Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

The Film & More
Special Features
Online Poll
Views on Cuba
Filmmaker Interview
Share Your Views
Cuba Newsreels
Interview Excerpts

People & Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
Views on Cuba

Views on Cuba index

 Feelings About Fidel | Health and Education | Human Rights | Cuba and the Future

Ricardo Bofill An Exploration into the Origins of the Cuban Human Rights Movement
The president of the Miami-based Cuban Committee for Human Rights, Ricardo Bofill spent 12 years imprisoned in Cuba.

In these remarks, which I originally prepared for a panel organized by the Sakharov Foundation at the Free University of Berlin, I will speak about the influence that... the Cuban political prisoners of the 1960s had on the renewal of our sources of thought... and about the origin of the human rights movement that we helped to create...

... The decision to denounce the crimes of the Castro regime against the opposition originated in the vital center of resistance that Cuban political prisons have always been (even before the Citizens' Rights group was formed). There, in the shared confines of a prison cell, we prisoners were both witnesses to and victims of the crimes against the dignity and physical integrity of human beings that were perpetrated by the thugs representing Fidel Castro's political power within the prison system. I especially remember in those early days the impact caused by the physical extermination, through a clinically induced death, of the political prisoner César Páez, who had been the Commander of the Directorio Revolucionario 13 de Marzo...

An Unstoppable Conviction
... We were sure that there was an unavoidable need to carry out organizational efforts to utilize treaty conventions and international human rights organizations... which were reaching their peak of influence. While incarcerated as political prisoners, we began to prepare instruments denouncing, in a systematic way, the violations of human rights in Cuba. The fundamental truth is that those prisons were, and continue to be, the most important site for documenting the prevailing state of terrorism in the country. Moreover, the most genuine political vanguards of the Cuban people were, and are still, imprisoned in these barracks of Cuban Stalinism.

With that as our premise, we took our first slow steps that have lasted for decades as we struggle against a wall of silence, indifference, and most of all, the complicity of Fidel Castro and his disinformation machine, which inundates -- and to a certain degree dominates -- the world press. As a result of this impunity regarding public opinion, the overwhelming majority of international human rights organizations in the 1960s and most of the 1970s closed their doors to accusations that reached their offices regarding Cuba. This was the reprehensible era that the late cinematographer Nestor Almendros captured in his documentary, "Nobody Listened..."

Reasons of State
... The greatest challenge we faced was to document, with rigorous care, the accusations of crimes and other atrocities that were committed by Castro's henchmen as official state policy. In this chapter of the history of our protest movement, the help of the lawyer Aramís Taboada was of utmost importance. Through his efforts, we successfully removed, by indirect means, entire files kept by the Central Registry of Prisons at the Ministry of Justice. These files contained the cases of citizens who had been condemned to death and executed by firing squad because of trumped-up charges brought by those ominous "revolutionary tribunals" and later, by the "special courts for offenses against the security of the State," that were part of each province's court system.

With these documents, which were sent to the governments of France and Great Britain through their respective embassies in Havana and eventually reached international human rights organizations, we were able to provide irrefutable proof of an undeniable truth: Fidel Castro had traded in the entire judiciary system in Cuba for an implacable weapon that inflicted the worst kind of torture and death on anyone who challenged his mania to remain in power and create a dynasty perpetuating his legacy of enslavement.

The First Echoes
Ian Martin, the Secretary General of Amnesty International in those years, later told us that with this information in hand, his organization began to closely monitor the critical situation regarding individual rights in Cuba. French authorities followed the same course, according to the account we were provided years later by Claude Malhuret, who at that time was Secretary of State for Human Rights during the government of Francois Mitterrand in France.

The sources for the information used in the reports that we had delivered to international organizations such as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, and governments and public figures all over the world... were part of the daily horrors that in some instances we had to suffer and, in others, witness in person, because the Cuban Political Prisoner Camp System, from 1959 up to today, is a gallery of unending horrors.

We began to reconstruct trial proceedings, which proved that in Cuba the repressive machine, just as in other tyrannies of the "left" on this planet, indiscriminately killed any opponent who was marked for death, and masked the events as a product of "revolutionary justice." This brought about executions by firing squad, ordered by the Summary War Tribunals, which were entirely composed of State Security police, and included the so-called defense attorneys who, in accordance with their job duties, concurred with the sentences that had already been determined.

In this way, we began in 1976 to compile an increasingly thick dossier on the brutal repressiveness of Castroism. It slowly filtered out to various European chanceries and, in some cases, to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Along with other initiatives, this helped open a new era that introduced the now-accepted idea that a kind of "Permanent Martial Law" prevails in Cuba, and that the country is controlled through a "Perpetual State of Siege" that to a great degree was copied from the Stalinist regime that ruled throughout the former Soviet orbit.

By then we could prove that many death sentences in Cuba had been handed down by puppet tribunals that failed to abide by the most minimal standards of due process and penal law that exist in civilized countries. We were thus able to obtain an Open Letter, signed in 1979 by more than 50 prominent intellectuals, among them Jorge Semprún, Ernesto Sábato, Juan Goytisolo, K.S. Karol, Francesco Rossi, Milan Kundera and others, which described Fidel Castro's firing squads as "death squads."

To this abundance of direct proof... we added accounts of terror reconstructed by Cuban political prisoners such as Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, Alberto de la Cruz, Ramón Guín, René González Herreros, Guido Faramiñán, and others, which allowed us to prepare well-founded charges regarding the endless atrocities and systematic tortures as evidenced by the cruel and degrading treatment of those who resisted oppression. We also provided proof of the sub-human living conditions instituted by the Cuban prison system... to eliminate those who maintained a firm ideology of resistance. We could also demonstrate the use of all forms of dirty warfare in attempting to crush the family members of those same resistors through extortion and blackmail....

Bearing Witness
I myself remember the murder of Ventura García Marín, Cipriano García Marín and Eugenio García Marín because for many months I had been next to them in the isolation cells at the Combinado del Este Prison in Havana. These three Jehovah's Witnesses had attempted to seek asylum in the Apostolic Nunciature in Cuba along with other persecuted members of their church. They described their experiences to me with a wealth of details, including the false accusation against them that linked them to the death of an employee of that diplomatic mission.

Subsequently, our Human Rights Committee was able to clarify the facts, which we presented to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights during its 1988 visit to Cuba. The supposed civil employee of the Vatican Embassy was no more than a State Security agent who, while posing as a staff member, splattered himself with blood and played dead. It was this incident that caused the García Marín brothers to be charged and executed by a firing squad. In 1985, after a thorough investigation, we were able to establish that the dead man was alive and living in the Fontanar Division of the Boyeros district in Havana. In addition, we determined that his real name was Isidro Peñalver León, and that he was a second lieutenant in the Ministry of the Interior at that time....

Excerpt from Ricardo Bofill, Indagacion en Los Origenes del Movimiento Cubano pro Derechos Humanos. Translated by Margaret Carson.

page created on 12.21.04
Site Navigation

Special Features:  Online Poll | Views on Cuba | Filmmaker Interview
Share Your Views | Cuba Newsreels | Interview Excerpts

Fidel Castro Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1997-2005 PBS Online / WGBH

Fidel Castro American Experience

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: