Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — This April marks a decade since one of the most depressing moments of recent Cuban history: Black Spring. It was a time when Fidel Castro, excited about what he recognized as a revolutionary wave in Latin America and the arrival of the first Venezuelan subsidies, decided to eradicate all signs of discontent and opposition that had accumulated along the path of defeat-after-defeat-until-the-final-victory he had outlined.
His pretext, as had been usual since 1959, was to stop the imperialist threat.
Although the Black Spring is remembered especially for the imprisonment of 75 opposition activists without due process, I’m focusing my attention on another event: the executions of three black youths for the failed hijacking of the Havana Bay ferry.
A group of eleven young people participated in this criminal act on April 2, 2003 with the aim of reaching the coast of Florida. This involved the kidnapping of 30 passengers, including two foreign women who became key parts of the negotiations between the hijackers and the police.
The boat finally ran out of gas, prompting the hijackers to accept a settlement that can only be explained by their naiveté: to be towed to the Mariel port where they would be refueled so they could resume their journey to the north.
The result was the capture of all the hijackers, which occurred successfully without any physical injuries to any of the dozens of hostages. On April 8th, a summary trial concluded in which the detainees had no right to lawyers of their choice.
Three of the young men (Lorenzo Capello, 31; Barbaro Sevilla, 22; and Jorge Martínez, 40) were sentenced to death, while others were punished with sentences ranging from life imprisonment to two years in prison.
According to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (of the Organization of the American States), the Cuban state proceeded to “try and find them guilty without due process.” Moreover, the body determined, “The offenses committed by the alleged victims (under the law applied) does not provide for the death penalty, but a prison sentence.”
In the galactic time span of three days, the sentences were reviewed by the Supreme Court and the Council of State, whose members unanimously pronounced the three youths be shot to death.
The men were killed on April 11, without notifying their families (who during all that time were confident of a reversal of the death order), nor were they allowed to bid farewell to the men. This means that in nine days (between April 2 and 11) the decision was handed down, appeals were made on the lives of three people, and their executions were carried out.
In a four-hour tirade about the shootings, Fidel Castro said the Council of State based its decision on “the potential dangers posed not only to the lives of many innocent people but also for the security of the country, subjected to a plan of alarming provocations hatched by the most extremist sectors of the US government and its allies of the terrorist Miami mafia with the sole purpose of creating conditions and pretexts for attacking our country.”
According to Fidel Castro, this means the shooting of the three young Cubans, who didn’t kill anyone, was to deal with the threat posed by the George W. Bush administration. Therefore, we can speculate that the decision was made against the Cubans because of Bush.
In this way, President Bush determined internal Cuban legal decisions, and Fidel Castro became a common “Plattist” (from the Platt Amendment) who accepted the intervention. He did this again later, when other Cubans hijacked a boat on the north coast. On that occasion there were more serious acts of violence, although no one was sentenced to death because that was the condition that the American government demanded for the return the hijackers after they were picked up by the US Coast Guard.
Again it was the US government that served justice and decided on the lives of Cuban citizens, and again the Cuban leaders got on the “Plattist” bandwagon.
To top the ignominy off, 27 Cuban intellectuals and officials were put in charge of producing a plaintive document declaring to the “the friends of the world” that “to defend Cuba, the government was forced to take forceful actions that it naturally didn’t wish to” and called on people to repudiate “the imposing campaign to isolate Cuba and prepare the stage for a military aggression against the island by the United States.”
The men were shot on April 11, without notifying their families (who during all that time were confident of a reversal of the death order), nor were they allowed to bid farewell to the men. This means that in nine days (between April 2 and 11) the decision was handed down, appeals were made on the lives of three people, and their executions were carried out.
Among the intellectuals were the usuals such as Silvio Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet and Amaury Perez. Nor was there a lack of enlightened officials such as Carlos Marti, Eusebio Leal and Alfredo Guevara. But also signing the letter were cultural figures that no one would have ever expected, people like Leo Brouwer, Chucho Valdes, Roberto Fabelo, the late Cintio Vitier, his wife Fina García and Marta Valdes Marruz.
The most aberrant aspect of this document was that it laid the blame for the ignominy on Cuba, when in fact only a very small part of it was guilty. Most Cubans didn’t know about the matter until Granma published a report on it, without an opposing version and always under the menace of a police baton that in those days swung more quickly than ever.
The emigrants, who are also Cuba, and whose vast majority has nothing to do with the metaphor of the “Miami Mafia,” weren’t part of that decision. And most importantly, the kidnappers who were shot and their families were legitimate parts of Cuba. Consequently, the decision wasn’t only criminal, behind the backs of the Cuban majority, but also against it.
It’s likely that over time, this fact is weighing on the minds of those who opted for the summary execution of three young black men. It’s possible, for example, that in his wanderings as a hospital administrator with no future, Carlos Lage has thought about this. Probably so did former foreign minister Perez-Roque when writing his little letter of regret and noting the lack of firmness he had when he signed the confirmation of the crime.
It’s possible that when the castrated spokespeople of authoritarianism look back, they too will feel some regret for calling on their friends not to blush in the face of the ignominy and crime.
Another chance for them that Barbaro Sevilla, Lorenzo Copello and Jorge Martinez didn’t have. Nobody gave them a chance for repentance.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by Cubaencuentro.com.