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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Remembering Castro Regime's Extreme Cruelty Against Emigrants

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” - Elie Wiesel
Guantanamo Naval Base U.S. Navy photo by Chief Bill Mesta.
 Today, as the subject of immigration is all over the news, its appropriate to recall the culmination of a series of actions of extreme cruelty visited on Cubans who were just trying to leave Cuba twenty years ago that have still not been dealt with in a just manner.

The location of these crimes was within sight of the Guantanamo Naval Base run by the United State. This was nine years before the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp was established. There were no detainees from the war on terror being held on the base.

Nevertheless acts of extreme cruelty were taking place that for a short time drew attention. U.S. soldiers patrolling the perimeter of the base had been surprised by the sounds of explosions then horrified by what they observed. This led to a formal diplomatic note to the Cuban government by the Clinton Administration. This in turn led to a front page story in The Miami Herald on July 7, 1993 which described what the soldiers had witnessed:
Cuban marine patrols, determined to stop refugees from reaching the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, have repeatedly tossed grenades and shot at fleeing swimmers and recovered some bodies with gaff hooks, U.S. officials charged Tuesday. At least three Cubans have been killed in the past month as Cuban patrol boats attacked swimmers within sight of U.S. Navy personnel at Guantanamo.
Unfortunately, inside of Cuba human rights defenders are systematically persecuted and when they document certain events that the dictatorship does not want to be known the consequences for them can be severe.

Francisco Chaviano González, a former mathematics teacher, and human rights defender was the president of the National Council for Civil Rights in Cuba (Consejo Nacional por los Derechos Civiles en Cuba - CNDCC), an organization whose work included "documenting the cases of Cubans who have been lost at sea trying to leave the country."

Francisco Chaviano: 13 years in prison for investigating missing Cubans
Francisco was trying to investigate the cases of a number of Cubans who had gone missing. He was  warned by state security to stop his human rights work or he would be arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He refused to leave and was detained, drugged and subjected to a military trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison of which he served 13 years in terrible conditions suffering numerous beatings and the denial of healthcare which led to a wholesale decline in his health. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

What was it that the Cuban government feared would be revealed? The 1993 complaint from the Clinton Administration offers a glimpsed into the extreme cruelty of the Castro regime against Cuban migrants in five separate incidents:
* On June 19 at 2 p.m., U.S. guards, startled by the sounds of detonations, saw Cuban troops aboard patrol boats dropping grenades in the paths of several swimmers headed for the U.S. base.
* On June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Cuban troops repeated the action, then strafed the water with machine-gun fire.
* On June 26 at 11 a.m., three patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
* On June 27 at 11:30 a.m., guards aboard patrol boats lobbed two grenades into the water.
* The same day, just before 3 p.m., a patrol boat opened automatic fire on a group of swimmers, who were later seen being pulled from the water. The swimmers' status was unknown.
U.S. officials said they did not know how many people had been killed in the recent Guantanamo incidents, but said at least three could not have survived the attacks.
Twenty years have passed since these atrocities took place. The Cuban government has escaped accountability for these crimes and in turn have perpetrated new ones. A year after these atrocities they were caught in the midst of a massacre in which 37 fleeing Cubans were massacred aboard the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994.  This crime received better documentation but no one has been held accountable. The crimes have continued and nonviolent heroes such as Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante also died under suspicious circumstances  on July 22, 2012 that demand accountability. The fact that no high ranking Cuban official has had to answer for these atrocities has only meant that more have and will continue to be committed. This should not be a surprise. The Roman philosopher Cicero understood  that "The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity."

For those who advocate forgiveness and reconciliation in Cuba, the Free Cuba Foundation agrees with you, but we leave an important caveat first stated by Lewis B. Smedes, a theologian: When you give up vengeance, make sure you are not giving up on justice.