4 Things You Didn’t (Want To) Know About Fidel Castro


For half a century Fidel Castro has held sway over Cuba, seeing off sanctions, assassination attempts and even US sponsored invasions. His resistance to the US has made him an icon to many, but what price has Cuba paid for his indefatigably?

Forced Labour And Firing Squads

During the mid 1960s Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba created a system of labour camps euphemistically called “Military Units in Aid of Production,” known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. By this time considerable opposition to the revolution had developed and Castro needed a mechanism whereby he could detain and if necessary liquidate undesirables.

The Interamerican Commission for Human Rights of the Organization of American States (OAS) estimated in a report on Cuba that at one point 30,000 Cubans were interned in the UMAP system.

In 1986 Paris hosted a “Tribunal on Cuba” to present testimonies by former prisoners of Cuba’s penal system. The gathering, sponsored by Resistance international and The Coalition of Committees for the Rights of Man in Cuba, heard allegations of torture in Cuba’s prisons and camps. These included beatings, biological experiments in diet restrictions, violent interrogations and extremely unsanitary conditions. The jury concurred with allegations of arbitrary arrests; sentencing by court martial with neither public audience nor defence; periods in hard labour camps without sufficient food, clothes and medical care; and the arrests of children over nine years old.

The Cuba Archive which documents deaths and disappearances resulting from Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution has documented 3,615 firing squad executions conducted by the Cuban state since Castro came to power on January 1, 1959.

Unabashed Homophobia

In 1965, two years after his attack against gays in his speech of March 13, 1963, Castro clearly spelled out his position on the treatment of gay Cubans. Castro acknowledged that a homosexual could profess revolutionary ideology and exhibit a correct political position, in which case he should not be considered politically negative. However, he held that “we would never come to believe that a homosexual could embody the conditions and requirements of conduct that would enable us to consider him a true Revolutionary, a true Communist militant. A deviation of that nature clashes with the concept we have of what a militant Communist should be.” Castro insisted on banning homosexuals from any position that could influence young people and strongly argued for the need to inculcate Cuban youth with a Spartan spirit of discipline, struggle, and work.

1984 saw the release of an award-winning French documentary about the UMAPs and the persecution of gays in Cuba. Castro took responsibility for this state sanctioned bigotry in a 2010 interview.

 Island Prison

Cubans require official permission to leave or return to Cuba, which is rarely granted. However this has not stopped thousands from trying, often desperately taking to the high seas on a variety of craft.

Armando Lago, a Cuban exile and economist has attempted to calculate how many have died fleeing the workers paradise. An update in 2007 showed 4,074 people were killed by Castro’s firing squads and 1,334 were the victims of extrajudicial killings. Another 16,282 died in combat, fighting both for and against Castro, both in Cuba and in places abroad like Angola. Using a mathematical formula based on U.S. Coast Guard and other figures, Lago has estimated that 77,833 would-be migrants have drowned at sea.

The most notorious incident involving Cuban migrants occurred in July 1994 when a group of 72 Cubans boarded a the tugboat 13 de Marzo with the intention of escape the island prison. Within minutes the vessel was under attack by Cuban naval vessels . By the time the incident was over 41 Cubans were dead, including 10 children.

A complaint about the incident was filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is an “autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.” The report concluded: The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life (Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) of the 41 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug “13 de Marzo”, which events occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994.

The Cuban State is responsible for violating the personal integrity (Article 1 of the American Declaration) of the 31 persons who survived the sinking of the tug “13 de Marzo”, as a consequence of the emotional trauma it caused. The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to freedom of movement and the right to a fair trial of the 72 people who attempted to flee Cuba, rights upheld in articles VIII and XVIII of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

Brutal Treatment Of Aids Sufferers

The Castro regime’s response to the AIDS crisis was been mandatory nation-wide testing with forced incarceration for anyone who tested positive for the HIV virus. Recently it was reported that young people in Cuba are purposely “shooting up” with HIV infected blood so that they can go to these camps to avoid forced labour.

In a letter dated 14 September 1992 that was smuggled out of a jail for political prisoners, it was reported that a number of prisoners with AIDS rioted on 19 August demanding better food and medical attention. Guards used rubber batons, wooden sticks, and other blunt instruments and an unknown number of prisoners were injured. Several of the AIDS sufferers were transferred to the maximum security area of the prison. Two months earlier a prisoner with AIDS sent to this area had his food quota cut in half and the diet recommended by doctors withdrawn. The prisoner died three weeks later. The fate of the others is unknown.

As recently as 2007 Amnesty reported that “Scores of people continued to be held without charge on suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities or on unclear charges. Their legal status remained unclear at the end of the year” and that “Freedom of expression, association and movement continued to be severely restricted. At least 69 prisoners of conscience remained imprisoned for their political opinions. Political dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists continued to be harassed, intimidated and detained, some without charge or trial.”


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