The Miami Herald
Sat, Apr. 10, 2004
Grieving mom rejecting Cuba

The mother of an executed ferry hijacker says nothing is left for her in Cuba one year after her son's death.

Associated Press

HAVANA - One year after a firing squad executed her son and two other ferryboat hijackers, Ramona Copello says there is nothing left for her in Cuba.

Her son, Lorenzo Enrique Copello, was among a group of armed men who seized a ferry full of passengers April 2, 2003, and tried to force it to sail to the United States.

''I keep asking myself why they executed him,'' Copello said during an interview. ``I want to leave this country.''

But she wants to exit legally as a political refugee to the United States. Her paperwork was submitted months ago, and now she awaits final word from American officials.


Her son seized the ferry during a series of attempted and successful hijackings of planes and boats that raised fears on both sides of the Florida straits of a brewing migration crisis.

Coming just as Fidel Castro's government was handing down prison sentences to 75 activists on charges of being U.S. mercenaries, the April 11, 2003, firing squad executions were roundly condemned around the world.

Although the hijackers were armed and some had threatened to harm passengers, none of the estimated 50 people aboard the ferry was hurt.

The executions were the first on the island in several years.


Although there have been several isolated hijacking attempts since then, the executions that shocked the world stopped a frenzied string of hijackings that alarmed communist officials.

Cuban authorities justified the executions as a painful measure necessary to prevent a mass exodus and possible retaliation by the United States.

''The government panicked,'' dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua said recently of the decision to send the men to the firing squad.

The head of Cuba's Moderate Opposition Reflection Group, Cuesta Morua is now overseeing a signature-gathering effort to eliminate capital punishment on the island.


Two weeks after the executions, Castro said U.S. officials and exile leaders were hoping for a mass exodus ``that could serve as a pretext for military aggression against Cuba.''

The last such exodus was in 1994, when Castro told Cubans they were free to go and more than 30,000 took to the sea in rickety boats and rafts.

''The sentences imposed by the tribunals and upheld by the Council of State had to be applied without wavering to the hijackers of the ferry,'' Castro said in an April 2003 speech.

All other would-be hijackers ''should know that they will undergo extremely quick trials in the appropriate courts,'' Castro said then.