Red Killings in Cuba: The cost in Cuban lives
By Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter (for detailed links in the article - go here)
December 4, 2017
Over the past month victims of extrajudicial killings in Cuba have been profiled with an aim of getting away from dry statistics and focusing on the human cost at an individual level, but a few days ago a came across a discussion on numbers killed in Cuba. This blog entry seeks to join the discussion on death tolls, statistics, and the pursuit of accurate estimates, or in other word discuss numbers.
Death counts, statistics, and anecdotal evidence
The body Count
Glenn Garvin wrote an important essay one year ago on December 1, 2016 titled "Red Ink: The high human cost of the Cuban Revolution" and in it addresses the question of how many extrajudicial executions have taken place in Cuba. This blog addressed this issue before in 2012, but Garvin adds some new and critical insights to understanding the real nature of the Castro regime.
"University of Hawaii historian R. J. Rummel, who made a career out of studying what he termed “democide,” the killing of people by their own government, reported in 1987 that credible estimates of the Castro regime’s death toll ran from 35,000 to 141,000, with a median of 73,000."
Matthew White in the introduction to his 2011 book, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities explains that:
An exact body count is hard to come by for Castro’s regime in Cuba, but no one has ever suggested that he killed the hundreds of thousands necessary to be considered for a slot on my list. Many infamous brutes such as Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Vlad the Impaler, Caligula, and Augusto Pinochet easily fall short, as do many well known conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli wars and the Anglo-Boer War.
Garvin's 2016 article also cites Cuba Archive's death toll number of 7,193 but in 2006 Frances Robles reported that the same organization had a total of 31,173 cases documented. In the article 8,151 were broken down as follows: 5,728 killed by Castro firing squads, 1,207 extrajudicial killings after Castro took power and 1,216 deaths in prison. It'd be curious to learn how after 10 years of additional research (and new extrajudicial killings reported since then) that the number has gone down by 958 deaths. This does not include the debate over numbers who have been killed or died in the ocean fleeing the Castro regime. Nevertheless it is a low outlier among sources on regime killings in Cuba and raises questions on reporting criteria and how to arrive at a number that reflects historical reality.
Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, that studies the damage of communist regimes on persons and their communities places the difficulty in pinning down the number killed by the Castro regime in a methodology that began with the leadership of the Soviet Union of covering up their crimes and copied by their Cuban counterparts.
“Even after the Soviet Union fell, when some of its archives opened up for a time, all we really learned was the extent of the cover-up, all the measures the Soviets took to cover up their crimes. But we never got a precise number of victims, or their names. The Soviets didn’t want to keep precise records — they had learned their lesson from the Nazis, who did keep precise records, which were used to indict Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.”
Nevertheless Marion Smith agrees with the Rummel estimate, telling Garvin, “I think that’s a good range. It’s compatible with what we’re comfortable using, which is ‘tens of thousands.’” It is important to look into regime strategies for covering up crimes against humanity. This is a reasonable analysis with the current information at hand.
The Cuban Democratic Directorate in 2013 submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council's second universal periodic review of Cuba that studies eight specific cases of suspicious deaths and extrajudicial executions during a four year period. It reveals a sinister pattern of death threats, beatings, engineered car accidents, and the misuse of medicine to eliminate political enemies. Irving Louis Horowitz in The Long Night of Dark Intent: A Half Century of Cuban Communism summarized what was known in patterns of killing by the Castro regime in 2008:
The state led by Fidel and Raul Castro is responsible for thousands of firing squad executions and extrajudicial killings. Even conservative reports indicate over one thousand deaths in prisons, police stations, or State Security offices, as well as dozens of civilians murdered while trying to escape by sea or seeking asylum in foreign embassies and that the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo. Pregnant women have been assassinated in political prisons, and religious leaders and minors have been executed by firing squads. Nine extrajudicial killings and five deaths of prisoners for lack of medical attention were recorded for 2007
In The Black Book of Communism in chapter 25 "Communism in Latin America" by Pascal Fontaine states that in Cuba between 1959 through the late 1990s "between 15,000 and 17,000 people were shot." International human rights bodies such as The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) documented some of what was taking place during this period of time. The IACHR in their April 7, 1967 special report on Cuba documented that on May 25, 1963 the Castro regime issued orders to the armed forces that any peasant seen out of their home after 8:00pm and before 5:00am be executed without a trial by an official of the army or the militia. They also provided numerous examples of young Cubans who were detained and summarily executed. The same human rights body also documented the October 24, 1964 armed invasion of the Uruguayan embassy in Cuba by forces of the Cuban government in order to machine gun to death four Cubans that had sought asylum there.
On the dawn of May 27, 1966, around six in the morning until sunset, about six in the afternoon they were, executing, by firing squad and with single shots (coup de grâce) in the fortress of La Cabaña in Havana, political prisoners, civilians and military. The firing squad was composed of three members of the militia and one officer. The severity of these events is even greater, when one adds that the executed were previously subjected to the procedure of blood extraction to replenish the Blood Bank. On the above mentioned May 27th Cuban civilians and military were executed and subjected to the medical procedures for drawing blood at a rate of an average of 7 pints per person. This blood was being sold to Communist Vietnam at a rate of $ 50 per pint. Relatives to see their imprisoned loved ones also had to "donate" blood.
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. The three men were executed nine days later, following a summary trial, by firing squad.
