A son's execution, a mother's rage
Escape attempt draws swift retribution from Castro's courts
By TRACEY EATON / The Dallas Morning News
HAVANA – The knock on the door came at 6 a.m. "Your son has been executed," a state security agent said.
Rosa María García flew into a rage and began hurling insults – and rocks. When her husband tried to stop her, she bit him.
"I went psycho," she said. And she wasn't the only one who was upset.
The execution of her son and two other hijackers in April touched off an international furor that lingers today.
Critics say the killings revealed a crumbling regime's desperation and
disregard for justice. Cuban officials deny that, and Fidel Castro defends
the executions, saying
he prevented a migrant exodus and a potentially catastrophic military confrontation with the United States.
Beyond these explanations, there's a simpler story, one that any mother
would understand. It's a story of an ordinary woman, Ms. García,
45, and her only son,
Bárbaro Sevilla, 22.
"He was a good boy," she said from her sparse, run-down apartment. "He only wanted a better life for himself and for me."
Cuban authorities have less kind words, calling Mr. Sevilla an undesirable,
someone who had had scrapes with the law. His mother said all she knows
is that he was
once accused of stealing some CDs.
Whatever the case, he wasn't happy in Cuba. He wanted out.
He was struggling to get by on the $2 per day he earned at a pizza parlor.
And his mother wasn't doing any better. She woke at 3 a.m. most days to
husband, Luís Alberto Romero, 43, at a vegetable stand.
"Momma, you work too hard," she said her son told her. "I'm taking a raft to Miami so I can send you money."
She called that "craziness. The sharks will eat you. He told me, 'That doesn't matter. I can't stand communism.' "
Ms. García thought it was just talk.
Then sometime after 1:40 a.m. on April 2, authorities detected a ferry
leaving Havana harbor. Mr. Sevilla and 10 others had commandeered the flat-bottomed
with 29 people aboard.
It was a desperate act. The ferry, used for trips across the Bay of Havana, wasn't built for the open sea. Nor did it have enough fuel.
At 3 a.m., authorities say, the hijackers demanded a boat to continue
their journey and vowed they'd begin tossing hostages overboard if their
demand was not met.
Negotiations went on as the ferry drifted off the coast in gale-force winds.
Ms. García said her son personally negotiated with Mr. Castro
for the ferry's return. As she tells the story, the Cuban president said
the craft would be towed ashore
Looking back, she said, "it was a trick." Authorities didn't refuel the ferry; instead, they captured the hijackers after hostages began jumping overboard at 3:55 p.m.
Officials say their tactics, which included the use of divers and heavily armed commandos, helped save the hostages' lives.
Ms. García contends that the hijackers didn't intend to kill
anyone. And at one point, she said, some on board were so elated to be
going to Florida they began
Trials against the accused started April 5 and lasted three days. Eight
of the 11 defendants received jail terms ranging from two years to life.
Three were sentenced
Ms. García said she became hysterical after hearing the verdict.
Authorities rushed her to a hospital. A nurse was waiting with a syringe
that she jabbed into the
mother's thigh and buttocks. Then they told her to relax and put her on a cot.
"A police officer asked what my situation was, what my problem was."
She said she told him her son made a mistake, "but I didn't want him shot.
I wanted a life
sentence. I didn't care what he got as long as he stayed alive."
A higher court upheld the death sentences and the three were executed
by firing squad on April 11. None of the families knew the executions had
been carried out
until their loved ones had been buried.
Authorities that morning blocked off streets around Ms. García's
apartment. Later they loaded her into a patrol car and took her away. They
also jailed two of her
daughters, Yamila and Elisbet, both in their 20s, for the day and her husband for a week.
Ms. García said that when she returned home, authorities put
her on a train for her home province, Las Tunas, in eastern Cuba. She says
that was to hide her from
journalists; authorities decline to comment.
No matter, her only goal now is to leave Cuba and the bitter memories behind.
"I want to go to the United States. I'm hoping someone will help me realize the dream my son couldn't fulfill."
Now in Havana, she has met with American diplomats and Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega to complain that she and her husband are being persecuted.
Many of her neighbors avoid talking to her. She said they want nothing to do with the woman who screamed, "Down with Fidel! Murderer!"
Ramona Copello, mother of a second executed hijacker, Lorenzo Enrique Copello, also denounced Mr. Castro.
"I have always had tremendous affection for the comandante. You could
say I loved him, but now I don't," she told Reuters news service. "He assassinated
The family of the third executed man, Jorge Luís Martínez,
has sued the Cuban government for wrongful death. Judicial Watch, a government
watchdog group in
Washington, D.C., filed the suit on behalf of the man's sister, Yordanis Montoya Isaac. She hopes to receive damages from Cuban government assets that are frozen
in the United States.
Cuban officials have not responded to the suit.
Mr. Castro has said the executions were both legal under Cuban law and necessary.
Without the executions, he said, there could have been a massive rafters'
exodus, and that would have given Cuba's enemies in the U.S. government
a pretext to
invade the island.
Ms. García doesn't buy that. And she declares, "I would have
rather had a shark eat my son than have him executed by Castro."