How to describe the new dictator of Cuba?
Cold. Blooded. Killer.
Raúl Castro, as longtime member of Cuba’s Council of State, has been signing execution orders for years. But, his killing career began early on. In 1956, while in exile in Mexico, he murdered a former comrade. During the revolutionary struggle in the mountains, he executed deserters and informants. In the early days of the Revolution, while in charge of the Oriente province, he had hundreds of men killed. In one day alone, he ordered at least 72 men executed without trial in the city of Santiago. All throughout the night of January 12, 1959 and into the following day, successive groups of men were lined up in front of ditches at San Juan Hill and shot by firing squads. Raúl is reported to have gleefully delivered the coup d’grace on a few. Afterwards, a bulldozer was brought in to cover the mass graves. Among the victims was policeman Benito Cortés, an American citizen born in Puerto Rico and father of five. In 1966, Raúl had the bodies exhumed, encased in concrete, and dumped into deep waters off the coast of Cuba.
Cuba Archive has documented dozens of people, including many children, killed attempting to escape Cuba with Raúl in a leading role. His Air Force carried out the Canimar River Massacre of July 6, 1980, when dozens were murdered. Many more unarmed civilians are believed to have suffered similar fate at the hand of special Air Force units dedicated to spotting and sinking rafts. Like countless others, on January 19, 1994, two young men -Iskander Maleras and Luis Angel Valverde- were killed by Cuban border guards stationed around the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo operating under Raúl’s direct orders to shoot. He rewarded their deed with medals and promotions.
As Defense Minister, Raúl Castro is responsible for war crimes in and out of Cuba. During the rural uprising of the sixties, his armed forces set fire and executed hundreds of prisoners on the spot. During the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, five prisoners were executed shortly after their capture; nine were deliberately asphyxiated in a trailer truck. The toll of victims multiplies over the course of decades with Cuba’s international military incursions in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. Intentional attacks on civilian populations in Angola are part of his legacy.
That Raúl’s promotion happens on the anniversary of one of his noteworthy crimes is not without significance. On February 24, 1996, as dozens of members of Cuba’s peaceful opposition were rounded up, Cuban MIGs shot down two unarmed civilian airplanes in international airspace while flying a humanitarian search and rescue mission for the non-profit group “Brothers to the Rescue.” Three U.S. citizens, including a Vietnam War veteran, and a young man formerly rescued by the group perished. The incident was condemned by the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal and the Cuban government was found by a U.S. Superior Court to have committed premeditated murder.
For more information on the dictatorship's victims, visit Cuba Archive.