Hopes for Democracy Won't Stay Buried in Cuba

Sunday, January 17, 2016
By Frank Calzon in The Sun-Sentinel:

Hopes for democracy won't stay buried in Cuba

People should remember what the dictators have done

It is the 57th anniversary of Fidel Castro's triumphant march into Havana, after dictator Batista fled in 1959.

Fidel entered the city on Jan. 8; a few days earlier his brother Raul had taken control of Santiago, Cuba's second largest city. On Jan. 10, Raul Castro, now president of Cuba, ordered a long, deep trench dug near the historical San Juan Hill, site of the U.S. skirmishes against the Spanish led by Teddy Roosevelt, which took place and on Jan. 11. His army's trucks hauled 70 Cuban nationals to the site, lined them up and executed them. Their bodies fell into the trench and were buried. There were no trials or "due process."

That action ought to enlighten Americans today as to nature of the Castro regime and the character of the man who inherited the Cuban presidency from his ailing brother and is now engaged with U.S. President Barack Obama in making decisions affecting Cuba's future and relationship with the United States.

While Fidel Castro enthralled Habaneros with long speeches, the most important promise of the Castros' revolution was immediately betrayed and abandoned. Fidel had repeatedly said that once Batista was gone, Cuba's Constitution would be reinstated. Millions celebrated the departure of Batista and arrival of Fidel's self-declared "democratic revolution." Cuba's Constitution prohibits the death penalty. Fidel's promise of democracy rapidly disappeared, and neither brother shows any new respect for the rule of law.

Cuban Army trucks hauled the doomed Cubans to the hill. Some cried, others pleaded to live professing support for the Castro Revolution. Some were blindfolded. Many remained silent. One execution was delayed several hours to accommodate TV crews who wanted better lighting to film the grisly event. Time magazine reported the details in its Jan. 26, 1959, edition.

As in Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union's communist rule, where similar mass executions took place, there is no marker indicating where the Cubans' remains lie. There is also no marker at the cemetery in Havana where Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa is buried.

Ochoa joined the Castros' rebel army in the Oriente mountains as a young boy, eventually becoming part of Fidel's personal guard. He became a general leading the Cuban armies in Angola, was very popular with the enlisted men and known for cracking jokes about Fidel's leadership. After all, none of Fidel's skirmishes against Batista compared with the bombing campaigns and the tank warfare that the general directed in Africa. In a speech, Cuba's minister of defense Raul Castro, Arnoldo's longtime friend, warned Arnoldo that jokes about Fidel were "not funny."

Fidel Castro ordered the general's home wired and taped everything said. In a kangaroo-court trial, the general and "Hero of the Revolution" was sentenced to die, marched to the infamous "paredon" (execution wall) and buried in an unmarked tomb. Perhaps, after the Castros are no longer in power, his name will be inscribed on the door, and the tomb will become a tourist attraction at Colon Cemetery.

These are the Castro brothers that Obama hopes to embrace during his planned visit to Havana this spring. Indeed, the smiling Raul Castro shown in a photograph taken at the United Nations with the president and Michelle Obama is the same man who, in 1996, ordered Cuban MIGs to shoot down civilian Americans flying in international airspace and searching for refugees adrift in the Florida Straits. Raul Castro awarded the MIG pilots medals and hailed as a "hero" one of the Cuban spies, Gerardo Hernandez, who was convicted in U.S. courts of helping to plan the murders.

Obama ordered Hernandez released in 2014 as part of a deal to restore diplomatic relations.

The president argues that much of what happened that triggered American animosity toward Cuba happened before he was born. Yet it does matter to Cuban Americans today. And it will matter to Cubans tomorrow when they learn the real history of the island and the story of the American president who meant well and inspired their hopes and then turned his back on the people of Cuba to embrace another dictator, as so many of his predecessors did.