Friday, July 18, 2014

The Ochoa Case - A Point of Inflection

The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio
Posted on July 17, 2014

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 – The Cuban
government's support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the
failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto
Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba's Black Spring are
chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the
Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a
half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island
has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux
from believing to not believing has made critics out of former
sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the
revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took
place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were
executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces
(MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court
found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of
drug trafficking and high treason.

Never will it be known the true extent of the disillusionment caused by
this event in many communist militants as well as the rest of the
population. The disappointment amongst the people that emanated from the
so-called "Case Number 1″ of 1989 fed the decision of many individuals
to take the step toward dissension. Numerous dissidents cite this
judicial process and its extreme sentences as the moment when they broke
with the party line.

The 1990s could not be understood without the precedent of a televised
trial that riveted millions of Cubans to the small screen, as if to the
most impelling soap opera. After long days of hearing allegations and
accusations, a bond was established between the TV audience and the
figure of Ochoa that nobody could have foreseen. This "connection"
consisted of a combination of respect and pity, to which was added the
silent hope that the sentences requested by the prosecutors would not
actually be applied in their full severity.

"I sat in front of the television set believing in the system, and when
I arose I no longer believed in anything", said María López, who at that
time belonged to the Young Communists League (UJC). A few months after
"El Indio" ("The Indian") — as Ochoa was popularly called by some —
Maria turned in her UJC membership card. "I could not tolerate such
cruelty, besides which it always seemed to me that what came out in that
trial was not the full truth," she concluded. Like her, an unpublicized
number of other militants distanced themselves from the organization,
severing their ties or assuming a less aggressive stance.

The "Balseros" (Rafters) Crisis that would occur five years later was
comprised of individuals who, besides suffering the miseries of the
Special Period, had lived through the trial. Part of the disillusionment
that would manifest in fragile vessels crossing the Florida Straits
emanated from that event. Although hunger and the lack of prospects
where the primary goads toward the exodus, for many of those who
launched themselves to the sea, the death of of Arnaldo Ochoa had
contributed to severing their emotional ties to the system.

"It was the moment in which totalitarianism removed its mask", noted
Ezequiel Méndez, who is now based in Los Angeles, USA. On that July 13,
Ezequiel had guard duty in the unit where he was serving his compulsory
military service. He remembers seeing the "long faces of the officers,
which gave us to understand that something was going on". Within the
army, the execution of these four military men was especially
disturbing, but fear and silence were the major expressions of this
emotion. "In the mess hall, when the TV set was turned on for the
broadcast of the trial, nobody said a word…everyone was very, very
quiet", recalls Ezequiel about those days.

A quarter century after the effect of those executions, the
disappointment has not diminished. Rather, other disappointments have
been added to it. The government was never able to recapture lost
sympathy, and the days are over when military feats produced heroes.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Source: The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio | Translating
Cuba -

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