CubaBrief: Cuban coast guard purposefully rams and sinks boat with fleeing refugees, killing seven including a two year old. Exposing some of the lies behind the UN embargo debate

From left to right and from top to bottom, Aimara Meizoso León, Elizabeth Meizoso, Indira Serrano Cala, Omar Reyes Valdés, Nathali Acosta Lemus, and Yerandy García Meizoso. (Collage)

On October 28, 2022 a Cuban coast guard ship purposefully rammed and sank a boat just north of Bahía Honda, in the province of Artemisa that was heading north to the United States with Cuban refugees. Héctor Meizoso, who lost three family members in the premeditated attack, spoke to 14ymedio.

“They had to have let it [leave],” he now reflects on the boat in which at least 25 people were trying to leave the country and reach the shores of the United States, seven of them have been confirmed dead and at the moment one is missing . “In any case, it was not the first and it will not be the last,” adds the young man, who confirms that several of the survivors are still being questioned by the police.

Marti Noticias interviewed Diana Meizoso, who was injured in the attack and whose two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Meizoso, was killed. She described what happened, and the Miami Herald translated it into English as follows.

On Monday, Meizoso González told the U.S.-based Radio Marti that the Cuban coast guard officers intentionally hit their boat. The man at the helm of the speedboat “slowed down because he saw himself surrounded because another boat was coming,” Meizoso González said in an audio interview. “When we passed them by, [a Cuban coast guard officer] said: ‘Now I’m going to split them in half,’ and then he rammed us.” At that point, she said, she hit her head and lost consciousness, and her daughter slipped away. Other survivors interviewed by Miami station America TV provided a similar account.

Families of the victims, and the survivors are seeking answers to what will happen to those officials that carried out the massacre, but the dictatorship wants them to be silent.

The names of the seven victims are: Aimara Meizoso León, Elizabeth Meizoso, Indira Serrano Cala, Omar Reyes Valdés, Nathali Acosta Lemus, Yerandy García Meizoso, and Israel Gómez.

Israel Gómez, seventh victim of November 28th massacre.

This brutality against Cuban refugees by the Cuban government has a decades long track record. This is a partial accounting.

On June 28, 2022 Andrea Rodriguez, of the Associated Press based in Cuba, published the report “Cuban troops report fatal clash with Florida speedboat,” and it raised concerns. When officials of the Cuban dictatorship made claims “they have intercepted more than a dozen speed boats arriving from the United States [in 2022] — including two shooting incidents and at least one death.” Their claims should not be taken at face value. This made their statement that “U.S. authorities have handed over a suspect in the shooting of a Cuban coast guard officer” deeply troubling, if true.

On March 26, 2016 “seven Cuban migrants, all with gunshot wounds, were interdicted at sea and taken to south Florida hospitals,” reported The Guardian, adding thaat “the US coast guard’s public affairs office told [ the Keynoter ] newspaper the wounded were on a makeshift raft with another 19 migrants, who were not injured.”

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed on April 9, 2015.

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed by state security chief Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez in the Martí municipality of Matanzas, Cuba on April 9, 2015 for peacefully trying to leave Cuba. A group of young men were building a small boat near Menéndez beach to flee the island, when they were spotted trying to leave and were shot at by state security. Yuriniesky was left for two days in the lagoon, before being found by his brother.

On July 13, 1994, a group of Cubans, including children and women, tried to escape from Cuba aboard the “13 de marzo” tugboat. State Security forces, and four Transportation Ministry boats of the Cuban government intercepted the “13 de marzo” seven miles off the coast of Cuba, with water jets from pressure hoses knocked people off the deck, tore the children from the arms of their mothers and sank the tugboat. 37 people were murdered, 11 of them children.

