CubaBrief: On November 7th, the National Day for the Victims of Communism, some of the victims of Cuban communism are highlighted.

November 7th is the National Day for the Victims of Communism, and is a day ” to remember those who have suffered and died at the hands of communist regimes in the past, and to stand for those who are fighting for freedom today.” This is an initiative launched by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in 2017, and has made an impact both nationally and at the state level over the past five years. Virginia has officially recognized this day of remembrance since 2018 on November 7th. Florida officially recognized the day for the first time this year.

Five US states (Alabama, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia) observe this national day, and eight more (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina) plan to join them.

This is a day for Cubans, who are still struggling to free Cuba from the Castro communist dictatorship, to remember the victims and highlight those still fighting for freedom today, and paying a high price.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have died due to the communist dictatorship in the island, but the regime has also racked up a body count in overseas revolutionary ventures.

This Cuba Brief will provide a partial accounting with some highlights for the sake of brevity.

Cuban dissidents tortured and killed.

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, and Harold Cepero Escalante killed on July 22, 2012

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization released a statement on December 13, 2021 that highlighted five things to know about the killings of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero, and the first two concerned who Oswaldo was and the circumstances surrounding his and Harold’s deaths on July 22, 2012:

“Oswaldo Payá was a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL for its Spanish acronym), an organization dedicated to human rights and democracy in Cuba. As a way to solidify the efforts of the MCL, Mr. Payá and others created the Varela Project, an initiative that focused on converting the ideals of freedom of expression, association, and press into concrete law. The Varela Project also strove to materialize the right to free elections in Cuba, and the release of political prisoners. Mr. Payá and his associates were well known for their activism throughout Cuba for many years.”

“In July of 2012, Mr. Payá, and fellow MCL member Harold Cepero were killed after the car they were traveling in with two other activists was intentionally charged by another vehicle bearing government license plates. The official report from the Cuban authorities stated that Ángel Carromero, the driver that day, lost control of the car, and he was subsequently convicted in Cuba, after a sham investigation, for vehicular homicide. Following his release to his home country of Spain, Carromero told the press that a hit from behind caused the crash and that Cuban authorities forced him to make a false confession. The Payá family provided evidence during the domestic investigation and judicial proceedings that fully countered the official version of events. Nonetheless, the Cuban authorities ignored the family’s complaints and refused to give them access to the investigation, and to guarantee their participation in the process.”

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas was interviewed in two documentaries in the early 2000s that highlighted his work on the Varela Project, and how he responded to the 2003 crackdown by the Castro dictatorship. The first documentary is Dissident ( 2002) by the National Democratic Institute and the second is The Cuban Spring (2003) by Carlos Gonzalez, of the CASLA Institute.

Until now, the most complete available report is from 2015 by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) highlighting the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the official government investigation following Payá’s death in 2012. HRF documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system. HRF’s report concludes that the “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.”

Video of the December 14, 2021 testimony at the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing available here.

Torturing prisoners of conscience into hunger strike and death

Yosvany Aróstegui Armenteros (2020, Wilman Villar Mendoza (2012), and Orlando Zapata Tamayo (2010) are three recent cases of Cuban prisoners of conscience who have died while on hunger strike in Cuban prisons. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo was born in Santiago, Cuba on May 15, 1967. He was by vocation a brick layer and also a human rights activist, a member of the Movimiento Alternativa Republicana, Alternative Republican Movement, and of the Consejo Nacional de Resistencia Cívica, National Civic Resistance Committee. Orlando gathered signatures for the Varela Project, a citizen initiative to amend the Cuban constitution using legal means with the aim of bringing Cuba in line with international human rights standards.

Amnesty International had documented how Orlando had been arrested several times in the past. For example he was temporarily detained on 3 July 2002 and 28 October 2002. In November of 2002 after taking part in a workshop on human rights in the central Havana park, José Martí, he and eight other government opponents were arrested and later released. He was also arrested on December 6, 2002 along with fellow prisoners of conscience Oscar Elías Biscet and Raúl Arencibia Fajardo.   

