The Ambassador in Cuba (Guggenheim) to the Secretary of State

No. 1048

Sir: I have the honor to report that recent measures promulgated by the Cuban Government have substantially extended the jurisdiction of the military courts.

The Embassy has already reported the provisions of the amnesty law approved January 13, 1932, which conferred on the military courts jurisdiction over all offenses of whatever character committed by members of the armed forces during the succeeding 30 months. By Presidential decree dated February 2, 1932, rules and regulations were formulated to govern the organization of the national militia. According to the provisions of this decree the enlisted personnel of the militia comprises the national police, the police of the various municipalities and such other citizens as may be recruited in each of the several military districts.

The President yesterday approved a law amending the military penal code so as to invest the military courts with exclusive jurisdiction in the following cases:

Those instituted for infringement of the Explosives Law of July 10, 1894, committed within or without a military or naval zone, [Page 539] jointly by soldiers, policemen, sailors and civilians or merely by civilians alone.
Those instituted against any person even though not in the military service or the naval service, for the crimes of arson and destruction for which penalties are provided in the civil penal code, when committed during the harvest or period of time included between December 1st and May 31st, in cane fields, machinery or buildings of the mills for the manufacture of sugar, or on bridges, culverts, lines, stations, buildings or dependencies of the railroads of public service or of the aforesaid sugar mills; as well as in warehouses used for storing supplies, bags and agricultural products.
Those instituted for the crimes of treason and espionage, for which penalties are provided in the Military Penal Law, committed within or without the military or naval zones, jointly by soldiers or sailors and civilians, or merely by civilians alone.
Those instituted for all crimes and misdemeanors committed by members of the militia, in time of war, sedition, rebellion or of grave disturbance of the public peace, or while the constitutional guarantees are in suspense.

There is a transitory provision which appears to give retroactive effect to this law since it requires the civil courts within 20 days to transfer to the jurisdiction of the military courts all cases of the nature specified in the law which were not definitely disposed of on the date on which the law went into effect.

This law, which as a matter of fact merely gives legal countenance to a procedure which the Government has been following for months past, has deeply stirred the wrath of the opposition elements. There furthermore appears to be some doubt regarding the legitimacy of the procedure whereby it was passed by the House of Representatives on February 16. It is alleged on the authority of members of that body that the session at which the measure is supposed to have been adopted was called to order by a member having no authority to do so, almost an hour before the time when the sessions regularly begin, and that there were not more than half a dozen members present when the measure was voted upon. Carlos Manuel de la Cruz, leader of the Orthodox Conservative group, addressed a vigorous protest on the subject to the President of the House, but in the meantime, the law was certified as having been passed and was sent to the palace where the President’s signature was promptly affixed.

The measure was, of course, warmly sponsored by the Government as one likely to discourage further acts of terrorism. It is a sad but true commentary on the state of mind now prevailing in Cuba that the unpopularity of the Administration is so great that popular opinion condones the frequent bomb outrages, and the civil judges, [Page 540] whether consciously or unconsciously influenced by this opinion, have been inflicting penalties somewhat less severe than the gravity of these offenses would seem to have warranted.

A copy and translation of the law referred to will be furnished the Department in the near future.

Respectfully yours,

Harry F. Guggenheim