April 2013 marks a decade since once of the most depressing moments of post-revolutionary history: the so-called Black Spring. It was a time when Fidel Castro, excited about what he assumed was a revolutionary wave in Latin America and the arrival of the first subsidies from Venezuelans, decided to eradicate every sign of discontent and opposition that had accumulated along the road of defeat-after-defeat-until-the-final-victory that he had laid out. The pretext was, as it had been since 1959, shutting the door to the imperialist threat.
Although the Black Spring is remembered above all for the imprisonment of 75 opposition activists without due process, I focus my attention on another event: the shooting of three black youths for the failed hijacking of a passenger ferry that crossed Havana Bay.
As is well-known, a group of eleven young people participated in this criminal act on April 2, 2003, intending to reach the coast of Florida. This involved taking thirty passengers hostage, including two foreign girls who converted to kidnappers and who became, for the police, key pieces in the negotiations. Finally the boat ran out of gas, prompting the hijackers to accept a settlement that only their naivete could support: be towed to the dock at Mariel where they would be refueled so they could resume their journey north.
The result was the capture of all the hijackers without any physical injury to any passenger. On April 8 a summary trial concluded, at which the detainees had had no access to an attorney of their choice. Three of them — Lorenzo Capello, 31; Bárbaro Sevilla, 22; and Jorge Martínez, 40 — were sentenced to death, while others were punished with sentences ranging from life in prison to two years.
According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Cuban State had proceeded to “try and condemn them without the guarantees of due process,” adding “because of the type of offenses committed by alleged victims (under the applied law) the death penalty did not apply, only a penalty of deprivation of liberty.”
In the galactic time of three days, the sentences were reviewed by the Supreme Court and the Council of State, whose members unanimously upheld the execution of the three youths. Finally, they were shot on April 11, without notification to their families — who were confident the entire time that the order would be reversed — or allowing them to say goodbye. This means that in the nine days that elapsed between April 2 and 11, the lives of three people proceeded to execution, including time for appeals.
The Council of State based its decision, to quote Fidel Castro — in a four-hour tirade that followed the execution — on “the potential dangers that involved not only in the lives of many innocent people but also for the security of the country — subject to a sinister plan of hatched by the most extremist sectors of the United States Government and its allies in the Miami terrorist mafia with the sole purpose of creating conditions and pretexts to attack our country.”
That is, according to Fidel Castro, three young Cubans who did not commit acts of bloodshed, nor take any life, were shot in order to deal with the alleged threat from the United States government headed by then George W. Bush; thus it is conceivable that a decision was made against Cuban citizens based on the attitudes of the American president. Who, in this way, became a legal and internal political actor in Cuba, making Fidel Castro a common “Plattist” (supporter of the Platt Amendment) who accepted the power of interference.
And it happened again some time later, when other Cubans hijacked a boat on the north coast, but this time with more severe acts of violence, and yet that time they were not sentenced to death because that was the condition set by the American government for it to began to returning to Cuba Cubans intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. In this case, again, the American government imparted justice and decided on the life of Cuban citizens. And again the Cuban leaders joined the bandwagon of “Plattism.”
To make the ignominy worse, 27 Cuban intellectuals and officials took it upon themselves to produce a plaintive document in which they declared to “friends of the world” that “in order to defend itself Cuba has been forced to take energetic measures that naturally it did not wish to,” and called for a repudiation of “the great campaign to isolate us and prepare the ground for United States military aggression against Cuba.”
Among in the intellectuals appeared creatures who never missed an opportunity to dabble in the mud, as is the case with Silvio Rodríguez, Miguel Barnet and Amaury Perez. Nor were other erudite officials missing — to call them intellectuals would be unpardonable hyperbole — such as Carlos Martí, Eusebio Leal and Alfredo Guevara. But also signing were figures from whom one would have expected, at least, an opportune withdrawal, as was the case with Leo Brouwer, Chucho Valdés, Roberto Fabelo, the late Cintio Vitier, his wife García Marruz and Marta Valdés.
The most aberrant aspect of the document was that it held Cuba responsible for the ignominy, when in reality it was only a very small part of it that was guilty. The majority of Cubans knew nothing about it until the newspaper Granma published it, without any contrasting version, and always under the threat of police billy clubs which in those days were swung more quickly than ever.
Nor were the emigrants, who are also Cuban, and who in their vast majority have nothing to do with the metaphor of the “Miami Mafia,” a part of this decision. And most importantly, the executed young people and their families were a legitimate part of Cuba. Consequently, not only was the criminal decision made behind the backs of the majority of Cubans, but also against them.
It is likely that, with the passage of time, this event is weighing on the minds of those who opted for the summary execution of three young black men. It is possible, for example, that in his wanderings as a hospital administrator with no future, then vice-president Carlos Lage has thought about this, as did the Felipe Perez Roque, then Foreign Minister, when he wrote his little note of repentance and noted that he felt a lack of firmness in his pulse when he signed the confirmation of the crime. And it’s possible that when the castrated spokespeople of authoritarianism look back, they will also feel some regret for having called on their friends and not blushing, when faced with the ignominy and the crime.
Another chance for them that Barbaro Sevilla, Lorenzo Copello and Jorge Martinez didn’t have.
Nobody gave them an opportunity to repent.
Translated from Cubaencuentro.
8 April 2013