CubaBrief: Remembering: Danish student gunned down in Havana 25 years ago. Carlos Eire sets Pedro Pan record straight. Cuban defector returned to rescue family

The Czech writer Milan Kundera correctly observed that”the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” This CubaBrief aims to highlight three important moments in Cuban history that are too often ignored, or misrepresented.

Pedro Pan kids arriving in Bloomington, Illinois, circa 1963.

A European student gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime is forgotten, or written out of history. Operation Pedro Pan, which successfully saved thousands of Cuban children from a life of communist indoctrination, is downplayed and often misrepresented as something else in mainstream media to create fodder for partisan debate. Thankfully Professor Carlos Eire set the record straight below in the National Catholic Register. Finally, a Cuban defector in 1991 flees Cuba in a MIG-23 and returned in a civilian plane in 1992 to rescue his family when official channels in Havana refused to allow the family to be reunited through more conventional means.

Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a Cuban soldier in Havana 25 years ago today on March 29, 1997. On September 28, 1997 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article by Kim Hundevadt titled “Dangerous Vacation” that outlined what happened to Joachim Løvschall according to the official version given by Havana on the events leading to this young man’s death:

Around 23:30, a person matching Joachim Løvschall’s description was in a bar named Segundo Dragon d’Oro. The bar lies in the hopeless part of town, around the Revolutionary Plaza which is dominated by the ministry and other official buildings of harsh concrete architecture, and lies empty at night.

At 2:45am he left the bar, after becoming intoxicated. Around 20 minutes later, he was walking down the Avenue Territorial, behind the Defense Ministry.
Joachim Løvschall walked, according to the Cuban authorities, first on the sidewalk that lies opposite the Ministry. Midway he crossed over to the other sidewalk, considered to be a military area, though it is not blocked off.

The Cubans have explained that Joachim Løvschall was shouted at by two armed guards, who in addition fired warning shots, which he did not react to. Therefore, one guard shot from the hip with an AK-47 rifle. The first shot hit Joachim in the stomach and got him to crumble down. The second shot hit slanting down the left side of the neck.

Cuba is a dictatorship, and the failure to recognize that fact has cost lives, and will continue to do so. That foreign government officials would downplay this brutal crime, when violence is visited on their nationals, endangers more lives. Below is a report by Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter published today.

Orestes Lorenzo Perez with his family in the United States.

Orestes Lorenzo Perez,a courageous defector who fled Cuba in a MiG-23 on March 20, 1991, but was rebuffed afterwards by the Castro regime when he tried to get his family out. took matters into his own hands. On December 19, 1992, Perez left from the Florida Keys in a small civilian plane, flying low across the ocean. His wife was given a note to meet him at a location about 165 miles from her home in Havana with their two sons. He successfully rescued his wife and children returning to the United States. The Aviation Geek Club reported on this event on their website that should be remembered in aviation history. These three moments provide insights both into the nature of the Cuban dictatorship, and the courage of those who challenge it.


Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter, March 29, 2022

25 years without justice for Danish student gunned down in Havana by a soldier

 “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – Elie Wiesel, Nobel Lecture 1986

Joachim Løvschall: December 7, 1970 – March 29, 1997

Joachim Løvschall was studying Spanish in Havana in the spring of 1997. He was gunned down by a soldier of the Castro regime in Havana, Cuba twenty five years ago today on March 29, 1997. The identity of the soldier was never revealed to Joachim”s family. No one was brought to justice. Joachim’s family is not satisfied with the official explanation.

The last time they saw Joachim

On March 28, 1997 Joachim Løvschall ate his last dinner with white wine in a little restaurant called Aladin, located on 21st street in Havana. He went to the Revolutionary Plaza and bought a ticket to the Cuban National Theater. Following the performance he went to the theater’s bar, Cafe Cantante, and met up with two Swedish friends. They each drank a couple of beers, but soon left because Joachim did not like the music. At 23:30, they said good bye to each other on the sidewalk in front of Cafe Cantante. 

Joachim was never seen alive again.