On February 23, 2010, Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after years of physical and psychological torture that began in 2003 and drove him to repeatedly protest prison conditions and, beginning on December 3, 2009, to undertake a water-only hunger strike that ended in his death. Aggravating this already extreme situation was the fact that prison officials repeatedly denied him water in an effort to get him to end the strike. Amnesty International condemned the death at the time and urged Raul Castro “to immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience after a political activist died following a hunger strike.” Twelve years later, the prisoners of conscience are still there, and the International Red Cross has not had access to Cuban prisons, save for a brief period over 30 years ago in 1989.

Poor prison conditions and ill treatment driving prisoners to go on hunger strike has been taking place for decades. The case of Pedro Luis Boitel is from 1972.

Martyred student leader Pedro Luis Boitel fought by Fidel Castro’s side to bring an end to the Batista dictatorship and restore Cuban democracy. However, as Castro came to impose a communist regime, the student leader became a liability.

Pedro Luis Boitel was born in Cuba to a family of modest means of French origin. He studied at the University of Havana while working as a radio technician. He was also a poet. Opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, he joined the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. The majority of the movement’s members, like Pedro Luis, were anti-communists.

Once Batista left for exile and Fidel Castro took control, the anti-communist members of the July 26 movement became an obstacle to absolute power. Following the revolution, Boitel returned to University, where his fellow students nominated him to run for the presidency of the Federation of University Students in 1960. Fidel Castro personally intervened to remove him from the presidency. Pedro Luis Boitel refused to betray the Federation of University Students. He sought to maintain academic freedom and autonomy. This made Pedro Luis an obstacle to the emerging communist regime.

As time went on and the dictatorial nature of the Castro regime became more apparent, the student leader became an opponent of Fidel Castro. Condemned to a decade in prison in 1961, he served the cruel and unjust sentence, but as the date of his release came and went, prison officials refused to release him. While imprisoned, Boitel continued to challenge the repression and the impunity of regime prison officials. […]

In response to the years of cruelty, torture, and now denial of his freedom, he went on hunger strike on April 3, 1972. Pedro Luis Boitel died fifty years ago on May 25, 1972, after 53 days on hunger strike in Havana at the Castillo del Principe prison. Academic freedom and autonomy ended in 1960 and were replaced with fear, repression, and ideological litmus tests to attend university. It has still not been restored today. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

Massacres in Cuba: The body count continues to rise

On October 28, 2022, off the coast of Bahía Honda, Artemisa Province, Ministry of the Interior (MININT) agents of the communist dictatorship in Cuba rammed and sank a speedboat of fleeing Cuban refugees. Seven Cubans were killed in this latest attack, and their names are: Aimara Meizoso, Israel Gómez, Indira Serrano, Omar Reyes, Yerandy García, Nathali Acosta, and Elizabeth Meizoso (age two). This is not an isolated incident, but the latest in a list of vessels sunk by the regime to prevent Cubans from fleeing communism. Those who survived the attack on October 28th stated that the MININT vessels blocked their path as soon as their boat departed, and that they were deliberately attacked to break the boat in half with which they intended to flee the island. These witness reports, gathered after the event, say that one of the repressors threatened to “split them in two.”

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.

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed

​ 37 were killed in 1994 with the attack and sinking of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”, scores of Cubans were killed in the Canímar River massacre in 1980, and five killed in the massacre of Barlovento in 1962. This is a partial accounting. The Cuban Coast Guard vessels of the Cuban dictatorship in all these cases were used as weapons against Cubans who tried to flee the island, regardless of the presence of children, women, or the elderly.

One need not commandeer a boat to be targeted for death.

The United States in 1993 documented in a protest note sent to the Cuban government how MININT vessels, determined to stop Cuban refugees from reaching the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, tossed grenades, and machine-gunned fleeing swimmers, and recovered their bodies with gaff hooks used in sport fishing.

