Many like to romanticize the Cuban revolution and the brutal Castro dictatorship. For millions of its victims, however, the Castro dictatorship and its revolution represents 59 years of violent oppression, killings, and massacres.
January: anniversary of the Cuban Revolution and of its many killings
January 1st marked the 59th anniversary of the ascent to power of the Castro regime; its promise was to restore democracy and the rule of law after five and a half years of the Batista dictatorship. Instead, it marks the beginning of a regime of death and terror that persists almost six decades later.
Just the deaths and disappearances documented by Cuba Archive as having occurred in the anniversary month of the revolution total 685. The January sample includes executions, extrajudicial assassinations, forced disappearances, victims of terrorism sponsored by Cuba, death by hunger strike, suicides/alleged suicides, prisoners dying from lack of medical care, and deaths resulting from gross negligence. The victims are mostly Cubans, yet citizens of six countries are also part of this tragic toll. The last documented case for a January is from January 30, 2015, when Alexander Rosell Rodríguez, age 34, died a day after receiving a beating by prison guards at the Provincial prison of Quivicán for having demanded medical attention for a painful toothache. He had been imprisoned for 17 years since, when he was only 17, he had been convicted for planning to steal doves.
Following are highlights of some of the mass killings from the January anniversaries. (Find all individual records at www.database.CubaArchive.org.)
January 12, 1959: The San Juan Hill Massacre.
71 men were executed by order of Raúl Castro, most were members of the constitutional armed forces and police.
Just 11 days after the triumph of the Revolution, 71 men from the Santiago de Cuba area considered Batista supporters were rounded up and subjected to a summary trial by an ad-hoc “revolutionary tribunal” without due process guarantees or evidence of their alleged crimes. Many were career officers well-respected in their communities whose only “crime” was having worn a uniform of the Armed Forces or police during the Batista regime. By order of Raúl Castro, they were sentenced to death and immediately sent to their execution. In the early morning hours of January 12th, they were lined up in pairs and shot by firing squad in front of ditches that had been dug up at a shooting practice field in San Juan Hill. The mass graves were then filled by a bulldozer. Witnesses report that some of the men were buried alive.
Benito Cortés Maldonado, age 39, was one of the victims of the San Juan Hill massacre. A policeman and pilot, he was a U.S. citizen born in Puerto whose parents had gone to Cuba to establish the family’s enterprises. Benito loved the police force and when he came of age, decided to join. He married a Cuban woman, had five children, and lived and worked in Palma Soriano, near Santiago. After Batista’s coup d’etat, he continued to serve and, according to his family, never hurt anyone. On January 1, 1959, after Batista fled the country, Benito did not go into hiding, stating he had nothing to fear because he was well regarded, had always done his duty, and had never committed any crimes. But, on January 11th he was arrested, falsely accused of raping a woman and sentenced to death.
January 11-12, 2010: Mass death at Mazorra.
26 to 56 patients died of hypothermia at Havana’s Psychiatric Hospital from criminal negligence.
Havana’s large psychiatric hospital, Mazorra, was missing many windows when the weather turned unseasonably cold. Around 2,500 severely malnourished patients were barely clothed and had no blankets. Dozens died of hypothermia and many others were hospitalized in critical condition. No information was provided to the public and workers were instructed to stay silent as a security operative was mounted outside the hospital. However, human rights’ defenders alerted public opinion and circulated on the internet pictures smuggled from the morgue of some of the emaciated bodies with evidence of physical abuse. People living near the hospital reported that workers customarily stole the facility’s food and supplies to sell in the black market and that it was common to see patients begging in nearby streets. The Cuban government then reported 26 deaths and declared that those responsible would be held accountable. Other reports indicate the victims were many more. A year later, 15 hospital workers faced trial and were convicted to 6 to 15 years of prison -the hospital director received the highest sentence.
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