Last seen in the front of Cafe Cantante

 The Castro regime’s version of what happened

On September 28, 1997 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published an article by Kim Hundevadt titled “Dangerous Vacation” that outlined what happened to Joachim Løvschall and presented the Castro dictatorship’s version of the events leading to this young man’s death:

Around 23:30, a person matching Joachim Løvschall’s description was in a bar named Segundo Dragon d’Oro. The bar lies in the hopeless part of town, around the Revolutionary Plaza which is dominated by ministry and other official buildings of harsh concrete architecture, and lies empty in at night.

At 2:45am he left the bar, after becoming intoxicated. Around 20 minutes later, he was walking down the Avenue Territorial, behind the Defense Ministry.
Joachim Løvschall walked, according to the Cuban authorities, first on the sidewalk that lies opposite the Ministry. Midway he crossed over to the other sidewalk, considered to be a military area, though it is not blocked off.

The Cubans have explained that Joachim Løvschall was shouted at by two armed guards, who in addition fired warning shots, which he did not react to. Therefore, one guard shot from the hip with an AK-47 rifle. The first shot hit Joachim in the stomach and got him to crumble down. The second shot hit slanting down the left side of the neck.

Joachim Løvschall gunned down in Cuba in 1997

Fifteen years ago
On June 12, 2007 Christian Løvschall, Joachim’s father, at a parallel forum at the United Nations Human Rights Council spoke about his son’s disappearance and the struggle to find out if Joachim was dead or alive:

“Although the killing took place on the 29th of March, we only came to know about it on the 6th of April – i.e. after 8 days were we had the feeling that the Cuban authorities were unwilling to inform anything about the incident. Only because of good relations with Spanish speaking friends in other Latin American countries did we succeed in getting into contact with the family with whom Joachim stayed and the repeated message from their side was that they could reveal nothing, but that the situation had turned out very bad and that we had to come to Cuba as soon as possible. At the same time all contacts to the responsible authorities turned out negatively… Only after continued pressure from our side on the Cuban embassy in Copenhagen, things suddenly changed and the sad information was given to us by our local police on the evening of the 6th of April. We are, however, 100% convinced that had we not made use of our own contact and had we not continued our pressure on the embassy in Copenhagen, we might have faced a situation where Joachim would have been declared a missing person, a way out the Cuban authorities have been accused of applying in similar cases.”

Ten years later Christian Løvschall outlined what he knew concerning his son’s untimely death:

We do feel we were (and still are) left with no answers except to maybe one of the following questions: Where, When, Who, Why Starting out with the where we were told that Joachim was killed by the soldiers outside the Ministry of Interior.

Where

What we do not understand is why no fence or signs did inform that this is a restricted area? I have been on the spot myself, and the place appears exactly like a normal residential area. So you may question whether this in fact was the place of the killing? Contrary to this the authorities keep maintaining that the area was properly sealed off, and the relevant sign posts were in place.

When

As to when Joachim was killed we only have the information received from the police because of the delay informing one might believe that this is another forgery made up to cover the truth.

Who

The who was in our opinion has never been answered by the Cuban authorities. We understand that a private soldier on duty was made responsible for the killing, and also it has been rumored that his officer in charge has been kept responsible. This is of course the easy way out, but why can’t we get to know the whole and true story?

Why

Why did the soldiers have to fire two shots, one to his body and one to his head, to murder him? Was Joachim violent and did he, an unarmed individual, attack the armed soldiers? Or is it simply that the instruction to Cuban soldiers are: first you shoot and then you ask? But again: Who can explain why two shots were needed?

Despite the claims made by the travel industry there have been other travelers to Cuba who have been killed or gone missing under suspicious circumstances. Others have been falsely imprisoned in legal proceedings that fall far short of international standards. Like North Korea, but with a tropical twist, Cuba suffers a dictatorship where both nationals and foreigners have no legal protections locally if they run into trouble with the regime. The ongoing plight of Benjamin Tomlin, who has spent three years in a Cuban prison, should lead others considering a holiday in Cuba to think twice. So should what happened to Joachim Løvschall on March 29, 1997 when he was gunned down by an AK-47 wielding Cuban soldier for allegedly walking on the wrong sidewalk.

https://cubanexilequarter.blogspot.com/2022/03/25-years-without-justice-for-danish.html

National Catholic Register, March 24, 2022

NYTimes Story ‘Blown Way Out of Proportion,’ Says Cuban American Historian

The New York Times pits Florida Governor Ron DeSantis against Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, with Cuban Americans as the target

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski (l) and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images and State of Florida / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Joan Frawley Desmond Blogs March 24, 2022

“DeSantis vs. Miami’s Archbishop, With Cuban Americans in the Middle,” screamed a March 15 New York Times headline that put Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, a vocal advocate for immigrants, in the crosshairs of the city’s feisty Cuban-American community, with additional pushback from Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis..