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 boat lift.

Suspected Cuban migrants beaten down by club wielding regime agents.

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.”

Castro communist forces in Africa killed many.


Fidel and Raul Castro sent 17,000 Cuban forces in 1977 to Ethiopia to assist Mengistu Haile Mariam break opposition resolve. Number of Ethiopians killed by Mengistu and his Cuban allies were between 225,000 – 317,000, including at least over a thousand children between 11 and 13 years of age.

Human Rights Watch in their 2008 report on Ethiopia titled outlined “Collective Punishment War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali Region” some of the practices carried out by Cuban troops sent there by Fidel and Raul Castro excerpted below:

In December 1979, a new Ethiopian military offensive, this time including Soviet advisors and Cuban troops, “was more specifically directed against the population’s means of survival, including poisoning and bombing waterholes and machine gunning herds of cattle.”

Charles Lane of The Washington Post in the December 1, 2016 article “Castro was no liberator” raises the following question that touches heavily on Ethiopia:

Mengistu participated in a successful military coup against the U.S.-backed Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974, eventually seizing power on Feb. 3, 1977,by massacring his rivals in the officer corps. Castro admired this bloody deed as a preemptive strike against “rightists” that showed “wisdom” and cleared the way for Cuba to support Mengistu “without any constraints,” as he explained to East German dictator Erich Honecker in an April 1977 meeting whose minutes became public after the fall of European communism. […] With the Cuban forces watching his back, Mengistu wrapped up his bloody campaign of domestic repression, known as “the Red Terror,” and sent his own Soviet-equipped, Cuban-trained troops to crush a rebellion in Eritrea. The last Cuban troops did not leave Ethiopia until September 1989; they were still on hand as hundreds of thousands died during the 1983-1985 famine exacerbated by Mengistu’s collectivization of agriculture.


Cuban troops, in May 1977, took part in a massacre not long after independence in Angola following a split in the governing Communist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party. Amnesty International cites reports that 30,000 Angolans “had disappeared” in the purge; others say as many as 80,000 were killed.

International terrorism

The communist dictatorship in Cuba has also sponsored terrorism, and engaged in terrorism that has killed Americans.

The WASP Network (La Red Avispa) was made up of over forty officers and agents, four escaped to Cuba when the FBI began rounding them up in 1998. Ten were captured, and five of them pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecution and became unpersons in Cuba. The five who did not cooperate, remained loyal to Castro, and became the focus of an international propaganda campaign organized by the Castro regime. Rene Gonzalez served 13 years of his 15 year prison sentence and was the first of the spies freed in 2011. The second to be freed was Fernando Gonzalez after completing his sentence in February 2014. The campaign did not end until December 2014 when the remaining three spies (Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramon Labanino ) with the longest prison sentences, had them commuted by President Obama.

The Wasp Network engaged in espionage: targeted U.S. military facilities, planned to smuggle arms and explosives into the United States, infiltrated two non-violent exile groups, and carried out numerous other activities to sow division, shape public opinion, meddle in U.S. elections, and provided information for Operation Scorpion that led to the extrajudicial killings of Armando Alejandre Jr, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Peña and Pablo Morales on February 24, 1996. Operation Scorpion was a Cuban intelligence operation of the Castro regime that sought to destroy Brothers to the Rescue using MiG fighters to shoot down their planes in an act of state terrorism carried out over international airspace.

Aftermath of bombing in Fraunces Tavern in 1975 that killed four in New York City

The Puerto Rican terrorist group, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña, (FALN), ‘FALN was started in the mid-1960’s with a nucleus . . . that received advanced training in Cuba. From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, the FALN carried out more than 130 bombings, including in the United States killing five Americans in the New York City area. There were many other terrorist groups trained, and equipped in Cuba over the past 63 years, but for the sake of brevity will focus on the FALN.

Frank Connor killed by Castro backed terrorists.