In 1993 U.S. officials charged that Cuban marine patrols repeatedly tossed grenades, strafed fleeing swimmers with automatic weapons fire, and recovered bodies with gaff hooks, within sight of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Clinton Administration filed a formal protest to the Cuban government regarding the brutality visited on Cuban migrants. According to the U.S. protest, U.S. military guards surveying the bay witnessed five separate incidents:

* On June 19 at 2 p.m., U.S. guards, startled by the sounds of detonations, saw Cuban troops aboard patrol boats dropping grenades in the paths of several swimmers headed for the U.S. base.
* On June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Cuban troops repeated the action, then strafed the water with machine-gun fire.
* On June 26 at 11 a.m., three patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
* On June 27 at 11:30 a.m., guards aboard patrol boats lobbed two grenades into the water.
* The same day, just before 3 p.m., a patrol boat opened automatic fire on a group of swimmers, who were later seen being pulled from the water. The swimmers’ status was unknown.

In 1980, Fidel Castro began by insulting those seeking to leave as “scum” and “worms”, and he took children and youth out of school to take part in acts of repudiation. According to Carlos Alberto Montaner, the students killed a teacher that they had discovered running away. Forty Cubans who simply wanted to leave Cuba were lynched. This would become known as the Mariel boatlift.

A 1995 monograph by academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty reported that “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.”

This latest massacre is not being debated at the UN Human Rights Council or at the UN General Assembly; instead, the Cuban government today and tomorrow will use all its influence to push through a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo, and the propaganda push has already started.

Megan Janetsky of the Associated Press reports that “18 former Latin American and Caribbean leaders have signed a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden asking the United States to remove its six-decade embargo on Cuba in the wake of devastation inflicted by Hurricane Ian.”

But if you scratch the surface, the lies and the sordid underlayer begin to be exposed.

In the article she quotes former Colombian President Ernesto Samper Pizano, but fails to mention his ties to the Cali drug cartel, or the February 1, 1996 murder of Elizabeth Montoya de Sarria, who President Samper “in taped conversations called the ”crafty little blonde.”’ She was gunned down in “the apartment of two Cuban witchcraft artists,” reported the Christian Science Monitor at the time. She was suspected of having information that would have brought down Samper’s presidency.

Some inconvenient facts

In 1962, President John Kennedy placed an economic embargo on Cuba. Over the next 30 years the Cuban dictator ridiculed U.S. sanctions prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Fidel Castro, speaking at the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in December 1975 bragged “at first their (the United States) cancellations were quite annoying … but when luckily, we did not depend on them for anything, neither in trade, nor in supplies, nor in anything. If we are already victorious now, after victory, what can they threaten us with? With canceling what … what? “

Fidel Castro in an April 1985 Playboy interview said: “The United States has less and less to offer Cuba. If we could export our products to the United States, we would have to start making plans for new production lines … because everything that we produce now and everything that we are going to produce in the next five years has already been sold to other markets. …  The socialist countries pay us much better prices and have much better relations with us than we have with the United States.” 

Castro’’s annual campaign against the embargo at the UN General Assembly began in 1992 when Soviet subsidies ended, but by then there had already been several large scale exoduses that could not be attributed to sanctions impacting the dictatorship.

The Castro regime continues to call the United States economic embargo on Cuba a “blockade.” This is not true as the State Department (and U.S. – Cuba trade statistics over the past 20 years) demonstrate.

A meme appeared on social media in Spanish that outlines this reality, and Cuban scholar and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner on July 15, 2021 gave a commentary on the blockade not prohibiting a series of economic measures that are proscribed by the Cuban government. Below is a translation to English of the above mentioned meme.

“The blockade does not prohibit fishermen in Cuba from fishing, the dictatorship does;
The blockade does not confiscate what farmers harvest, the dictatorship does;

The blockade does not prohibit Cubans on the island from doing business freely, the dictatorship does;
The blockade did not destroy every sugar mill, textile factory, shoe store, canning factory, the dictatorship did;

The blockade is not responsible for Cubans being paid with worthless pesos and stores sell you products with American dollars; the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that Cubans are beaten and imprisoned for thinking differently, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible that there are hundreds of Cuban political prisoners who have not committed any crime, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for sending Cubans US dollars that they give to you in worthless pesos in the Western Union, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for the dictatorship building hotels and the roofs that fall on Cubans’ heads, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for hospitals in Cuba that are disgusting, the dictatorship is;

The blockade is not responsible for not having water in homes, for not maintaining the aqueduct system, the dictatorship is;”

The United States does not have a “blockade” on Cuba, but porous economic sanctions with a focus on cutting off funds to the military that controls most of the Cuban economy. What the meme does reveal is that there is an “internal blockade” on Cubans imposed by the Castro dictatorship.

