Cuba Politics

Cuban ferry hijackers families testify to Human Rights Commission

Posted October 20, 2005 by Cubana in Cuba Politics.

Miami Herald

Relatives of three Cuban men executed in 2003 for attempting to hijack a boat offered a teary video testimony before an OAS panel.


The relatives of three young Cuban men who were summarily tried and executed in 2003 for attempting to hijack a small boat testified Monday before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights through a video smuggled out of the island.

The poor-quality video was produced by a member of the Cuban opposition and was shown during a one-hour hearing at the IACHR headquarters in Washington. It showed a grandmother clutching the childhood photo of one of the executed men, and two other male relatives.

‘‘I cry every day,’’ said the grandmother, tears in her eyes as she sat outside a residence with little furniture or luxury. ‘‘I would say that what I am suffering is the fault of the comandante,’’ she said in a reference to Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

The identities of the three relatives filmed in the video were revealed during the proceedings, but organizers asked the news media not to publish the names to protect them from retaliation by the Cuban security services.

On Apr. 2 of 2003, Lorenzo Copello, Bárbaro Sevilla and Jorge Martínez tried to hijack a Havana ferry with about 50 people on board at gunpoint and force it to sail for the United States. They were caught, tried and executed by firing squad nine days later in a case condemned by the human rights community, the U.S. and other governments.

The hearing at the IACHR, a branch of the Organization of American States, also revealed new details on the trial. The family members said they were not allowed to meet with the accused men and were not informed of the trial until it was over. Officials also refused to let them see the bodies after their executions.

In the same case, the court also sentenced four other men to prison terms that ranged from 30 years to life, and sent three women to prison for three years each.

The hijackers met their court-appointed defense lawyers just 15 minutes before the beginning of the trial on Apr. 5, said representatives of the American University’s Washington College of Law, which is acting on behalf of the relatives before the IACHR. The trial lasted three days.

Cuban officials said death sentences were necessary to stop possible mass migrations to the United States.

The petitioners are asking that Cuba be made to pay reparations to the victims, which in past cases have amounted to $600,000. But Cuba does not recognize the IACHR’s powers because the island’s OAS membership was suspended in 1962. Seats reserved for Cuban officials to defend the executions were empty Monday.

The IACHR argues that Cuban citizens still enjoy the protections of the Inter-American Declaration of Human Rights, an instrument that Cuba has ratified.

One of the men who testified said relatives of the three men harbored anger but little hope. ‘‘You have to suffer in silence,’’ he said.

At the end of the ten-minute tape, a voice is heard telling the relatives that they ‘‘had the solidarity’’ of the opposition movement in Cuba.

‘‘The whole world needs to hear this, that is what I want,’’ the grandmother responded.

Member Comments

On October 20, 2005, publisher wrote:

This is a very sad story but the author needs to report the story accurately if he wants to have any credibility.

“tried and executed in 2003 for attempting to hijack a small boat” is not accurate.

The men did hijack the boat and it was not a small boat is was a Cuban tourist ferry with foreign tourists on board.

All Cubans know the penalty for trying something like that.

Not that I agree with the penalty but let’ not make these criminals into martyrs by misreporting the facts.

On October 20, 2005, Cubana wrote:

Rob - I hardly think one inaccuracy in a story undermines its credibility. Many newspaper articles have inaccuracies and so does your response! The boat was a commuter ferry that crosses Havana Bay from the Havana suburb of Regla to Old Havana. Therefore it did have a few tourists on board but it was certainly not a “tourist ferry”.

They did perform a criminal act by hijacking the ferry but the penalty was out of all proportion to the act. And why should Cuba be any different. To say that “All Cubans know the penalty for trying something like that” is to justify the Cuban government’ own criminal act in executing these men.

And I would far rather have them as martyrs than that mass murderer Che Guervara.

On October 22, 2005, jamsjoyce wrote:

I am an opponent of the death penalty and agree with the statement made by the grandmother of one of the men executed that the “Comandante” is responsible for their deaths.
That said it should be noted that countries that practice the death penalty do not consider it a criminal act.
The United States is second only to the People’ Republic of China in imposing death sentences with 38 of 50 states using capital punishment.
In fact, aggravated kidnapping is a capital crime in Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and South Carolina.
Is the United Staes a criminal nation for its practice of executing criminals? State sanctioned murder is abhorent wherever it exists, let’ be careful not to muddy further the already murky waters of Cuba.
And hypothetically, if the armed hijackers had succeeded in arriving in the United Staes on that ferry would they have been punished or welcomed there? This sort of activity has occurred in the past with aircraft and the hijackers were not punished - making the U.S. complicit in a crime condemned by all other nations of the world.
Cuba is not as violent and repressive as is often asserted in these pages, not innocent, but not completely evil either.