The Day They Shot Ochoa

A screen shot of General Arnaldo Ochoa at the televised trial where he was sentenced to death by firing squad. (CC)

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 15 July 2017 — July 13, 1989, began with a morning of radiant sun, however since that day, the fear of injustice and a terrible coldness stole from me that peak of inner tranquility that I might have had and for a long time now has crushed me.

I did not hear the shots, nor screams, much less the smothered moans, but somewhere in Havana they escaped through the orifices caused by the bullets, or perhaps through their half opened mouths as they collapsed the souls of the four Cubans who had been executed.

The maximum penalty for a crime that could have been paid for with prison. For me, an injustice in the midst of the 20th century in a country that talked about justice.

The neighborhood, and I dare say the people, began their day like any other. I remember that I cared for my children as usual, taking one to school and their other to daycare.

Those of us who knew what was going to happen stood watch in the silence of the morning, that began to feel dense and irritating when we though about what happened without being able to speak openly of the conflict that, we felt, had been brought to an exaggerated end.

Four soldiers betrayed Fidel Castro’s revolution, sufficient for such a sentence. That was the biggest of the reasons, and so it remains.

Just after nine o’clock in the morning the radio reported that General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Major Amado Padron, and Captain Jorge Martinez had been shot dead in a military compound, a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

From that moment I had the lucidity to understand that the four faces that had been waiting for us during the long sessions of the televised trial had ceased to exist. It was not even a mitigating factor that Ochoa, the man who won the Ethiopian war against Somalia and risked his life on so many occasions for Cuba, would be no more.

Fidel Castro in the company of General Arnaldo Ochoa. (CC)

We were told that they had all carried out operations during the last year and a half in which they transferred tons of cocaine produced in Medellín to the United States, and through their ties with Pablo Escobar they had plans to carry out new and more ambitious shipments. Hence, what would have been a matter to be resolved within the tight circle of the armed forces became a matter of maximum betrayal of the country.

Fidel Castro tried with that decision to launder his own image and that of the Revolution, while at the same time reinforcing his authority and the discipline of the armed forces at a time when Soviet perestroika had isolated Cuba from the rest of the socialist countries.

Knowing the rebellious personality the main soldier executed, Ochoa and the subsequent dismissal of those in high positions of the government administration, some came to think that the Ochoa case was in fact an aborted military coup.

And I ask myself: how many did the Revolution betray afterwards? How many crimes did they commit and of what scale which, although we suspect, have not seen the light of day and will not be known until the regime falls.

Today it is 28 years. The bodies were never seen.