This also includes a blockade on visiting prisoners.

Havana does not permit international or domestic oversight of prison conditions, good statistics on its overall prison population are difficult to come by, and officials infrequently provide data on prisons. This data cannot be independently verified. The UN Committee Against Torture on April 29, 2022 reported that the Cuban government had not provided prison population figures since 2012. The information that is provided sporadically is misleading.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) over the past 63 years only had access to Cuban prisons between 1988 and 1989. In contrast the ICRC visited the U.S. Guantanamo detention facility over 100 times since 2002, when the United States began housing prisoners, and during those same 20 years the Castro regime permitted zero visits of the ICRC to Cuban prisons.

The U.S. government is sending the wrong signals

The Castro dictatorship issued a new draconian penal code on May 15, 2022 to further clamp down on free expression and free assembly. Regrettably, the next day the Biden Administration announced it was loosening sanctions on Havana. This sent the wrong signal to the Castro regime.

The response is more repression against Cubans in the island combined with more requests to the United States for lifting sanctions, and assistance.

This provides more resources to the dictatorship to repress, killing Cubans, while seeding anti-Americanism among Cubans.

It is a bad policy for the United States and the Cuban people, but great for the Castro dictatorship, and other enemies of the United States.

The Castro regime has funds to help Cubans in need, but does not make it a priority.

Families from La Coloma, the fishing village in Cuba where Hurricane Ian entered the island, had been living in temporary shelters since Hurricane Lili destroyed their homes in 2002. Twenty years later, and they still have not received the assistance promised by Havana Over those same two decades, Castro’s military conglomerate GAESA, which had only 10% of the tourism market with less than 4,000 guest rooms in the 1990s, was transformed into the undisputed leader of the hotel sector, with over 100,000 guest rooms. GAESA has become the major investor, wielding such financial power that, contrary to MINTUR’s own entities, it never has to accept the participation of foreign capital in its hotel construction plans.

Havana pleads poverty while the Castro family and the military oligarchy that run the country get rich and use the Cuban populace as hostages to shakedown the international community.

The dictatorship in Cuba is a criminal regime that murders Cuban migrants, and cannot be trusted. It has held on to power for 63 years, and successfully exported its repressive model to Nicaragua, and Venezuela causing refugee outflows from those two countries as well.

Time for Western democracies to stop subsidizing the Castro dictatorship, and giving it resources to kill Cubans.

Translating Cuba, November 2, 2022

Cuba: ‘That Was Not An Accident, It Was Murder’

​Elizabeth Meizoso, Héctor’s niece who died in the event last Friday.

By Yoani Sánchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 1 November 2022 — Héctor Meizoso’s life has taken a tragic turn since last Friday. Ten of his relatives were traveling in the boat sunk by the Cuban Border Guards north of Bahía Honda, in Artemisa, and three of them died in the attempt to leave the island, in an incident that the man classifies as “murder.”

“They [the rescue brigades] are no longer searching. The relatives are the ones who are finding the deceased,” the young man, a graduate of the Maritime Fishing Institute, in Mariel , told 14ymedio . “That was not an accident, that was murder, because it was on purpose,” insists the Artemiseño, who lost his niece Elizabeth Meizoso and his cousins ​​Yerandy García Meizoso and Aimara Meizoso in the sinking.

“They had to have let it [leave],” he now reflects on the boat in which at least 25 people were trying to leave the country and reach the shores of the United States, seven of them have been confirmed dead and at the moment one is missing . “In any case, it was not the first and it will not be the last,” adds the young man, who confirms that several of the survivors are still being questioned by the police.