The origins of the controversy date back to early 2022, when Archbishop Wenski sharply criticized the Republican leader’s efforts to restrict the resettlement of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in the state.

“DeSantis is trying to stop all federal programs in Florida that serve these unaccompanied kids as well as services to Cubans (and Haitians, Venezuelans, etc.) released by the U.S. under its ‘parole’ authority,” charged the archbishop in a Jan. 14 column entitled, “Why is Governor Going After Children?” for The Florida Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Archbishop Wenski warned that the governor’s policy could shutter the Church-run Cutler Bay shelter, which has cared for about 50 children under COVID-19 restrictions. 

And in an effort to build his case by tapping the experience of local Catholics, the archbishop equated the large numbers of unaccompanied minors crossing the border today with the historic Operation Pedro Pan airlift that brought 14,000 Cuban children to America in the tumultuous aftermath of the 1959 Cuban revolution.

“Sixty years after Pedro Pan … there are new waves of unaccompanied minors,” from Central America, he wrote “[T]hey are not much different from those Cuban children of 60 years ago. The desperation that has led the parents of today’s unaccompanied minors is not unlike the desperation that motivated Cuban parents 60 years ago.”

The archbishop’s attempt to establish a connection between the Cuban children participating in the Pedro Pan airlift 60 years ago, and the children and teenagers from Central America now fleeing gang violence and poverty, set off a simmering debate within Miami’s Cuban-American community. The ensuing discussion, spilling over into public meetings and local media, prompted some Cuban-Americans to rally around the archbishop. But it also spotlighted the specific conditions on the ground that inspired the two-year evacuation of Cuban children, a joint effort by the U.S. State Department and the Catholic Church.  

For additional perspective on the Pedro Pan airlift, the Register reached out to Carlos Eire, the T. Lawrason Riggs professor of history and religious studies at Yale University, and an award-winning author of academic and non-fiction works. Eire and his brother were among the thousands of Cuban minors airlifted to this country between 1960-1962. He described his childhood in Castro’s Cuba in Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003), which won the National Book Award in Nonfiction and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. Learning to Die in Miami (2010), his second memoir, retraced the often traumatic process of his resettlement in the U.S. 

In an email exchange with Register Senior Editor Joan Frawley Desmond, Eire shared his views on Archbishop Wenski’s comments, while dismissing the Times’ coverage of the dispute as politically motivated and “blown way out of proportion.” 

Archbishop Wenski equated the Pedro Pan airlift that brought more than 14,000 children fleeing the communist takeover with the arrival of large numbers of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America fleeing poverty and gang violence. Why were his remarks controversial for some Cuban Americans?

His remarks might have been controversial to some in the Pedro Pan community because the archbishop made what philosophers call a “category mistake” — that is, he erroneously assigned a quality or action to one category of immigrants that can only properly be assigned to a totally different category. 

The circumstances surrounding the migration of unaccompanied minors vary immensely, as do the circumstances of all migrations. The two waves of juvenile migrants compared by the archbishop are vastly different in a multitude of ways.

The purpose of the Pedro Pan airlift was not to send kids to the U.S. permanently, as immigrants who would end up living here. We were refugees. So were our parents. Much like the Ukrainians now fleeing from Russia, the intention of the migration was to return home someday — hopefully soon. 

The current wave of migration mentioned by the archbishop is not of this sort, and this is one of the main reasons the comparison was a category mistake.

What were the conditions on the ground in Cuba at the time your parents agreed to send you to the U.S.?

At the time that our parents decided to send us to the United States, there was an ironclad certainty that parents would lose control of the education of their children, as well as of their futures. To begin with, all education in Cuba was placed in the hands of an aggressively communist and atheist totalitarian dictatorship. Education had already turned into nonstop total immersion in indoctrination. 

