Two former Latin American heads of state have been much in the news lately. One because he passed away, the other because his death seems imminent. The terms "human rights abuses," along with "murders and tortures" appear consistently in the articles on one, while being almost completely absent from stories about the other.
One leader jailed more political prisoners as a percentage of population than Hilter and Stalin—and for three times as long. Modern history’s longest-suffering political prisoners languished in the prisons and forced-labor camps established by his regime. According to the Harvard-published “Black Book of Communism,” he executed 14,000 subjects by firing squad. These ranged in age from 16 to 68 and included several women, at least one of them pregnant. According to the scholars and researchers at the Cuba Archive, his regime’s total death toll—from torture, prison beatings, machine gunning of escapees, drownings, etc.—comes to more than 112,000. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have suffered in his gulag and torture chambers. Today, 47 years after the establishment of the totalitarian police state, political prisoners still languish in his regime’s prisons for quoting Martin Luther King and Gandhi.
He is the one where the news articles omit the terms "human rights abuses, torture and murders" and where "gains in health care and literacy" predominate.
One led a coup to oust a Marxist regime that had been declared unconstitutional by his nation’s legislature and Supreme Court. In the "dirty war" immediately following the coup 3,000 people were killed and 30,000 arrested. Within a few years, all had been released or exiled.
He is the one reviled for "human rights abuses, killings and tortures."
In a Reuters article titled "Legacies Bind Castro, Pinochet in Their Twilight," which ran everywhere from the Washington Post to MSNBC, Anthony Boadle dispenses with the subtleties and tackles the double standard head on. "Dozens of Pinochet’s agents were convicted of assassination and torture," he writes, "and Castro’s government has not hesitated to jail dissidents. But there are no credible reports of disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture in Cuba since the early 1960s, according to human rights groups."
Just what "human rights groups" Boadle consulted he doesn’t say. But let’s hand it to him for boldly displaying his bias on his shirtsleeve. His concern with "extrajudicial killings" presents a thoroughly fascinating specimen of logic. Applying it to other historical settings we discover that the regimes responsible for the Great Terror and the Nuremberg Laws are preferable to the one responsible for the Kent State killings. The first two were perfectly "judicial," after all. The third was not.
Indeed, Stalin’s massacres were usually preceded by "trials" featuring detailed "confessions" from the "criminals" with cameras and reporters on hand lest anyone doubt these proceeding’s scrupulously "judicial" nature. Among the westerners who lauded these trials’ propriety were Albert Einstein, Lillian Hellman and the New York Times’ Walter Duranty. We can only suspect that Anthony Boadle would have followed suit.
The very trademark of a totalitarian regime is that its mass-murders, mass-jailings and mass-larcenies are all perfectly "judicial," because every judge is a regime apparatchik. Any judge who temporizes over the rubber-stamping of a Communist regime decree disappears, not just from his bench, but from the face of the earth. His former colleagues, or perhaps his successor, then sign the proper documentation making his disappearance properly "judicial."
Fidel and Raul Castro had barely set up shop in Havana in February 1959 when this very fate befell a judge named Felix Pena, who made the fatal mistake of seeking actual evidence to determine the guilt or innocence of Cuba’s Air Force officers. The Castro Brothers had decreed them guilty en masse (along with their planes’ mechanics!) of "genocide" and demanded summary sentencing. Judge Pena foolishly assumed that the norms of civilized jurisprudence still prevailed in Cuba and was soon found slumped in a blood spattered car with a bullet through his head. Boadle will be pleased to learn that Castro’s regime ruled Judge Pena’s death—quite judicially—a suicide.
Edwin Tetlow, Havana correspondent for London’s Daily Telegraph, started having second thoughts about the revolution he hailed in his reporting after attending a mass "trial" in 1959 in Havana’s La Cabana prison, where he noticed the death sentences posted on a board—before the trials had started.
"The whole procedure was sickening," wrote New York Times (no less!) correspondent, Ruby Hart Phillips about a trial she attended in Havana in early 1959. "The defense attorney made absolutely no defense, instead he apologized to the court for defending the prisoner."
Castro’s chief hangman, Che Guevara , had laid down the rules very succinctly: "Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution! We execute from revolutionary conviction."
But let’s fast forward to that period Boadle assures us is untainted by any "extra-judicial killings." A 17-year-old named Orlando Travieso was armed with only a homemade paddle when he was machine-gunned to death in March 1991. His crime was trying to flee Cuba on a tiny raft. Loamis Gonzalez was 15 when he was machine gunned to death for the same crime. Owen Delgado was 15 when Castro’s police dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy where he sought asylum and clubbed him to death with rifle butts.
Boadle will be pleased that these boys and thousands upon thousands of others who perished in similar fashion well after the early 1960s were all deemed "criminals” by Castro’s judicial system.
Angel Abreu and Jose Nicol were 3, Gisele Borges and Caridad Leyva were 4 and Cindy and Yolindis Rodriguez were 2 on July 17, 1994, when their mothers held them in a tight embrace on the deck of a tugboat. Castro’s coast guard rammed the tugboat and water-cannoned them from their screaming mothers arms and into a turbulent sea to drown. Boadle will be pleased that Castro’s regime ruled this—quite judicially— an "accident."