The girl’s mother, Diana Meizoso, told Radio Martí that the boat they were traveling in received a premeditated impact from the Border Guards. “We got on the boat and, when we got out, he [driver] slowed down because he was closed on all sides, because another one was coming. When we passed them by, he [the Border Guard officer] said: ‘Now I’m going to split you in the middle, and then he rammed us’.”

The days that have passed since that October 28 have been for Diana’s brother and Elizabeth’s uncle “a nightmare and constant pain, since among those people who were on the boat ten are my family and three of them are among the deceased,” he tells this newspaper.

Meizoso fondly remembers his niece, whom he affectionately calls “fluff” in an emotional text he posted on his Facebook account a few hours after learning that the girl had died. “Thank you for learning to say uncle before you go, my life, beautiful,” he added along with a group of photos that review the little girl’s brief life.

In Bahía Honda, dozens of residents joined the funeral procession of several of those who died that day. The municipality “is in shock, nothing else is being talked about,” Maritza, a local resident who knows the Meizoso family and feels “devastated” by what happened, told 14ymedio by telephone.

“A lot of people are leaving along this coast, every day you find out about someone who left on a raft or that they came looking for them, but nobody thought that the Border Guards were going to do something like that. Nobody thought it,” reflects the woman. “Here people are going through a lot of trouble and young people have no future.”

Maritza considers that there is “a lot of popular unrest in Bahía Honda, because this thing about the dead girl has emotionally touched a lot of people, especially families who have small children and who know what it means to lose such a young life,” laments the neighbor, who adds that there is “a lot of solidarity with the relatives of the deceased and a lot of rejection of what the government did.”

However, the majority prefers to avoid voicing their opinion out loud because “this town has already been completely taken over by State Security since Saturday.” Along with the interrogations of the survivors, the neighbors detail “threats to people who were near the coast when all this happened, people who know what happened.”

“In Bahía Honda nothing happened. Here, the ordinary day was spent standing in lines, buying food, knowing that a neighbor’s son went along the route of the volcanoes or jumped into the sea, but this type of thing, it doesn’t happen. That they kill people like that, without them having weapons, without their shooting at the border guards. That can’t be.”

https://translatingcuba.com/cuba-that-was-not-an-accident-it-was-murder/


Miami Herald, November 1, 2022

Survivors of collision at sea say their boat was rammed by Cuban coast guard vessel

By Nora Gámez Torres

Updated November 01, 2022 3:58 PM ‘

A Cuban Coast Guard vessel. El Artemiseño newspaper, Facebook.

[…]

The incident occurred near Bahía Honda, a coastal town west of Havana where the Meizoso family is from. According to Cuba’s Interior Ministry, the government vessel was trying to “identify” the speedboat that came from the U.S. in an alleged human trafficking operation when the collision happened. As a result, five people died and 18 were rescued, said the ministry statement, which did not identify the victims.

But survivors and their relatives have provided a different account, saying the Cuban coast guard crew intentionally rammed the speedboat. After initially labeling the incident as an “accident,” the Biden administration told the Miami Herald it is now “gathering information and will continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding this tragic incident.” A close family member of the deceased girl said the child’s mother, 22-year-old Diana Rosa Meizoso González, who was on the speedboat and survived, questioned the official version.

[…]

On Monday, Meizoso González told the U.S.-based Radio Marti that the Cuban coast guard officers intentionally hit their boat. The man at the helm of the speedboat “slowed down because he saw himself surrounded because another boat was coming,” Meizoso González said in an audio interview. “When we passed them by, [a Cuban coast guard officer] said: ‘Now I’m going to split them in half,’ and then he rammed us.” At that point, she said, she hit her head and lost consciousness, and her daughter slipped away. Other survivors interviewed by Miami station America TV provided a similar account.

[ Full article]

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article268135292.html

The Washington Post, November 1, 2022

Former Latin American leaders urge U.S. change on Cuba

By Megan Janetsky | AP

November 1, 2022 at 5:58 p.m. EDT

HAVANA — Eighteen former Latin American and Caribbean leaders have signed a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden asking the United States to remove its six-decade embargo on Cuba in the wake of devastation inflicted by Hurricane Ian.

