griffis outside a West Palm Beach doctor’s office, offered his views on everything from prison food to movies to the blood lust of politicians who support the death penalty via letters he posted online with the help of his sister.  After his conviction, Van Poyck, with a reform school education, authored three books, one of which won first-place honors in the memoir category in Writer’s Digest 2004 Self-Published Book Awards.  Locked up with what the courts have deemed the worst of the worst, Van Poyck opened the doors to a secret world few can imagine... The following piece is excerpted from Van Poyck’s dispatches written during the last two years before his own execution: "Robert Waterhouse was scheduled for execution at 6:00pm this

Cuba: Capital Punishment in a Dictatorship

Fidel Castro, Cuba's lifelong dictator, dies at 90.
Fidel Castro, Cuba's lifelong dictator, dies at 90.
In April 2013, after ten consecutive years without carrying out executions, Cuba became a “de facto abolitionist” country.

The Penal Code presently in force provides for the death penalty for 112 offences, 33 of which are common crimes.

Offences punishable by death include: crimes against external State security; crimes against internal State security; crimes against peace and international law; acts against State security (like the violation of Cuban territory by participating as a member of the crew or travelling on board a ship or plane); crimes against the normal development of sexual relations and against the family, infancy and youth (rape when the victim is under 12 years of age or serious injury or illness results; pederasty with violence when the victim is under 14 years of age or serious injury or illness results).

A February 1999 reform of the penal code expanded the application of the death penalty to crimes of drug trafficking with aggravating circumstances, violent assault and corruption of minors.

On December 20, 2001 Cuban lawmakers unanimously approved an expanded antiterrorism law that reaffirmed the use of the death penalty for the most extreme acts of terror. The new law toughens and expands Cuba's previous terrorism law, listed as a crime against the state in the nation's penal code.

The life sentence was adopted in the February 1999 reform of the Code. Under Cuban law, people under 20 and pregnant women cannot be sentenced to death. Those condemned to death may appeal to the Supreme Court. If the ruling is upheld, it must be ratified by the Council of State (the highest authority of the country led by Raul Castro), to which is assigned the last word.

On 28 April 2008, new Cuban President Raul Castro had announced that all death sentences had been commuted to prison terms of 30 years, with the exception of three people charged with terrorism, whose cases were still on appeal. “This does not mean we have eliminated the death penalty from the penal code,” Raul Castro said.

On 4 December 2010, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, a Salvadoran man convicted of killing an Italian tourist during a series of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 and 1998. On 7 December, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of another Salvadoran man convicted of plotting the 1997-1998 hotel bombing spree. Finally, on 28 December, the Supreme Tribunal commuted the death sentence of Humberto Eladio Real, an anti-Castro activist who was the last death row inmate on the island. Real had been convicted in the 1990s on murder and “acts against State security.”

However, since the decision to commute all death sentences in April 2008 and the last three inmates on death row saw their sentences commuted in December 2010, no death sentences have been handed down by the courts and no new executions have been carried out in Cuba.

The Cuban Government has never released statistics on its prison population, convicts condemned to death or the number of executions.

According to teacher Armando Lago, a consultant to the Stanford Research Institute, 5,621 executions have taken place on the island, the majority of them for politically related crimes. The death penalty was common in the 1960s and 1970s, but in more recent years, the death penalty, carried out by firing squad, has been reserved for cases like terrorism, armed rebellion or particularly gruesome killings or serial murders.

The last executions were held on 11 April 2003, when Cuba put to death Enrique Copello Castillo, Barbaro Leodan Sevillan Garcia and Jorge Luis Martinez Isaac, three men found guilty of hijacking a passenger ferry with the intent of sailing it to Florida. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the summary nature of the trial and defined the executions as an ‘arbitrary privation of human life’.

On 28 February 2008, Cuba signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, which Fidel Castro had refused to sign. The move by the communist government came just days after Castro’s younger brother Raul was confirmed as his successor. 

A statement that Cuba submitted when it signed the treaty said that its constitution and laws “guarantee the effective realization and protection of these rights for all Cubans,” but also stressed that the government would register “reservations or interpretative declarations it considers relevant.” 

Felipe Pérez Roque, Cuban Foreign Minister, said, “This signing formalizes and reaffirms the rights protected by the agreement, which my Country has systematically been upholding since the triumph of the revolution.”

On 18 December 2014, Cuba abstained from the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.

BACKGROUND:


Government: Communist state
State of civil and political rights: Not free
Constitution: 24 February 1976; amended July 1992 and June 2002
Legal System: based on Spanish and American law, with large elements of Communist legal theory
Legislative System: unicameral National Assembly of People's Power (Asemblea Nacional del Poder Popular)
Judicial System: People's Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo Popular), president, vice president, and other judges are elected by the National Assembly
Religion: Catholic majority

Method of execution: shooting
Date of last execution: 11-4-2003
Prisoners on death row: 0 (Sources: Afp, 28/12/2010)

International Treaties on the Death Penalty and Human Rights:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed only)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Source: Hands Off Cain

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