The white-suited hired assassin
PEDRO A. GARCIA (Granma daily staff writer)
DURING the Batista dictatorship he used to appear on the front page
of newspapers dressed in a white suit, somewhat resembling a bad
actor in a B crime movie, and an affected sardonic smile, sometimes
cradling a weapon. In the background there was always a group of
detained youths, whose life he had spared for the sake of publicity,
and some confiscated weapons.
At the time his name inspired horror and repugnance: Esteban
Ventura Novo, the killer from Havana’s Fifth Precinct (later he moved
his barracks of torture and iniquity to Zapata’s Ninth Precinct), was
infamous for his massacres. He was a police agent who gained his
promotion by means of murder, torture and disappearances,
eventually becoming a lieutenant colonel.
In the morning of January 1, 1959 he fled along with his chief,
General Batista. His name was constantly mentioned during the war
crimes trials in Cuba throughout 1959. On various occasions, the
Cuban government petitioned the U.S. government for his
extradition, but Washington always refused.
As time passed, Esteban Ventura ceased to be news in Cuba until
recently, when a news agency reported his death from a heart attack
at age 87 in Miami.
HE NEVER STROLLED HAVANA’S STREETS
Esteban Ventura was born in 1913 and became a police officer in the
mid ’30s. According to the testimony of former police lieutenant
Miguel Angel Pérez Catá (deceased), he had strong links with the
Partido Auténtico governments, characterized by corruption, and
particularly that of Carlos Prío, deposed by Batista in a coup on
March 10, 1952.
Venture immediately changed sides, quickly demonstrating loyalty to
his new master by uncovering conspiracies against the régime and
expropriating arms consignments from his former colleagues. Like
any traitor he never felt secure and resorted to crime to climb the
ranks. He directed his aggression at young people, whatever their
academic level, social class, faith or ideology. They were all guilty:
simply for being patriots.
He turned the Fifth Precinct (located in Belascoaín Street) into
worst den of torturers and murderers in the capital. It was there that
the order was given to literally dismember young revolutionary
Emiliano José Corrales; and that women were tortured, as was the
fate of Lidia Doce and Clodomira Acosta, whom he later dumped into
the sea with the aid of a Naval Intelligence officer. Dozens of victims
were chopped up and never found, while others were mutilated or
left with the indelible scars of his cruelty.
In his Memorias (Memoirs), published in the ’60s, which combine
calumny with arrogance, he affirmed that he used to stroll the
streets of Havana elegantly dressed in an expensive white linen or
English muslin suit. This was a total lie. He used to tour the streets of
Havana in heavily armored cars and no one ever knew in which one
he was riding. He organized the arrest of youths and prepared their
bloody torture from the safety of his car. He never personally
detained a revolutionary, but always sent his team of henchmen on
He organized the largest massacres of young persons ever known in
Havana. For example, on April 20, 1957, he sent his assassins to find
Fructuoso Rodríguez, then president of the Federation of University
Students (FEU), and students Juan Pedro Carbó Servía, Joe
Westbrook and José Machado, who had participated in heroic actions
on March 13. Ventura ordered that they be killed in cold blood.
His list of crimes continued. On September 12, 1958, his men forced
entry into an apartment in the Juanelo district of Regla and arrested
four revolutionaries (Reinaldo Cruz, Alberto Alvarez, Onelio Dampier
and Leonardo Valdés), and two women, the above-mentioned Lidia
and Clodomira. The "great defender of bourgeois democracy," as
Ventura later described himself, had no time for the law or for
There, in the apartment where they were arrested, he gave the order
to kill the men without trial. Everybody in the building heard the
The killings continued. Another example is that of Goicuría and
O’Farril Streets (November 8, 1958): after being taking prisoners
there, Angel Ameijeiras (Machaco), Pedro Gutiérrez and Rogelio
Perea were all murdered. Their corpses, showing evident signs of
torture and brutality, were dumped at a First Aid post.
Sometime Ventura’s hyenas liked to hunt down victims in the
streets. In Párraga, they fired 65 bullets into the body of Fernando
Alfonso (Morúa). Marcelo Salado suffered the same fate in Vedado.
Andrés Torres in the Víbora district tried to defend himself and they
continued firing even after he was dead.
The story goes that the white-suited assassin rarely stained his
clothes or his hands with the blood of his victims of torture. He
supervised the work of his aides, veritable experts in beatings,
removing nails and other horrific methods of torture. At most he
would intervene to try and break his victims psychologically or induce
them to betrayal.
THE BEST REFUGE
Ventura escaped justice. His extradition was consistently negated by
various U.S. administrations despite the evidence and witnesses to
his many crimes provided by the Cuban authorities. Just like Nazis
wanted for trial in Europe he found the United States his best refuge.
Ironically, he created a private security agency, Preventative Security
Services and Investigation in that country, using the techniques
employed against Cuban revolutionaries to protect entrepreneurs.
Naturally Ventura was not unique. Other assassins serving the Batista
dictatorship like him were Pilar García and Lutgardo Martín Pérez, to
name but two, who also found shelter in our neighboring nation.
They were followed by other batches of counterrevolutionary
terrorists of the caliber of Luis Posada Carriles, Guillermo Novo
Sampol and Félix Rodríguez, who are being protected by a country
which proclaims itself a champion in the fight against terrorism and
the defense of human rights.
The white-suited assassin’s career is over, but the country that
offered him a refuge continues to protect criminals like him.