The letter, shared with The Associated Press ahead of its Wednesday release, also requests that Biden remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism for providing refuge to leaders of a guerrilla group that is now set to reenter peace talks with Colombia, an American ally.

The letter comes as Cuba is suffering its worst economic, political and energy crises of the century so far, spurring a migratory exodus from the island. It was exacerbated by Hurricane Ian, which walloped western Cuba before hitting southern Florida late last month.

“We ask you, Mr. President, to take into account this dramatic situation that thousands of Cubans are experiencing and do whatever is necessary to lift those restrictions that affect the most vulnerable,” the letter reads.

Among the signatories are former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, two former Colombian leaders — Juan Manuel Santos and Ernesto Samper — and former leaders from Bolivia to Belize.

All of the signers are leftists or centrists. Notably absent were signatures from right-wing politicians, underscoring the deep divisions that the Caribbean island still provokes in the region.

The United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to vote this week on a resolution to condemn the trade embargo and it is expected to pass again for the 30th consecutive year.

Yet former Colombian President Ernesto Samper told The Associated Press in an interview that he doesn’t want the letter to be viewed as a political statement.

“At this moment, what worries us is that the ones paying the cost … are Cubans who are going without food, medicine or electricity,” Samper told the AP.

The trade embargo was imposed in 1962 as the Cuban revolution veered toward socialism. It has restricted Cuba’s access to a vast array of products, as well as international aid, and financial resources.

Island officials say the restrictions have made it harder to recover from the hurricane, which destroyed 14,000 homes and caused long-term damage to the country’s electrical grid.

While the Obama administration eased many sanctions, they came back into full force under the Trump administration, which justified the sanctions by re-designating Cuba as a state sponsor for terrorism for its refusal to extradite 10 leaders of Colombia’s biggest remaining guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army.

But that order was lifted when Colombia’s first leftist leader was inaugurated in August and announced new peace talks with the group. The rebel leaders recently left Cuba to hold negotiations in Venezuela.

Biden has eased a few measures, but has also been sharply critical of the Cuban government’s harsh treatment of protesters last year — which also hardened sentiment against concessions to the Cuban government among Cuban-Americans, a key voting bloc in Florida.

But the administration recently made a few friendly gestures, offering $2 million in emergency relief to help with hurricane recovery.

Fully lifting the embargo also would require authorization by Congress at a time deep of political division in the U.S., only made more difficult by approaching midterm elections in which Florida is a swing state.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/former-latin-american-leaders-urge-us-change-on-cuba/2022/11/01/a5739e1e-5a2c-11ed-bc40-b5a130f95ee7_story.html

From the archives


Associated Press, June 28, 2022

Cuban troops report fatal clash with Florida speedboat

By ANDREA RODRÍGUEZ

HAVANA (AP) — Cuban authorities say they have intercepted more than a dozen speedboats arriving from the United States this year — including two shooting incidents and at least one death. They say U.S. authorities have handed over a suspect in the shooting of a Cuban coast guard officer.

The Interior Ministry statement read over state television Monday night comes amid a sharp increase in migration from Cuba to the United States, both by sea and via Mexico, at a time of economic hardships aggravated by the pandemic and by tightened U.S. sanctions.

The ministry said its coast guard units had intercepted 13 speedboats from the U.S. entering Cuban waters this year, with 23 crew members. It was not clear how many of the boats might have reached shore or how many of those aboard were arrested. It mentioned at least some arrests, but also at least one case in which a boat escaped.

“Recently situations of greater violence and aggressiveness have occurred, with the use of firearms” against Cuban coast guard units, the ministry said.

It said in one incident, agents intercepted a Dakota speedboat with a Florida registration number 3 nautical miles north of Bahia Honda, on the coast west of Havana, and were fired upon. The ministry said troops returned fire, killing one of those aboard the speedboat.

That boat was detained, and the ministry said it found drugs and evidence of firearms use aboard. It said U.S. authorities were informed about the identities of those arrested and the man who died.