The FALN was responsible for the January 24, 1975 explosion at Fraunces Tavern, which killed Alejandro Berger (28), James Gezork (32), Frank Connor (33), Harold H. Sherburne (66) and wounded 63 others; a bombing spree in New York City in August 1977 that killed Charles Steinberg, (age 26), injured six, and forced the evacuation of 100,000 office workers; and the purposeful targeting and maiming of four police officers, among many other crimes. Frank Thomas Connor was having lunch with clients when the bomb exploded, his body was pulverized and his life was ended.

“Frank was born to a humble immigrant Irish family in the Washington Heights section of New York City. His father, Thomas Connor, was an elevator operator. Frank’s Mom, Margaret Maloney Connor was a cleaning lady at Morgan Guaranty Trust. Frank pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. He graduated from Bishop Dubois High School in Washington Heights. Frank went on to study at City College of New York. Frank paused in his studies for Mary Lynch, the most beautiful woman in the world. After their marriage, Frank resumed college at night. He graduated with the class of 1973 from Farleigh Dickenson College in New Jersey. Frank worked for Morgan Guaranty Trust. Together, Frank and Mary had two fine sons, Thomas and Joseph. On the day their father died Tom was 11 and Joe was 9 years of age.” [ Source: Find a grave ]

Thomas, Joseph, Frank & Mary all together. (Photo courtesy of Joseph F. Connor)

This is but a sampling, and by no means is a complete accounting of the victims of communism in Cuba.

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, November 7, 2022

Victims of Communism Memorial Day

Each year on November 7, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation marks the National Day for the Victims of Communism to remember those who have suffered and died at the hands of communist regimes in the past, and to stand for those who are fighting for freedom today.

On this day, we remember the more than 100 million lives lost to the most deadly ideology known to humanity.

On this day, we remember that while the Berlin Wall may have fallen, communism most certainly did not—more than 1.5 billion people are still oppressed by tyrannical regimes that imprison, enslave, and kill opposition and “undesirables” across China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam.

On this day, we remember the heroes who stood resolute in the face of tyranny and those who continue to fight to this day.

On this day, join us at the Victims of Communism Museum to mourn the victims, celebrate the freedom fighters, and bear witness to the crimes of communism because on this day we must remember.

Virginia Mercury, November 7, 2022

The Bulletin

Virginia has a ‘Victims of Communism Memorial Day’

By: Sarah Vogelsong – November 7, 2022

Virginia’s state flag flies in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Election Day is this week’s marquee event, but Virginia has another little-known day on its November calendar: the Victims of Communism Memorial Day, which the commonwealth has recognized since 2018 on Nov. 7. 

“Based on the economic philosophies of Karl Marx, communism has proven incompatible with the ideals of liberty, prosperity, and dignity of human life and has given rise to such infamous totalitarian dictators as Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Ho Chi Minh, and Pol Pot,” declares the joint resolution creating the day, which was passed by both the House of Delegates and state Senate during the 2018 session.

Since then, other states have adopted nearly identical resolutions, following model language crafted by the conservative nonprofit American Legislative Exchange Council later in 2018. 

According to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C., Virginia was the first state to designate the day. Alabama, Florida, Texas and Utah have also passed such resolutions, with eight others considering them. 

Virginia’s resolution was proposed by former Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, and co-patroned by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Democratic Dels. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, and Mark Keam, D-Fairfax.

Both Tran and Keam, who stepped down from the House earlier this fall, fled Vietnam with their families as children.

Among the information included in Virginia’s and others’ Victims of Communism Memorial Day resolution is the statement that “communist regimes worldwide have killed more than 100 million people.” The claim stems from the 1997 “Black Book of Communism” and has been criticized by some scholars as inflated or as obscuring deaths linked to capitalism, such as those connected with the Atlantic slave trade. 

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit organization authorized by a unanimous act of Congress in 1993, writes on its website that “positive attitudes toward communism and socialism are at an all-time high in the United States. We have a solemn obligation to expose the lies of Marxism for the naïve who say they are willing to give collectivism another chance.” 