Children were also being forced to join the so-called “Pioneers,” a paramilitary organization similar to the Nazi Youth in the Third Reich or the Pioneers in the Soviet Union and all its satellites. Children could be forced to do tasks that were falsely called “volunteer” work in labor camps during the summer, or sent on various sorts of “revolutionary” missions within Cuba or abroad. 

This applied to boys and girls alike. For boys there was the additional certainty of forced military service at the age of 18. Then, there was also the possibility of children being sent to the Soviet Union and its satellite states, something that had already begun to happen routinely. 

Parents had no power to stop the Cuban government from imposing all of these “revolutionary” tasks and “benefits” on their own children. 

What kind of supervision did you receive before, during and after your arrival in the U.S.?

Before departure, our parents continued to carry on with life as best as possible. But after the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961, the spy houses set up on every block in towns and cities — the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — kept an eye on all children and hounded parents such as mine who were seeking to get us out of Cuba. Upon arrival in the U.S. we were all greeted by representatives of the Pedro Pan program and dispatched to whatever location had been predetermined for us: some with relatives, some to foster homes, most of us to the camps, which were an intermediate stage to placement in some other sort of foster care environment, either with a foster family or in an orphanage or boarding school. 

After arrival, it could vary a lot depending on one’s placement. But the Pedro Pan program did keep track of everyone, even if slowly and somewhat haphazardly. My brother and I ended up in one horrific foster home in Miami for nine months while awaiting reassignment to an uncle who had been relocated to a small city in the Midwest. We had fallen through the cracks and it was only by accident that some social worker noticed our plight.

The New York Times’ story said the children on the Pedro Pan airlift were mostly upper middle class and middle class, suggesting that there were sharp differences in class between the children fleeing Cuba on the airlift, and unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Was that the case?

The vast majority of Pedro Pan kids were middle class, not upper class or upper middle class. Cuba had a huge middle class, perhaps the largest in all of Latin America. Many Pedro Pan kids were lower middle class, and poor too. And not all of us were white, or Catholic. 

It is true, nonetheless, that the principal reason we were separated from our parents was political rather than economic. In this respect, the two groups do differ substantially.

Are the Cuban Americans who disagreed with the archbishop’s comments concerned that he is downplaying the totalitarian nature of the Cuban government? Is this partly an attempt to clarify the nature of the regime amid progressive efforts to justify its human rights violations?

Yes, it is highly probable that some Cuban exiles are upset by the archbishop’s category mistake for this very reason. It rankles me. I assume it rankles others, too. 

It’s all too common for the crimes of Cuba’s totalitarian dictatorship to be overlooked. And, unfortunately, even more common for that dictatorship to be constantly praised by progressives.

So some in the Pedro Pan community believed that the archbishop had ignored or dismissed the unique experience of political refugees?

Political refugees who arrive penniless in the host country almost always experience a sharp decline in status, income and living conditions and most of them tend to never recover from this devastating loss. In contrast, most of the migrants who are fleeing poverty and crime are seeking to improve their lives in the host country.

Has the refugee crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine stirred memories of your own flight to the U.S.? 

Most certainly, yes. And all of them have lost all of their possessions, as well as their homeland, and most of them have had to leave loved ones behind. That kind of loss is very familiar to me. Lord have mercy.

When you arrived on the Pedro Pan airlift America’s immigration system still functioned. Now it is broken, with endless delays for people who seek to come here legally. Does this fact help explain Archbishop Wenski’s remarks?

Yes, this sad fact probably had something to do with the archbishop’s remarks. What has been going on at our southern border is an absolute horror and disgrace, for sure.

Any further thoughts?

I want to emphasize that this incident is being blown way out of proportion. This is not at all a big deal. The archbishop angered some Cubans. Happens all the time. He may speak Spanish, but deep down, he does not seem to understand Cuban exile culture — a difficult task for anyone, even those who are part of that culture.

Progressives and liberals are over-represented in journalism. The fact that Ron DeSantis — a bogey man for those who lean left — added comments of his own made it seem as if once again those conservative Cubans were on the wrong side of history.

