Saturday, December 16, 2017

Remembering some of the victims of Cuban communism: Three young black men executed by firing squad in 2003

"Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world." - Mishnah  (1135-1204) 

Lorenzo Enrique Copello, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla and Jorge Luis Martínez
Some psychologists argue that as the number of victims increase into the hundreds, and thousands that compassion collapses out of the human fear of being overwhelmed. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin put it more succinctly: "When one man dies it's a tragedy. When thousands die it's statistics." In the case of Cuba the communist regime has killed tens of thousands, and many have become numb in the face of this horror. Therefore on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first communist regime in Russia, that caused so much harm around the world, will focus on an infinitesimal sampling of some of the victims of Cuban communism.  

The eleventh entry remembers three young black men executed by firing squad in 2003 for having hijacked a ferry in an effort to reach the United States.

Previous entries in this series were about Cubans trying to change the system nonviolently, Cubans who tried to leave the island, a student shot to death for walking down the wrong sidewalk in Havana, and thetenth entry was a young Ethiopian woman murdered in a red terror in her homeland for unknown reasons in 1978.

Three men, Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla García and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, were among a group who hijacked a Cuban ferry with passengers on board on April 2, 2003 and tried to force it to the United States. The incident ended without bloodshed, after a standoff with Cuban security forces. They were executed nine days later, following a summary trial, by firing squad.

Eleven individuals attempted to hijack the small ferry “Baraguá” that covered a route between Havana and the neighboring town of Casablanca with the goal of arriving in the United States, but it ran out of gas. Officials were able to retake the vessel without loss of life or injury to the fifty passengers on board. Within a week the three men were condemned to death for committing "acts of terrorism" in a summary trial that lasted less than a day.

They did not have a political agenda. Their only goal was fleeing Cuba to the United States.  Questions were raised at the time that if they had been white and not black they would not have been executed.

ID of defense attorney Jorge R. Betancourt Ortega
 Defense attorney's testimony
In October of 2014 Jorge R. Betancourt Ortega, one of the government appointed defense attorneys of the executed men, spoke of the irregularities surrounding the case including that the three men had been executed before the defense received the result of their appeal to the Supreme Court affirming that "there was no time," in an exclusive interview with El Nuevo Herald.

"The trial was Tuesday, April 8th and the appeal, Wednesday the 9th. I didn't go to work on Thursday and on Friday arrived at the Supreme Tribunal and the secretary told that they had a sentence. I swear to you I never imagined that they would do that. I went quickly to look for the decision and it was the ratification of the death sentence, something strange because death sentences need to be ratified by the Council of State," told Betancourt who was an attorney of the Collective Law firm of Old Havana and assigned to the case "ex officio" to El Nuevo Herald's Nora Gámez Torres in 2014.

Betancourt continued: ""I went crazy, I almost got hit by a car. When I arrived at the office, I told the director 'today is Friday and look what they have given me here. This is a bomb, what am I going to do now? Do I call the relatives? I'm not going to send the relatives to the office because it would generate a conflict here 'and he said' do not worry much, they shot them at dawn.'"

Ramona Copello mourns the execution of her son Lorenzo Enrique in 2003
 Mother of one of the men executed spoke out
On April 12, 2003 the Spanish newspaper El Pais  published an interview with Ramona Copello, the mother of Lorenzo Enrique Copello Castillo, who affirmed that she had not been able to speak to her son before his execution. "I felt tremendous feelings for the Comandante, I even loved him, but I do not love him anymore because he murdered my son," she told several foreign journalists at her home in the Mantilla neighborhood. She added that she had been told that her son was already buried. "They gave me a card with the number of the vault so I know where he is buried," she added. "I was revolutionary and now I'm not," said Ramona, who said she was "willing to do everything for my son that they shot." Lorenzo Enrique was 31 years old and left behind a widow and an 11 year old daughter, who last saw her dad on April 10, 2003. He worked as a caretaker in a health center.

Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla executed in 2003
Disturbances and police mobilized
El Pais also reported in the same article on how another family reacted. "According to eyewitnesses, in the neighborhood of Central Havana, where Bárbaro Leodán Sevilla lived, who was 21 years old, some incidents were recorded when the execution was reported to his family. Sevilla's mother suffered a nervous breakdown upon hearing the news and went out of the house shouting against the government and crying, to which dozens of neighbors joined. The police arrived to control the situation and kept the area cordoned off all day long."

On April 25, 2003 Fidel Castro appears on television to defend the three executions, and show trials against nonviolent dissidents that had taken place in parallel. The official transcript leaves out unscripted comments by the old dictator who referred to the three executed men as the "tres negritos" which translates into English as the "three pickaninnies."

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