Castro’s Killing Fields: A Pattern of Disregard for Human Life Lasting Six Decades (February)

Cuba Archive has documented numerous cases of extrajudicial killings by state authorities against persons attempting to escape their Cuban Island prison “illegally” over six decades.

By Maria C. Werlau l February 28, 2018

Following are selected cases of death or disappearance attributed to the Castro regime occurring in the month of February – one case per decade. They denote the consistent pattern of state killings during nearly 60 years. (See details at

February 2, 1962: Dr. José Antonio Muiño Gómez, age 44, was executed by firing squad at Sagua la Grande, Las Villas, Cuba.

In 1959, soon after the revolutionary government rose to power, Dr. Muiño started working as a dentist at the San Antonio de los Baños Air Force base, Havana province. Communist activity and Soviet influence were soon apparent and, as a devout Catholic, he did not accept ideological training. This led to his constant surveillance by State Security and arrest in June 1961. Months later, Dr. Muiño was subjected to a summary trial, charged with counter-revolutionary activities, and immediately executed. He left a wife, two daughters and an adopted son.

February 1972 (exact day unkown): Political prisoner Iván Sánchez Friol, age 18, was shot to death by a prison official at OMA Prison, Ciego de Avila, Cuba.

Iván was arrested at home for alleged counter-revolutionary activities and for having discontinued his studies at a technical school in Havana. In prison, he had an argument with a prison guard, which led to a beating that sent him to cut sugarcane, as punishment. The same guard then shot him in the stomach alleging he was trying to escape from the sugarcane field. He died two days later in the hospital. As a result, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and severe mental health problems the rest of her life.

February 23, 1979: Political prisoner Dr. Alberto Cruz Caso died at Combinado del Este prison from medical negligence.

A veterinarian and former Minister of Cuba in the 1940s, Dr. Cruz had endured stomach pains for months without medical treatment. As his condition worsened, prison authorities proposed surgery for alleged diverticulitis, which he refused due to unqualified doctors and poor hygienic conditions at the facility. Against his will, he was operated on at the prison hospital. No nursing care or medications were provided after the surgery and two fellow political prisoners had to care for him. His condition deteriorated and six days after the surgery, his stomach swollen and smelling rotten (apparently from infection), prisoners staged a noisy protest, demanding medical attention for him. He died a few hours later. Apparently, what ailed him was cancer.

February 24, 1996: Carlos Costa, age 29; Pablo Morales, age 29; Armando Alejandre, age 45; and, Mario Manuel de la Peña, age 24, were murdered when Cuban MIGs shot down two small civilian planes over international waters.

The three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-born U.S. resident (Morales) were part of a group of three Cessna C-337 airplanes flying a humanitarian search-and-rescue mission for the organization “Brothers to the Rescue.” One airplane escaped, but two aircraft were destroyed each carrying two occupants, whose remains could not be recovered. The Cuban government’s actions were condemned by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Cuba and the International Civil Aviation Organization, which issued a report confirming the attack had occurred in international airspace. Soon thereafter, then Cuban President Fidel Castro told U.S. reporter Dan Rather, of CBS, that he had ordered the action. But, a recording of June 21, 1996 (by the official national radio station Radio Rebelde) obtained in 2006 had Raúl Castro, then Minister of Defense, telling government officials he had personally designed the plan and ordered the shootdown of the two planes.

Political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 82-day hunger strike in Havana on February 23, 2010.

The human rights activist and brick mason had been designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. He had been imprisoned from December 2002 to March 2003, for “disrespect, disobedience and public disorder.” Thirteen days after his release, he was again arrested for participating in a fast with former political prisoners and soon sentenced to 3 years in prison. His sentence was increased in successive secret trials to 36 years for repeatedly protesting his ill-treatment and prison conditions. After enduring numerous beatings and tortures, he went on a hunger strike to demand respect for his personal safety and recognition as a prisoner of conscience. Prison authorities denied him water, causing kidney failure. Sent to a hospital, he was held naked below a powerful air conditioner that provoked pneumonia. On the 81st day of his hunger strike, he was admitted to a Havana hospital in critical condition and died a few hours later. Over one hundred persons were detained all over Cuba to prevent them from attending his funeral in his hometown of Banes. During his nearly seven years of incarceration, he had been transferred to seven different prisons, far from his family, often without their knowledge.

February 1, 2011: Wilfredo Peña Leyva was killed, and 17 others disappeared in an escape attempt from Cuba (including Ariel García Fernández, age 42, (in the photo) and Francisco Santos Pérez).

The group of 18 left Isla de Pinos, Cuba, on board the vessel “La Talía” at dawn on February 1, 2011. According to the father of one of the escapees, 24 days later, Cuban border guards detected the vessel near the coast of Pinar del Río. Just one body was on board, that of Wilfredo Peña Leyva, and it was riddled with bullets. The family of one of the disappeared, Ariel García, denounced the incident to Cuban authorities, to no avail. The names of only three victims are known. Cuba’s Penal Code criminalizes leaving the country without the authorization of the government.

Cuba Archive has documented many cases of extrajudicial killings by state authorities against persons attempting to escape their Cuban Island prison “illegally” over six decades.

Maria Werlau, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit project Cuba Archive, is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.