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CUBA: AT LEAST 147 REPORTED ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES BY THE CASTRO REGIME
On February 2nd 2009, Cuba ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). The Convention defines enforced disappearances as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
All States parties are obliged to submit reports to the U.N. Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which examines them and issues “concluding observations” with its findings and recommendations. The Committee released its findings on Cuba March 17th (2017). It noted that Cuba is not in compliance with the Convention and issued a resounding critique of the structure of the Cuban legal system, detailing some of its weaknesses.
It is heartening that a U.N. body has insisted on addressing Cuba’s lack of compliance --at least on paper-- with its international legal obligations. But, it is unfortunate that the actual practice of enforced disappearance was not addressed, as specific cases were not cited in any of the official documents, including in the CED's findings. As a result, the Cuban government again fragrantly insisted, without retort from the CED, that “there have been no cases of enforced disappearance in Cuba since 1959.”
The fact is that the Cuban government is evidently implicated in the enforced disappearance of at least 147 individuals and, likely, thousands more.
Cuba Archive has documented 890 disappearances of individuals attempting to flee Cuba by sea; in most cases, there is no information one way or the other of state involvement. Tens of thousands more persons are believed to have disappeared at sea, a tragedly that sadly continues, but have not been recorded for lacking systematic collection of this information. In addition, 40 individuals are documented to have disappeared while attempting to escape to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo and may have been killed by Cuban authorities, although many more cases have likely have occured. Given the historic practice of the Cuban regime of stopping those fleeing with deadly force, an undetermined number of those never found are reasonably presumed to have been forcibly disappeared. Cuba Archive has documented 166 cases of extrajudicial killings in exit attempts.
Furthermore, several hundred insurgents and members of the resistance who fought the Castro Communist regime in the 1960s are presumed forcibly disappeared. They were believed killed or missing in combat or executed without trial, and their families were denied information on their whereabouts as well as their remains.
Finally, the practice of arbitrary detention continues in Cuba and often involves enforced disappearance for hours or days. In 2016 alone there were at least 9,351 such arbitrary detentions.
SELECTED ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES
Following is a selection from the 147 documented cases of individuals whose loved ones believe were disappeared with the involvement of state agents. 7 of these cases occurred after Cuba ratified the Convention and 5 after it came into full force in December 2010. Case details may be viewed in the Report as well as in respective individual records that are part of the online database at www.CubaArchive.org.
These cases ought to all be investigated exhaustively by independent international experts with the cooperation of Cuban authorities.
Maximiliano Abreu Becerra, Ramón Estrada Murciego, Omar Pérez Hernández, Isidro Sánchez Vázquez, and Alfredo Torres Paz disappeared December 17, 2013 from Camaguey, Cuba. Five friends attempted to flee the island by boat and were never heard of again. One was an independent journalist trying to avoid arrest by State Security for his reports. Relatives believe they were entrapped by State Security and disappeared.
Alberto Sigas Hernández, age 32, disappeared January 15, 2010 after his arrest in Havana, Cuba. State Security (the political police) repeatedly threatened Alberto with his disappearance unless he abandoned his opposition activities. One morning, he left home in the company of a man believed to be a State Security collaborator or agent. Three days later, the local police station told his wife that Alberto was being held at State Security headquarters and would be released in 48-72 hours. He did not return and was never heard from again. His wife was pregnant and months later gave birth to a son.
Roberto Franco Alfaro, age 62, disappeared May 20, 2009 in Havana, Cuba. Roberto had been threatened by State Security with his disappearance unless he abandoned his opposition activities. One morning he left home to go fishing from the shore nearby and never returned. He left behind an elderly mother, a wife, and 8 year-old son.
Noel Abreu García, Jorge and Leonel García Sánchez, Idania García Quesada, and Enrique Vázquez Escobar disappeared December 24, 2004 in southern Cuba. The group headed to the southern coast of Cuba to flee by boat. A day earlier, the wife of one of them had reported their plan to authorities, seeking to prevent her husband from leaving. Idania, who was part of the group, was a human rights’ activist who had been repeatedly persecuted and threatened by the political police. Relatives believe they were all disappeared by authorities.
Luis Alberto Couseau Rizo, disappeared November 23, 1996 in Santiago de Cuba. Luis had served prison for 'enemy propaganda' and had been detained for a few hours before his disappearance. One day an unknown man showed up at his home and Luis was never seen again. The authorities refused to give the family information. For publicly denouncing the disappearance, Luis’ two brothers were imprisoned for "disrespect" and tortured.
Siblings Guillermo and Lyanella Alvarez Pérez, ages 29 and 24 respectively, disappeared with 4 others September 4, 1994 from Camaguey, Cuba. An escape attempt a month earlier had been foiled by an Informant and led to their detention. The siblings again tried to leave from the same location by raft with three friends (Giovanni, Dennis, and 15 year-old Yodelski) and an acquaintance, Roberto. 20 days later, State Security informed the parents that the group had drowned in a storm with exception of the acquaintance. They were not allowed to see or bring the remains home and were denied information including talking to the survivor. The family believes he was a State Security informant or agent and that the group was disappeared by authorities. After the tragedy, the parents were forbidden from seeking information and persecuted.
37 people, including 11 children, disappeared at high seas north of Cuba while escaping the country on a tugboat July 13, 1994. A group of 68 family members and friends attempted to escape Cuba for the U.S. on the “13 de marzo” tugboat in the middle of the night. Infiltrators had apparently reported on their plan and three tugboats awaiting in the dark started to chase after them. They sprayed the fleeing boat relentlessly with high-pressure water jets, ripping children from their parents’ arms and sweeping passengers off to sea, and finally rammed and sank it. Passengers pinned down in the cargo hold wailed in horror as they went down. Survivors clung to pieces of the wreckage as the pursuing tugboats circled around creating turbulence to make them drown. The attack stopped suddenly when a merchant ship with Greek flag approached Havana Harbor. Cuban Navy ships picked up the 31 survivors; the stunned women and children were interrogated and sent home, the men were kept in detention for months. 11 minors and 26 men and women went missing, no bodies were returned to their families for burial. Survivors and relatives of the victims were denied information and put under surveillance, dismissed from jobs, and systematically harassed by the authorities.
Brothers Otoniel and Rubén Rey Terrero, ages 22 and 25 respectively, disappeared September 12, 1993 from southeastern Cuba. The brothers left Santiago de Cuba planning to reach the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo and request asylum, but were never seen again. State Security agents threatened to imprison a brother who conducted an investigation; he believes they were assassinated by authorities.
Daniel Cosme Ramos, Miguel Guerra Mora, and Federico Martí Jiménez disappeared May 19, 1991 from Ciego de Avila, Cuba. Miguel, a 36 year-old father of two and dredging technician, commanded a boat at his workplace at the port of Palo Alto with a fellow worker and a friend. They were never heard from again. Five years later, a Cuban Border guard sent them a confidential message that the men had been machine gunned down for trying to flee.
The sinking of the Canímar River excursion boat north of Cuba July 6, 1980: 61 disappeared (72 victims in total). Three youngsters commanded the tourist excursion boat XX Aniversary as it navigated along the Canímar river full of passengers. Ramón Calveiro, age 15, and the brothers Silvio and Sergio Aguila, ages 18 and 19 respectively planned to take it to the United States to request asylum. Sergio, a sergeant in the Cuban Armed Forces, had secured firearms for the hijacking. Most passengers were overjoyed, but a chase was ordered with instructions to prevent the escape at all costs. Two high-speed Cuban Navy boats and a Cuban Air Force plane fired on the boat, after which a huge dredging boat rammed and sank the fleeing vessel. 72 persons, including over 20 children, were reportedly killed --11 bodies were said to have been recovered, the rest disappeared. The survivors were threated and monitored for years. Sergio committed suicide as the boat was going down. Silvio and Roberto were sentenced to 30 years of prison.
Jean Baptiste Mauriras and Leonel Pérez Fernández disappeared from Havana, Cuba, October 9, 1966. Mauriras, a Frenchman, was married, had a daughter, and worked at the French embassy. One day, he went fishing in calm seas with Cuban friend Leonel Pérez. Both disappeared, but their boat was found tied to a pier in Havana Harbor. It was rumored they had been taken to State Security headquarters for Mauriras’ interrogation regarding his “C.I.A. contacts.” In 1973, the secretary at the French Embassy and a friend of the Mauriras family was taken to State Security headquarters and told during her interrogation that if she did not cooperate, she and her husband, also imprisoned, “would suffer the same fate as the Frenchman.”
Roberto Pereda López, age 38, disappeared September 26, 1973 from Havana, Cuba. Roberto was a research scientist at a state-owned research center. He told his family he knew his life was at risk due to his friendship with a prominent scientist who had sought asylum, for refusing to carry out certain scientific work, and for his open opposition to the government. One day, he left for work and was never seen again. He left two sons, ages 12 and 13.
Three Lazo children (siblings) disappeared at sea near Isla de Pinos, Cuba, in 1971. The children´s father, Alberto, had served a 10-year sentence at Isla de Pino’s prison for counterrevolution. After his release, he was denied work or permission to leave the country. Desperate, he built a raft and one night attempted to flee Cuba with his wife and three children. A Cuban Border patrol boat spotted them and rammed and sank their primitive vessel. The mother´s body washed ashore the next day, partly devoured by sharks, while the children, their names and ages are unknown, were reportedly never found. The father was captured, tortured, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He died mysteriously in 1978 of a sudden illness right before he was to gain his release in an amnesty.
Rubén Curbelo and Reinaldo Hidalgo disappeared in Pinar del Río Cuba, October 11, 1964. The friends, part of a group from Havana that met in Pinar del Río to escape the country, went to retrieve a hidden boat to bring it back for everyone to board. The group left behind was detained and imprisoned while the two men disappeared. People who lived in the area reported to their families having heard gunfire that night. The government never acknowledged their disappearance and their bodies were never recovered.
Andrew De Graux, "el americanito," age 19, disappeared on September 3, 1962 in Las Villas province, Cuba. Andy was part of the anti-Communist insurgency and was shot in a combat, captured, and taken to a hospital in Trinidad. He was mistreated before State Security ordered his transfer to a hospital in Cienfuegos. After he was reportedly operated on successfully, he disappeared. The family was told he had died and had been buried in a common grave. It was rumored that he had been executed.
The above is a summary of a more detailed report, available in English here and in Spanish here.
For additional information, see:
Committee on Enforced Disappearances:
Report on civilians killed attempting to flee Cuba:
Report on Canimar River massacre of 7/6/1980:
Report on Tugboat massacre of 7/8/1994:
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