The Miami Herald
Apr. 11, 2003

Sister: They were treated like dogs


  The half-sister of one of the men executed boldly denounced the government in a telephone interview with The Herald from her aunt's home in Old Havana.

  ''We went to the trial the 7th and the sentence was very hard. They treated my brother and the others like dogs. They said they were going to be sanctioned to death. Just like that. They used those ugly words, sancionado a muerte,'' said María Ester Montoya Isaac, sister of Jorge Luis Martínez.

  She said her brother was not a terrorist.

  ''They never proved that they mistreated anyone on board the ferry. On the contrary, everyone said they tried to maintain the peace. The one with the gun, he shot into the air and into the water, but never threatened anyone,'' Montoya said.

  She characterized the trial as a joke and said her brother never got due process.

  ''We appealed the same day as the trial, but they never gave us time to get a good lawyer. The next day was the appeal, at 7 p.m. I had to go and find the same lawyer,'' Montoya said. "His lawyer said that they were not terrorists, that they were victims of the Cuban Adjustment Act. That Fidel himself had not called them terrorists, but pirates.

  ``He said that here, in this country, they were constructing many hospitals and policlínicos [all-purpose clinics] with the idea to save lives, not kill.''

  But, apparently, the argument did not sway the state.

  Relatives didn't know that it would be their last visit when they saw Jorge Luis Martínez on Thursday morning. His sister said they got a call to come to the prison for a visit. Her mother and stepfather went with her and another sister.

  'He was drugged with pills. He said the guards were drugging him. He was like a crazy man. He kept screaming, `They're going to kill me! They're going to kill me!' We told him to calm down,'' Maria Ester Montoya said, her voice shaking with anger.

  She said authorities only allowed them to visit for ten minutes. "We hardly had time to talk to him. When we left, a colonel came up to us and told us in a very low voice that the Supreme Court had upheld the sentence.''

  But they didn't know it would come that fast, she said.

  About 6 a.m. Friday morning, someone called the family to tell them they had to go to the Colón Cemetery for the funeral of Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac. But by the time they arrived at the historic cemetery, her brother had already been buried.

  "It is a criminal act, what they've done. My family is devastated. My mother is having a heart attack, she is hysterical. She is going crazy. And my other sister is
  controlling her blood pressure with pills.

  ''He was shot in less than 24 hours,'' his sister cried. ``We want the world to know what happened here. They say that there is no death penalty in this country. The world needs to know who El Comandante Fidel Castro is. He was the one who directed all of this, the trial, the firing squad, everything.''

  She said many families were still trying to appeal the quick sentences handed down earlier this week and that some had been turned away because they didn't have the required 150 pesos [about $7.50] for the paperwork to be processed.

  "Many families did not have the money to ask for the appeal. That is an injustice. There were no international journalists.''

  A brother of hers held in detention for lacking identification papers has been subjected to harsher treatment and slapped with a 1,000-peso bond after authorities found out
  he was related to one of the accused hijackers.

  And Montoya's sister-in-law, Dania Rojas Mongora -- a 26-year-old from Holguín -- was sentenced to two years in prison for her part in the ill-fated hijacking attempt.

  ''She did nothing wrong,'' Montoya insisted. ``She went because she was in love with my brother, but she didn't do anything. None of them did.

  "There were declarations that at no time did they threaten anybody. They used the arms to see if they could flee to the United States. It was the only solution.''

  She said the family has been living in the dining room of a state-run labor center for nearly a year since part of their apartment building in Old Havana collapsed and
  housing authorities condemned the structure, ordering that it be demolished.

  ''They said we would be here for 24 hours and it's been a year now,'' Montoya said.

  "We are like dogs.''