The group’s board is chaired by Edwin Feulner, founder and former president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. Jay Katzen, a former Republican Virginia delegate from Fauquier, was the foundation’s president until he died in 2020.

The Charlottesville chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said in an email that increasingly positive attitudes towards communism and socialism are “not surprising, given the massive increase in wealth inequality in recent years.”

“It is time to look past the blatant demonization of Marx and socialism coming from right-wing organizations like the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation,” the group wrote. “Marx inspired some of the most important humanitarian causes in human history, and followers of his philosophy have contributed incredible things to our society. Marxists inspired the growth of trade unionism in the 19th and 20th centuries, which brought health care, paid leave, eight hour work days and weekends to millions.”

Florida Politics, November 7, 2022

State’s first official Victims of Communism Day coincides with Election Day this year

By Anne Geggis

The first official “Victims of Communism Day,” is today — and all Nov. 7’s onward — even if the effect of the law won’t kick in until next year.

There’s no day off for this official observance, but state officials reminded Floridians Sunday why this piece of Russian history was written into Florida statute.

“Those from Cuba, South America, or Eastern Europe have plenty of criticisms to offer on communism — and since November 7th is now ‘Victims of Communism Day’ in Florida, the willfully ignorant will have a harder time keeping up this ruse,” Bryan Griffin, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary tweeted Sunday.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. highlighted how Florida just joined a growing list of states who take note of Nov. 7, tweeting a link to the Victims of Communism Memorial Day. Memorializing the day started with Virginia, which recognized it in 2018 legislation. Now Florida is the latest on a list that includes Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

Nov. 7 is the anniversary of the day in 1917 when Vladimir Lenin stormed the Russian capital to overthrow the government. It ignited a worldwide movement.

The law calls for honoring the 100 million victims of communist regimes around the world. It means students will get at least 45 minutes of instruction about the evils that Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Russia’s Lenin and Joseph Stalin, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, Cambodia’s Pol Pot and China’s Mao Zedong unleashed on the world, forcing victims to suffer suppression of speech, poverty, starvation, migration and systemic lethal violence.

The legislation (HB 395) enjoyed unanimous approval in both the House and the Senate.

Miami-area Republican Reps. David Borrero and Alex Rizo sponsored the legislation in the House and Then-Republican Diaz introduced it in the Senate. The Senate adopted it, also.

That it falls just around the biennial ritual of going to the polls also seems like an opportune time to remind the descendants of these victims which party is more like those who would send its citizens to the gulag or internment camps.

For Misha Fitton, who says he’s a DeSantis organizer, which political party to support to keep communism from resurging is obvious.

“Florida is the tip of the spear against the evils of communism,” he wrote on Twitter Sunday. “Do you stand with the communists or Governor DeSantis?”

The New York Times published an article Saturday noting DeSantis’ signature on the legislation, along with turning Miami-Dade County from a Democratic stronghold to one that is expected to swing Republican. Unofficial voter totals show more than 6,000 more Miami-Dade County Republicans have voted than Democrats.

The new law requires high school students enrolled in the U.S. Government course, to receive at least 45 minutes of instruction on the evils of communism.

The Catholic World Report, November 7, 2022

Victims of Communism Memorial Day recognizes tens of millions murdered

Since the collapse of communist governments in many countries in the late twentieth century, there has been a movement to recognize the human damage done by the bloody political ideology.

Dawn Beutner

The Dispatch

Monument to Lenin in St. Petersburg (deno/; Soviet flag (dimbar76/

Has your state formally recognized November 7 as Victims of Communism Memorial Day? Five US states (Alabama, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Virginia) have done so, and eight more (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina) have plans to join them.

Why should we remember victims of communism on November 7? May 1—the day of the year on which communist governments have traditionally celebrated their ideology—might seem a better choice. However, to avoid competition with their well-known May Day celebrations, the general consensus has moved toward the anniversary of the date when the first communist regime was established.

