Cuba refuses to tear down its wall
BY MARIA C. WERLAUCUBAARCHIVE.ORG
11/19/2014 5:59 PM 11/19/2014 5:59 PM
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the infamous
Berlin Wall this month, a deadlier replica almost twice in age remains
in Communist Cuba.
Barbed wire, high fences, mine fields, watch towers, ferocious dogs, and
sharpshooters firing at unarmed civilians...the tropical version of the
Berlin Wall prevents escapees from reaching the U.S. naval base in
Guantánamo. Cuba's distinctive version of the barrier extends into
Guantánamo Bay, where border guards fire from patrol boats or throw
grenades at anyone trying to swim to the base.
In the mid-1990s, Cuba built a sea wall, visible on Google Earth. Its
movable net allows authorized maritime traffic but is manned by guards
trained to trap swimmers trying to get to the base.
During the 28-year existence of the Berlin Wall (1961-1989), 227 people
were killed attempting to cross to West Berlin. In the 55 years of the
Cuban version, countless thousands have paid with their lives, their
limbs, or years of prison for attempting the crossing.
Successive U.S. administrations, although granting refuge to those who
make it to the base, have kept largely silent on the systematic killings
to avoid provoking the Castros and having the base overrun by asylum
seekers. U.S. anti-personnel and anti-tank land mines in the buffer zone
with Cuba since 1961 — reportedly a Cold War necessity — were removed in
1996 to uphold international agreements banning land mines.
Theodore Scotes, commander of the base's Camp Bulkeley in 1968, has
confirmed that Cuban guards stationed around the base had orders to
shoot to kill "fence-jumpers" and that the U.S. government kept
classified records of all recorded incidents. The Clinton administration
reportedly filed a rare protest with the Cuban government in June 1994
after many defenseless swimmers had been attacked with grenades and shot
by Cuban border guards as they attempted to reach the base; U.S.
personnel could see the bodies being fished out of the water with
Iskander Maleras, 26, and Luis Angel Valverde, 30, were murdered by
sharpshooters on Jan. 19, 1994 as they swam toward the base with two
friends, hoping to obtain asylum. They were about 50 meters from U.S.
territory when Cuban border guards started shooting with long-range
automatic rifles from their watchtower.
The two survivors, one injured, pulled their friends' bodies from the
water. One then made it safely into U.S. territory, so the news filtered
out. The next day, the victims' parents were told by authorities to go
unaccompanied to the Guantánamo cemetery, where the bodies, riddled with
bullet wounds, were buried in a large field of unmarked graves for
victims of foiled escape attempts to the base.
Photographs of their bodies were exhibited in a local school with a
warning to avoid facing a similar fate by trying to escape. The
apprehended survivor was tried and sentenced to prison while the two
soldiers who killed unarmed civilians were commended for doing their
duty. The victims' families were harassed, humiliated, persecuted and
eventually forced to seek political asylum in the United States.
Cuba Archive has record of 80 people killed or missing in attempts to
reach the base (www.CubaArchive.org). There are anecdotal accounts of
many more cases. A far more extensive list documents Cubans, including
children, killed or disappeared attempting to escape the island by any
means; the actual number of victims is estimated in the tens of thousands.
Despite regulations relaxing harsh travel restrictions beginning January
2013, Cuba's Penal Code (Article 215) continues to forbid citizens from
leaving the island without prior government authorization. Attempting to
do so is punishable with years of prison. Stealing or hijacking a vessel
to flee can lead to capital punishment.
While the United States is widely condemned for its prison for accused
terrorists at Guantánamo, the killing fields and ghastly dungeons on the
Cuban side are altogether ignored. It is time for the double standard to
end and for the international community to demand that Cuba stop its
egregious human-rights violations.
MARIA C. WERLAU IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CUBA ARCHIVE'S TRUTH AND MEMORY
PROJECT OF SUMMIT, NEW JERSEY.
Source: Cuba refuses to tear down its wall | The Miami Herald -