In another case on June 18, it said people aboard a speedboat near Cayo Fragoso off the central Cuban province of Villa Clara opened fire with an automatic weapon at close range, wounding one Cuban officer, and then raced of northward as Cubans evacuated the wounded man for treatment.

It said Cuban officials notified the U.S. Coast Guard, asking for help to detain the attackers. On Monday, one Cuban citizen “implicated in the aggression” had been returned to the island, it said, under an agreement by which the U.S. returns Cubans attempting to immigrate illegally.

“In parallel,” it said, 30 people who were trying to leave the island were found by Interior Ministry agents and were being investigated.

In a separate statement Monday, the Interior Ministry said its coast guard troops found six of 15 people who had set out in makeshift board that sank last week. It said there was no word on what happened to the other nine.

The 15 apparently had set out from the area of Playa Jibacoa along the coast east of Havana on June 20.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol reported finding about 140,000 Cuban migrants between October last year and the end of May — a number that surpassed the so-called Mariel exodus of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans reached the U.S.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday week that so far this fiscal year it has intercepted 2,900 Cuban migrants at sea, up from just 838 in the previous fiscal year and 49 in 2020.

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

https://apnews.com/article/cuba-shootings-caribbean-immigration-havana-1a4d2b0f20806d1943ad8b0910e4b940

The Washington Post, October 1, 1994

DEA AGENT ATTACKS COLOMBIA AS ‘NARCO-DEMOCRACY’

By Steven Gutkin

October 1, 1994

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, SEPT. 30 — On the day he completed his seven-year assignment here, the chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office told national television that Colombia was a “narco-democracy” whose president had accepted “millions of dollars” in campaign contributions from the Cali drug cartel.

Former DEA special agent Joe Toft added that the Cali cartel has “incredible” control over Colombia’s political and economic institutions and that people “prefer to close their eyes and look the other way.”

President Ernesto Samper responded angrily today to the declarations, which aired late Thursday. “Toft has offended our national dignity and … denigrated an entire nation which has made the most sacrifices in the fight against drugs,” Samper said.

Colombian personalities ranging from Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez to the former head of the country’s secret police joined the denunciations of Toft’s remarks, which were front-page news in every major Colombian newspaper and the main topic of discussion on today’s television and radio shows. The U.S. ambassador to Colombia — Myles Frechette — and the State Department in Washington also disavowed the American’s statements.

Toft’s remarks put the United States in the awkward position of heralding bilateral relations that only months ago were severely strained over the Colombian attorney general’s policy of leniency toward drug traffickers and allegations that Samper’s presidential campaign had accepted donations from drug kingpins.

“The government of the United States has cooperated in the fight against narcotics with the {previous Colombian} administration and is now working very closely with the administration of President Samper,” a State Department spokesman said, adding, “I would note that Mr. Toft no longer works for the U.S. government and that he has returned to the United States.”

U.S.-Colombian relations hit a low point in June when tapes emerged that appeared to indicate a relationship between leaders of the Cali cartel and President-elect Samper, as well as several other national leaders.

However, Samper vowed in his inaugural address — as well as in a letter to the U.S. Senate and a recent visit to Washington — to continue Colombia’s fight against drug trafficking. Bilateral relations also received a boost in August with the retirement of controversial Attorney General Gustavo de Grieff, whose policies had prompted the United States to cut off an evidence-sharing program.

In the taped phone conversations leaked to the press in June, Cali cartel bosses were heard discussing making donations to Samper’s campaign. Colombian judicial authorities cleared Samper of any wrongdoing following what critics called a less-than-exhaustive preliminary probe into the tapes.

Toft said Thursday that, based on intelligence information, he had “no doubt” that Samper’s campaign had accepted millions of dollars from the Cali cartel.

“I cannot think of a single political or judicial institution that has not been penetrated by the narco-traffickers. … I know that people don’t like to hear the term ‘narco-democracy,’ but the truth is, it’s very real and it’s here,” Toft told QAP television news in his first public comments about Colombia’s drug problems since arriving here in 1988. The Bolivian-born Toft has retired from the DEA.