On November 7, 1917, Red Guards took over the Winter Palace and ousted the Russian Provisional Government, giving Vladimir Lenin and his Bolsheviks control of Russia. Communism subsequently spread to other countries throughout the twentieth century, from Eastern European nations such as Poland after World War II, to Asian nations such as Cambodia, and to African nations such as Angola.

Since the collapse of communist governments in many countries in the late twentieth century, there has been a movement to recognize the human damage done by the bloody political ideology. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, for example, is promoting this memorial date to encourage us to remember annually the men, women, and children who lived and died under communism. That foundation publicizes the stories of the real suffering endured by those who have lived under communism, and it seeks justice for those who are still living under communism. This is clearly not a problem of the past; as their website points out, “one-fifth of the world’s population still lives under single-party communist regimes in China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

According to The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press, 1999), the number of people who died under communism is truly staggering. Based on unofficial totals, communism caused:

  • 20 million deaths in the USSR

  • 65 million deaths in China

  • 1 million deaths in Vietnam

  • 2 million deaths in North Korea

  • 2 million deaths in Cambodia

  • 1 million deaths in Eastern Europe

  • 150,000 deaths in Latin America

  • 1.7 million deaths in Africa

  • 1.5 million deaths in Afghanistan

  • 10,000 deaths internationally through the communist movement

These estimated deaths come from secular sources. It is not always possible to be certain about such totals, due to communist governments’ predilection for the use of massacres, killing fields, and prison camps. But it is widely believed that 100 million human beings have died under communism from that fateful day of November 7, 1917, to the present.

The secular world may keep track of communism’s victims; the Catholic Church keeps track of her martyrs. There is, in the month of November, no shortage of either.

The conflict known as the Spanish Civil War is not included in the grand tally of communism’s victims above, probably because that number generally doesn’t include victims of wars. The 286 Spanish men and women who were executed by communist sympathizers in the single month of November in 1936 are considered martyrs by the Church because they were killed out of hatred for their Catholic faith. This is easy to prove since most of these martyrs were priests, religious brothers, and religious sisters. However, this number also includes seven laymen who are remembered on November 6. Why were these seven men—two of whom were teenagers—targeted for their faith? Apparently, membership in the Association of the Miraculous Medal, a pious association of the laity which promotes devotion to the Blessed Mother and the wearing of her famous medal, was considered a crime worthy of death.

On November 5, 1950, Blessed Hryhoriy Lakota died a martyr in Russia. He was born in Ukraine and became a priest, as well as an auxiliary bishop of Przemyśl in Poland. When the USSR took control of Poland after World War II, communist leaders simply sent many Catholic leaders to prison camps to try to destroy the practice of the faith. Hryhoriy was one of those leaders. He died in Vorkuta Corrective Labor Camp, a major gulag in the USSR, which housed common criminals, POWs, and other “enemies of the state”. Survivors of the camp later remembered Hryhoriy’s virtuous behavior, despite its brutal conditions. When Morris West wrote his novel The Shoes of the Fisherman, he modeled his main character, Kiril Pavlovich Lakota, after two men: Blessed Hryhoriy and Ukrainian bishop Josyf Slipyi.

On November 5, the Church remembers thirty-eight Catholics who were martyred in Albania during the many years that Christians endured repression under communists. Almost all of these martyrs, who died between 1945 and 1974, were Albanian priests. Many endured months of torture in prison before they were executed. Blessed Maria Tuci, the only woman in the group, was a schoolteacher and was twenty-two years old at the time of her death. After she refused the sexual advances of a member of the secret police, she was arrested and accused of the crime of teaching the catechism to her students. She refused to divulge information about other Catholics, even after being brutally tortured for over a year. The hospital workers who cared for Maria before her death remembered that she forgave her torturers and died holding her rosary.

