Judge Carmen Rosa Rojas, president of the Second Criminal Chamber of the People’s Provincial Court, confesses her life’s itinerary and something else on the same bench where she practices
Upon arrival she offers me a place on the bench. Of course, on temporary basis. At that moment Carmen Rosa Rojas Alvarez, president of the Second Criminal Chamber since 1992, belonging to the People’s Provincial Court, reminded me of my father, who wished that I would become a law student.
She assures me that in her 38 years in the administration of justice nobody has dared to bribe her in search of the reduction of a possible sentence. “A judge cannot accept even a pen”, said the first member of the court system in Sancti Spíritus to be awarded the Medal of Recognition of Judicial Merit in 2013.
Law came into her life unexpectedly. When she was already thinking of becoming an agronomy engineer, she was offered to study law in a workers’ course. She was then an office worker at the tobacco enterprise of Cabaiguán, and from one day to the next, she found herself in the classrooms of the Marta Abreu University of Las Villas.
FROM TYPIST TO JUDGE
Contrary to what I supposed, wearing the gown was not what Carmen Rosa first did when she joined the People’s Municipal Court of Sancti Spiritus. She started working as a typist in the Civil and Labor Section, and every 15 days she attended classes in the university. In 1980 she was elected professional judge of that body.
Why did you choose to be a judge instead of a prosecutor or a lawyer?
First of all, because I was already working at the court. On the other hand, the work of the judge is more complete. It could also be that my decision was influenced by the principle of justice instilled by my parents.
Aside from geographic and, above all, ideological differences, some people have compared you with the former British President Margaret Thatcher. Is the nickname “Iron Lady” relevant for you?
Not at all. I am not the Iron Lady as people call me (she laughs because even her daughter sometimes refers to her as “Margaret”). I have always worked to give each individual the sanction that corresponds. I do not consider that I have exceeded any sentence. Guilty people always think they could have got less. My conscience is clear in this respect.
Have you ever been threatened by any convicted person or his/her relatives?
I have never been threatened by any person, nor by a letter or a phone call. I live a normal life. As far as I know, no judge has ever been threatened in this province as a result of his/her job.
When your court has imposed the death sentence, has it done so against the accused or against the crime committed?
When we issue a death sentence, which is something exceptional, it has been in defense of the interests of society due to the seriousness of the offenses.
Cuba has declared a moratorium on the death penalty. Do you agree with such decision?
Yes. The decision of the country’s top leadership has been correct. This sanction is maintained in the Criminal Code, although it is not being applied. We have other resources such as life imprisonment, a very severe sentence that our courtroom has imposed only once for a multiple murder crime.
There are people who think that the Cuban Penal Code is benevolent with certain crimes …
The Penal Code will be modified in view of the new Constitution. There are crimes whose frameworks of punishment are severe, for example, economic crimes such as embezzlement; the corruption of minors (rape); drug dealing. The approved frameworks of punishment are those which can deal with these offenses due to the seriousness of the events and the damages entailed. The penalties we apply are meant not only to repress, but also to prevent other people from being involved in similar crimes.
Does the penintentiary system really re-educate? Some people think it doesn’t.
In most cases it does. My courtroom is aware of the incidents of execution with the sanctioned ones who serve their sentences on parole or who are granted an early release. The execution judge is a fundamental link to achieve the reeducation of that person, a process that begins in the prison system. Maybe other measures could be adopted, but the mechanisms and the programs to achieve reeducation do exist.
However, there are people who serve their sentences and then reoffend.
These people do so because they are deformed. Many of them come from dysfunctional families. There are people who cannot live in society. Of course, they are the least.
Which defendants you feel more aversion toward?
Those who commit rape, corruption of minors. I wish I would never deal with these offenses. They lacerate too much, because they are committed against helpless human beings, against children.
How many times have you acquitted a defendant that you know committed a crime, but evidence was not enough for incrimination?
I have had some cases. I remember one lascivious crime that made a deep impression on me. We were unarmed, without evidence. For me the man was guilty, but we did not have all the elements to prove it. Doubt always favors the accused. It is better to absolve an offender than to punish an innocent.
You have conducted very complex and significant trials. Have you ever felt any popular pressure or the province authorities’ when pronouncing sentence?
That pressure is felt inside ourselves, but when we make a decision we have nobody’s influence. We reach a decision in accordance with the regulations of the Supreme People’s Court (TSP, in Spanish). The judges owe obedience only to law.
How many times have you made a mistake when imposing a sentence?
I cannot tell. The TSP has made corrections in my courtroom, but on those occasions I had not been acting as a judge rapporteur, but as an integral part of the court. We collegiate the decisions.
Of course those corrections hurt our professionalism, but the TSP does so for the sake of justice. There’s always something to learn because judges don’t have the absolute truth. Since we judge in every area, we must have at least a minimal knowledge of the topics we deal with. We, the judges, hold in our hands two essential issues: the freedom and the life of the people.
Have you ever thought of yourself being in the dock?
I have not. But I was once called as a witness because while I was presiding over a trial in Yaguajay, the defendant tried to escape. When they tried him for that crime, I had to testify. I got very nervous in front of the court, despite they were my fellow workers.
FIRST OF ALL, A MOTHER
Her voice, which at times I hear blinking, tells me that nerves have not dried up in this woman. “I do not like publicity”, said the person who presided over the Municipal People’s Court of Cabaiguán for more than six years, has been part of the supervision team of the TSP since 1999 and has a large participation in postgraduate courses and provincial, national and international events.
“I have dedicated my life to court. When I worked in Sancti Spíritus, we were in charge of the eight municipalities and there were times in which, for example, trials were concluded at two in the morning in Trinidad. Luckily I had the help of my mother, my brothers, my sisters-in-law”, said Carmen Rosa who regrets not having spent more time with her daughter as a child. “Today I enjoy my granddaughter Lauren; I play with her in the park …”, she adds in a relaxed tone, which does not remind me of the sober and self-confident judge that I have seen conduct an oral hearing more tan once.
I did not ask this outstanding professional, who in her times of insatiable reading preferred either Victor Hugo’s Los miserables or Samuel Feijóo’s Juan Quin Quin in Pueblo Mocho, if she ever dreamed of her daughter following her footsteps. What I am sure of is that my colleague, journalist Dayamis Sotolongo Rojas, is eager to know what I wrote about her mother.
“In case Margaret did not tell you …”, my co-worker began to say and I saw the closing of the interview portrayed in the young woman’s sharp eyes. One of the few times in which her mother lost her moderation on the stand was when a “mother” retracted and covered up, before the perplexed court, the rape of her daughter by a neighbor. And although Carmen Rosa swears up and down that judges are impartial, a MOTHER, never is.