Toft played a key role in Colombia’s successful hunt last year for Pablo Escobar, the Medellin cartel chief killed in a rooftop shootout with police. Yet Toft has lamented the failures in the fight against the rival Cali gang, which supplies about 80 percent of the 700 to 1,000 metric tons of cocaine sold yearly in the United States and Europe.

In the past three years, the Cali cartel also has turned Colombia into one of the world’s top three heroin producers, authorities say. Officials estimate the organization launders somewhere between $2 billion and $6 billion a year in Colombia, making drugs the country’s largest business.

Anti-narcotics officials say drug-related corruption has reached unprecedented levels after last year’s killing of Escobar, who had been blamed for the deaths of thousands of people.

The Cali gangsters hated Escobar and gave police detailed intelligence data on his movements. But instead of utilizing the kingpins as informants and then distancing themselves, many officials entered a “compromising relationship with the Cali cartel,” said a Colombian anti-drug official who asked to remain anonymous.

In August, security forces in Cali discovered a cartel payroll listing the names of more than 100 city policemen who allegedly received monthly bribes. Another 24 officers were secretly filmed taking bribes at the Bogota airport in exchange for allowing cocaine aboard planes.

In a recent interview, Samper acknowledged the problem of infiltration by the Cali cartel, saying “corruption in institutions is more damaging than a bomb planted by Pablo Escobar.” But, he added, “our tragedy is that we live in Technicolor and the United States judges us in black and white.”

Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel-prize winning author, lambasted Toft on national radio today, saying, “Colombia is the biggest victim of U.S. drug addiction.”

Gen. Miguel Maza Marquez, the former head of Colombia’s secret police and once a close friend of Toft’s, criticized his former colleague and called on the government to reevaluate the DEA’s role in Colombia.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/10/01/dea-agent-attacks-colombia-as-narco-democracy/410189e6-0878-48b9-925a-127ce47148f1/

Miami Herald, July 7, 1993

U.S. RIPS CUBA’S ‘EXTREME CRUELTY’ PROTESTS 3 KILLINGS NEAR BASE

CHRISTOPHER MARQUIS and DAVID HANCOCK Herald Staff Writers

Cuban marine patrols, determined to stop refugees from reaching the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, have repeatedly tossed grenades and shot at fleeing swimmers and recovered some bodies with gaff hooks, U.S. officials charged Tuesday.

At least three Cubans have been killed in the past month as Cuban patrol boats attacked swimmers within sight of U.S. Navy personnel at Guantanamo.

The killings are the latest sign that Cuba is resorting to violent means to stop a torrent of desperate people from fleeing the impoverished island.

“This is the most savage kind of behavior I’ve ever heard of,” said Robert Gelbard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America. The United States has no previous record of such activity in Cuba, he added, calling the practice “even worse than what happened at the Berlin Wall.”

The Clinton administration filed a formal protest Monday with the government of President Fidel Castro, calling on Havana to “immediately cease these barbaric practices,” said a State Department aide.

News of the attacks at Guantanamo comes amid a fierce crackdown by Cuban authorities on residents who try to leave the country.

On Thursday, Cuban patrols killed three people who tried to swim to a U.S.-registered speedboat near the town of Cojimar. The captain, a U.S. citizen and Florida Keys resident, was injured in a hail of bullets. A fifth man, also from South Florida, escaped.

In separate incidents Friday and Monday, authorities seized boats near Havana and Santa Cruz del Norte, arresting seven U.S. residents as they sought to help scores of relatives flee the island.

The men captured Monday were Cuban rafters who had spent only two months in this country.

“My brother did not want to live without his wife and two children,” said Camilo Bourzac, 28, whose brother Ernesto, 31, is now in jail on the island.

The attacks on swimmers in Guantanamo Bay drew especially sharp criticism because the refugees might easily have been detained without violence, U.S. officials said. “The idea of blowing people up when they are vulnerable underwater is appalling,” Gelbard said.