Another way of saying this is that this story in the NYT is more about the way in which The Times loves to skewer Cuban exiles than about anything the archbishop said.

https://www.ncregister.com/blog/nytimes-wenski-desantis-pedro-pan

The Aviation Geek Club, March 22, 2022

On Mar. 20, 1991 MiG-23 pilot Orestes Lorenzo Perez circled the Naval Air Station Key West three times, waggling the wings of his Flogger to signal friendly intentions, hoping that no one would shoot down the Soviet-built fighter jet.

By Dario Leone

Mar 22 2022

On Mar. 20, 1991 MiG-23 pilot Orestes Lorenzo Perez circled the Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West three times, waggling the wings of his Flogger (the NATO reporting name for the MiG-23) to signal friendly intentions, hoping that no one would shoot down the Soviet-built fighter jet.

Perez said he borrowed the aircraft from the Cuban government.

He didn’t know a single word in English, he said. But he was escaping Cuba for freedom.

As explained in an extensive piece appeared on The Ledger, Perez, a former Cuban Air Force pilot has received a lot of attention since his escape and daring flight back to Cuba to rescue his family. He even wrote a book about his journey in 1994.

His friends called his daring rescue a suicide mission.

He was risking his life and the lives of his wife and two sons, but he said it was worth it because they were pursuing their dreams.

While serving in the Cuban Air Force, Perez earned a scholarship to attend flight school in the Soviet Union, where he learned to fly a small Czechoslovakian Aero L-29 Delfin two-seat jet trainer and a MiG-21.

He was part of the Cuban forces sent to Angola to support that country’s Marxist government.

He deployed a second time to the Soviet Union and then he and his family finally returned to Cuba where he was assigned to Santa Clara Air Base, about 165 miles east of Havana.

What he found was a country littered with propaganda and so oppressed by the government that his family knew there was only one thing for him to do — try to escape.

So, on Mar. 20, 1991, Perez said goodbye to his wife, Victoria, promising to return for her and their two sons. She had to pretend that she knew nothing of Perez’s escape plan.

She prayed that her husband would make it to the US and to freedom.

During a training mission that day, Perez flew the MiG-23 from Cuba to Key West. When he finally landed undetected by American radar, speaking in Spanish, he told the pilot who met him on the ground that he was seeking political asylum.

Orestes Lorenzo Perez’s MiG-23 at NAS Key West

Perez said once the pilot understood, they shook hands and the pilot said, “Welcome to the United States.”

He was immediately flown to Washington, DC, for a briefing and to receive paperwork. Once he was granted political asylum, he started campaigning to get his family out of Cuba.

His wife and two sons were issued US visas, but the Cuban government wouldn’t let them leave.

Perez said the government put surveillance on them.

His family lived under constant watch for 21 months, while Perez campaigned across the US to try to gain their freedom, he said.

Then-President George H. W. Bush directed a speech to the Cuban government, asking Fidel Castro to let Perez’s family go.

But Castro refused so Perez had to think of a better plan.

The only way to rescue them would be to fly back in an airplane.

Through a human rights organization founded by a Cuban political prisoner, called the Valladares Foundation, Perez learned that a 1961 Cessna 310 was for sale. With help from a donation the foundation agreed to pay the $30,000 to purchase it for his rescue attempt.

Although he took flying lessons and received his pilot license in Virginia, he had very little experience flying the Cessna before his rescue attempt. Perez had only landed the small plane once, with a co-pilot.

But at exactly 5:07 p.m. on Dec. 19, 1992, Perez left from the Florida Keys, flying low across the ocean. His wife was given a note to meet him at a location about 165 miles from her home in Havana.

Perez didn’t know whether she would be there with the boys, or if he would make it to the spot before the Cuban government saw him, but he had to try.

Flying less than 100 feet above the ocean, Perez came over cliffs on the Cuban coastline and saw his wife and sons wearing bright orange T-shirts, just as he had asked them to do.

Perez landed the Cessna about 10 yards from a pickup truck, turned the plane around, hurried his family inside and flew away.

When he landed in Marathon less than two hours later, he felt a sense of relief.

Perez is one of only a handful of Cuban military pilots to defect to the US during the Cold War.

Perez and his family became all American citizens.

The MiG-23 was returned to Cuba shortly after Perez gained political asylum and the Cessna was destroyed in a hurricane.