Killing peasants who resisted
While Fidel Castro talked democracy in 1959 the firing squads were filmed and broadcast and the terror began to consolidate control. Those who had fought by his side in good faith believing the Revolution was a struggle to restore democracy became uneasy with the course of the new regime. Some, like Huber Matos, Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, and Mario Chanes de Armas who spoke out spent decades in prison. Many returned to the hills of the Escambray to carry on the struggle for the democratic restoration. This resistance was crushed in 1966 after five years of assistance from 400 Soviet counterinsurgency advisors.
Frank Calzon writing in National Review on November 10, 1978 about the six year peasant uprising in the Escambray and numbers killed citing official and non-official sources. "Raul Castro estimated that five hundred government soldiers died in order to kill or capture 3,591 " bandits." Writing in 1971, the British historian Hugh Thomas put the total slightly higher: "Minor guerrilla skirmishing has gone on most of the time in Oriente and other mountainous districts in an unsung war; rumors abound but probably at least four thousand guerilleros have been killed since 1962."
Mary O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal on November 12, 2017 reported on the beginning of "how the Soviets crushed the Escambray rebellion, which at one point numbered 8,000 insurgents. Castro had sent 12,000 soldiers and 80,000 militia to the region in late 1960, but they’d made no headway. So in January 1961 the Kremlin stepped in. It sent a contingent of Soviet coaches to a military compound near the city of Trinidad. That compound became a “KGB redoubt. ..."From there, the Soviets secretly directed a major offensive to quash the insurgency.” ..."The operation mobilized 70,000 Cuban soldiers and 110,000 militia. They 'uprooted most of the peasant families living in the area, and dragged them into concentration camps' in the far western part of the country. ...'The obsessive goal was total extermination,' so the government forces 'destroyed crops, burned huts and contaminated springs as they systematically combed the region for rebels or suspects.'” The Castro regime would carry out these practices in other countries after learning these methods from their Soviet handlers.
15 year old Cuban rafter died of dehydration in 1991
The IACHR also reported that on October 23, 1966 a group of young Cubans tried to flee Cuba swimming from the populated coast of Caimanera to the Guantanamo naval base. The "Frontier Batallion" of the Cuban government pursued them and shot them with automatic weapons killing three of the four, of which two were identified:Pedro Baraña age 35 and Francisco Arcano Galano age 21. Their bodies were found floating in Guantánamo Bay. The same type of action was denounced in 1993 when regime officials used snipers and grenades against defenseless swimmers.
In February of 1991 news accounts of the death by dehydration of 15-year-old Gregorio Perez Ricardo, a rafter fleeing Cuba, as U.S. Coast Guard officials tried to save his life made the news, but the question that arises is how many rafters since 1959 have perished in the straits fleeing Castroism or been murdered by Castro's border patrol?
In the 1995 monograph, The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty authored by human rights expert Holly Ackerman, and sociologist Juan M. Clark and published by the Policy Center of the Cuban American National Council placed the number of balseros, Cuban boat people, to have died trying to leave Cuba in a range with an upper limit of 100,000 over the first 36 years of the Castro regime. Professor Clark, who passed away in 2013, is the author of Castro's Revolution: Myths and Reality that was published posthumously in 2016 and covered with great detail the sociological impact of Castroism on Cuba and its human cost.
Estimates range widely on the number of Cubans who have died in the Florida Straits fleeing the Castro dictatorship. On February 17, 1994 Mimi Whitefield authored the article "U.N. Report: About 6 Cubans die every day fleeing island" in The Miami Herald. The article referred to a report prepared by Carl-Johan Groth. "Groth was appointed by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1992 as a special reporter on the human rights situation in Cuba." According to this report presented at the UNHRC in Geneva, "[a]bout 25 people try to flee Cuba every day and a quarter of those die in the attempt" and the special rapporteur broke it down as follows:
Groth said he estimated that about 25 people try to escape the island in illegal ways each day, and quoted "some sources" as saying that out of every four people who try to flee, one makes it, two are turned back by authorities or adverse conditions, and one dies.
Whitefield quoted a Clinton State Department official who monitored Cuba at the time claiming that Groth's statistics were "all anecdotal, but certainly it's a very dangerous passage and many people perish." Professor Juan Clark in the fourth edition of his monograph CUBA: EXODUS, LIVING CONDITIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS An Informative Summary" reported:
From 1959 through 1993, some 25,000 Cubans managed to escape from the island, mostly by sea in small boats and fragile rafts. Others fled by way of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo, which is encircled ‹on the Cuban side‹ by barbed-wired fences and heavily mined fields, much like those between the former East and West Germany. (See diagram below) It is estimated that only one of every three or four Cubans who have attempted to escape has been successful. Thousands have died in the attempt or have been captured and imprisoned.
Much like former East Germany, Guantanamo Naval Base contains a system of fences
and minefields that surround the Cuban side in order to impede escape through this route.
There are pages and pages of such documented events in IACHR special reports on Cuba from 1962, 1963, 1967, 1970, 1976 , 1979 and 1983.
Reading the debate over the numbers of victims of the Castro regime is reminiscent of the reception Cold War historian and Sovietologist Robert Conquest received for the estimates he provided in his 1968 book, The Great Terror where he said that Stalin's purges had claimed 20 million lives. Reaction from "respectable" academics was to ridicule his estimates. Following the end of the Cold War and the possibility to get into archives and document numbers it appeared that Conquest's estimates "were on the low end of the spectrum."
Nevertheless Conquest was in the ballpark, while many others were giving the Soviets a pass in mass murder, and his published works got the truth out and played a role in the end of the Soviet Union. Professor Juan Clark published several works, that like Robert Conquest's, provide well informed estimates on the crimes of the Castro regime and should be revisited and made known to a wider audience.