A State Department aide called the use of gaffs, usually used to pull gamefish into boats, to pull bodies from the water “an act of extreme cruelty.”

According to the U.S. protest, U.S. military guards surveying the bay have witnessed five separate incidents:

* On June 19 at 2 p.m., U.S. guards, startled by the sounds of detonations, saw Cuban troops aboard patrol boats dropping grenades in the paths of several swimmers headed for the U.S. base.
* On June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Cuban troops repeated the action, then strafed the water with machine-gun fire.
* On June 26 at 11 a.m., three patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
* On June 27 at 11:30 a.m., guards aboard patrol boats lobbed two grenades into the water.
* The same day, just before 3 p.m., a patrol boat opened automatic fire on a group of swimmers, who were later seen being pulled from the water. The swimmers’ status was unknown.

U.S. officials said they did not know how many people had been killed in the recent Guantanamo incidents, but said at least three could not have survived the attacks.

The number of Cubans seeking to reach Guantanamo, where they can apply for political asylum, has surged this year.

The base, which remains the last Western outpost in a Communist nation, reports that 195 Cubans have reached the facility this year, more than the total of 152 for all of 1992.

The statistic stands in even greater contrast to the years prior to the end of the Cold War: in 1988, 21 Cubans reached the Guantanamo base; in 1989, there were only 12.

About 90 percent of the refugees come by sea, crossing the bay waters in small craft or by swimming. Fences, guard posts and several strips of minefields deter those attempting to enter the base by land.

U.S. diplomats who presented the protest note to the Foreign Ministry in Havana warned that the use of explosives so close to the U.S. base could be considered a “provocative act.” The diplomats also lodged a separate protest Monday of last Thursday’s shooting against the Key West-registered speedboat, the Midnight Express. They described the act as “an excessive use of force” against a boat that posed no danger to Cuba.

A Washington source said Tuesday that the boat’s pilot, Ricky Hoddinott, who suffered gunshot wounds to the legs, told a U.S. diplomat that he and Hugo Portilla, a Cuban exile living in Miami, had traveled to Cuba to pick up five or six people.

However, when the Midnight Express approached Cojimar, between 50 and 100 people were waiting on the beach. About 30 jumped aboard and the boat began pulling away. At that point, Cuban Frontier Guards opened fire.

Hoddinott told the official that he raised his hands in surrender but the guards continued firing. Cuban officials said the troops were firing at the engines to disable the boat.

The State Department has not determined whether any of the others jailed in Cuba over the weekend are U.S. citizens. U.S. envoys in Havana have not visited the others or been asked to do so, officials said.

Cuban officials in Washington defended the crackdown on illegal entries into Cuban territory.
“We are going to continue picking up all boats that keep arriving in Cuban waters with the goal of smuggling people,” said Jose Luis Ponce, spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. “We are not going to allow them to continue violating our sovereignty.”

Herald staff writers Cynthia Corzo and Maria Morales contributed to this report.

WHO’S WHO
* The Cuban government seized a third boat on Sunday. Here is a list of who was on board: THIRD BOAT
* Jose Maria Garcia Vega
Status: In Cuban jail.
Residence: Hialeah.
Age: 35
Known relatives: In Hialeah, mother Mercedes Vega. In Cuba, a wife and two children ages 2 and 3.
* Ernesto Wilfredo Bourzac Nieto
Status: In Cuban jail.
Residence: Hialeah.
Age: 31
Known relatives: In Miami Lakes, brother Camilo Bourzac. In Cuba, wife Martha, and sons Osvaldo, 2, and Wilfredo, 4.
* Jose Farinas Grova
Status: In Cuban jail.
Residence: Unknown.
Age: Unknown.
Known relatives: Unknown.
FLEEING CUBA
Refugees reaching U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay:
1988
21
1989 12
1990
63
1991 228
1992 152
*1993 195

*As of July 6
Source: U.S. State Department

Cuban rafters picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard:
1988 58
1989 391
1990 497
1991 2,173
1992 2,557
*1993 1,131

*As of July 6
Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Center for a Free Cuba
https://www.cubacenter.org/