November also marks the dates of the martyrdoms of three priests and two bishops from Eastern Europe. Blessed Vincent Eugene Bossilkov was a Passionist priest of Bulgaria and titular bishop who died a martyr on November 11, 1952. Blessed Peter (Kamen) Vitchev and two other priests of the Congregation of Augustinians of the Assumption were executed by firing squad and died as martyrs on November 13, 1952. Blessed Josaphat Kotsylovsky was a Basilian monk and bishop of Przemyśl, Poland, when he was subjected to a mock trial and sent to a prison camp near Kiev, Ukraine. Josaphat died on November 17, 1947, as a result of the conditions of the prison. All five of these men suffered imprisonment and death because communist leaders saw Catholic priests as their enemies in their efforts to control and inspire terror in their civilian populace.

The truth about life under communism is painful and often brutal. It is also virtually absent from most educational curricula. Why are we surprised that young people—and many college-educated adults—are unaware of the dangers of life under communism when they are never taught about those dangers? That’s why the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has developed an educational program about the ideology and history of communism, a program which includes both workshops for teachers and curriculum for middle school and high school students.

Whether your state formally recognizes the victims of communism on November 7 or not, think of these blesseds during the month of November. And ask them to help us find ways to teach our children the truth about the errors of communism, a truth which starts with an understanding of the dignity of every human life.

Center for a Free Cuba, November 3, 2022

Massacre in Cuba: Ramming and sinking of boat filled with Cuban refugees is part of the Castro dictatorship’s systematic pattern of repression

“Extrajudicial killings against fleeing Cuban refugees are and have been the policy of the Cuban government for decades. Disappointing that someone at the U.S. Embassy in Havana forgot this.”

Center for a Free Cuba. Miami, November 3, 2022. The ramming and sinking of a speedboat on October 28, 2022, off the coast of Bahía Honda, Artemisa Province, adds a new case to the long list of vessels sunk by the regime to prevent Cubans from fleeing the dictatorship. Seven Cubans were killed in this latest attack, and their names are: Aimara Meizoso, Israel Gómez, Indira Serrano, Omar Reyes, Yerandy García, Nathali Acosta, and Elizabeth Meizoso (age two). “They continue to use the same strategies since the communist dictatorship was established in Cuba. Attack boats to break them in half, then drown the passengers by creating eddies, physically attacking them as they try to swim, or using powerful jets of water.

“This also happened in 1994 with the tugboat “13 de Marzo”, the same thing happened in the Canímar River massacre in 1980, and the massacre of Barlovento in 1962, although most of the cases are not known. The Cuban Coast Guard vessels of the Cuban dictatorship are used as weapons against Cubans who try to flee the island, regardless of the presence of children, women, or elderly people,” explained activist and writer Janisset Rivero, who is the program officer of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Those who survived the attack on October 28th stated that the government vessels blocked their path as soon as their boat departed, and that they were deliberately attacked to break the boat in half with which they intended to flee the island. These witness reports, gathered after the event, say that one of the repressors threatened to “split them in two.”

“Cuba’s feared Ministry of the Interior (MININT) on October 29th blamed the United States for this crime, but the reality is that the MININT is directly responsible for the conduct of the Cuban Coast Guard ship that attacked and sank the boat carrying Cuban refugees, and the subsequent loss of life.  This has been the policy of Havana to murder fleeing Cuban refugees for decades,” said John Suárez, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

“It was deeply disappointing to see the U.S. Embassy in Havana initially call this criminal and premeditated act an ‘accident’.”  They should know better. The United States in 1993 documented in a protest note sent to the Cuban government how MININT vessels, determined to stop Cuban refugees from reaching the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base, tossed grenades, and machine-gunned fleeing swimmers, and recovered their bodies with gaff hooks used in sport fishing.  The criminal nature of the regime in Havana has been reliably demonstrated over 63 years and to the present day,” added Mr. Suarez. 

At a time when the issue of the United States trade embargo on Cuba is being debated at the UN the Center for a Free Cuba denounces the criminal regime in Havana and asks the international community to condemn the ongoing internal economic, political, and social blockade the Castro regime has imposed on Cubans for more than six decades.