Published Friday, September 8, 2000, in the Miami Herald
In N.Y., Cuban exiles detail abuses
Accounts help book project
By Frank Davies. email@example.com .
NEW YORK -- One by one, the women in black stood up Thursday, four blocks from where Fidel Castro is staying.
In English and Spanish, they told their stories: families harassed for speaking out against Castro's government, relatives beaten and neglected in prison, young men whose bodies were never recovered.
"The most terrible pain is not knowing, never being able to bury a son,'' said Georgina Shelton, whose aunt died in Miami recently. Cuban officials never told Rosa Shelton what happened to her son during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
The Cuban exile women, representing a coalition of groups, recounted many more recent cases. Vicky Ruíz Labrit, a dissident allowed to leave Cuba last year, faced numerous arrests and reprisals against her family.
"I have come here to New York to raise my voice -- people need to know these things,'' said Ruíz, who now lives in Miami with her two children.
While the 30 women from Miami and the New York area came to the Helmsley Palace Hotel to put a human face on abuses in Cuba, an economist in Maryland said he is nearing completion on a book that documents executions and killings in Cuba since Castro took power in 1959.
Using old news accounts, U.S. and Organization of American States records and family histories, Armando Lago believes that the Castro government has executed from 15,000 to 18,000 people. That includes about 4,000 killed by firing squads in the first three years of the revolution.
Case by case, Lago said he has also documented 500 killed by prison guards, about 500 who died from medical neglect, almost 200 suicides of political prisoners and more than 1,000 assassinations and disappearances.
"I dont accept hearsay accounts,'' Lago said. "Some in Miami may not like this because I have found errors and duplications in past accounts.''
A leader of Amnesty International, a major human rights group, said verifying such totals is very difficult.
"We are aware of at least 13 executions last year, and we believe there are several hundred political prisoners now,'' said William Schulz, Amnestys executive director, on Thursday.
"Harassment of dissidents continues, and restrictions on them have gotten worse.''
Ivonne Conde, an organizer of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women in New York, said that exile groups have to do a better job publicizing the toll of abuses under Castros rule.
"Weve heard a lot about [Augusto] Pinochet, and the 3,000 deaths that were verified,'' Conde said.
On 4th visit, Cuban leader in position of power
By Frances Robles. firstname.lastname@example.org
UNITED NATIONS -- Fidel Castro's beard is grayer, his fatigues absent and his prepared speech much shorter.
For this visit to the United Nations, his fourth, the Cuban president brought no live poultry and did not spend his nights at a landmark budget Harlem hotel.
Forty years after his inaugural U.N. address, Castro isn't a scruffy revolutionary straight out of the mountains. He's a world leader in power for four decades on the heels of a victory over Miami's Cuban-American community. Most notable, this time the Cuban president even shook hands with the
president of the United States during an unexpected encounter Wednesday at a U.N. luncheon.
But Castro was left off President Clinton's guest list for a Thursday night reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but no one is treating either the handshake or the subsequent snub as a big deal, in keeping with the low-key tone of the Castro visit.
The Cuban leader's presence at the Millennium Summit has lacked the fanfare and histrionics of prior trips. Although cloaked by heavy security, the four blocks surrounding the Cuban Mission were not closed off as they were in 1979. The 3,000 people who showed up to protest him 21 years ago
stayed home; only about 100 mustered the energy this time.
"He's among his peers,'' says Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, who has met with Castro many times. "In that sense, he doesn't stand out the way he did previously. He seems more a part of the process.''
Although his anti-superpower rhetoric has not changed, the contrasts in Castro's visits illustrate the differences in the man, the leader, and the stormy relationship between the two nations. After a rough few years between the United States and Cuba -- and the heated controversy over Elián
González -- Castro seems less willing to take deliberate jabs at the United States.
Castro first came to the United States in 1960, bringing with him armed military-outfitted revolutionaries and 500 bags of food.
He stormed out of midtown Manhattan's Shelburne Hotel in a huff, furious that the management requested a $10,000 deposit, holing up with his men at the Hotel Theresa, where he met with Malcolm X and Nikita Khrushchev.
"It was quite a show,'' said Eddie Levy, chairman of the Jewish Solidarity and one of a group of Miami Cuban Americans who plan a visit with Castro Saturday.
He returned 19 years later. In 1979, New York City police assigned thousands of police officers to protect him. Just as many people protested his presence -- including his sister.
On his last previous visit in 1995, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Council, business people were eager to get on his calendar. Fewer did so this week, Kavulich said, largely because of the stormier relationship between the United States and Cuba.
Attorney facing trial
Lawyer says she's singled out after helping jailed Elián protesters
By Marika Lynch. email@example.com
Miami immigration attorney Grisel Ybarra, arrested while trying to help protesters jailed after federal agents removed Elián González from Little Havana, may now be one of the few of the 435 charged in the raid's aftermath to stand trial.
In Miami-Dade, protesters with a clean record could opt to have their charges dismissed if they agreed to counseling or community service. Charges against many others -- like Luis Penelas, brother of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, and 11-year-old Christopher Quintana, the youngest arrested --
But neither happened for Ybarra, who is being tried in Broward County because Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle is a witness in the case.
Prosecutors there believe they have a strong case against the immigration attorney, who allegedly ignored police warnings to stop blocking traffic along Northwest Seventh Street, where she was collecting bond money for jailed protesters. Three officers had warned her to stay out of the street,
according to court documents.
Broward Assistant State Attorney John Countryman said his office hasn't offered to drop charges in exchange for community service or counseling because, unlike Miami-Dade, Broward defendants have to admit guilt to participate in that program.
"I think it's going to be a cold day you know where'' before the well-known attorney does that, Countryman said.
Ybarra, who is also a radio commentator on Radio Mambí, believes she is being singled out.
"I am the example, so that the ghetto never rises again,'' Ybarra said.
"Think about it. For the first time in the history of the United States an immigrant community stood up to the Justice Department. That was an embarrassment for the United States, and I am the most high-profile person that was arrested and I'm being the example.''
Her court file on two misdemeanor charges tops 200 pages, with testimony from 10 law enforcement officers. If convicted, she could face up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and an investigation by the Florida Bar.
Ybarra's troubles began April 25, dubbed Black Tuesday, the day Cuban exiles called for a countywide shutdown to protest the raid that removed the rafter boy from his uncle's Little Havana home.
Ybarra and TV host Tomás García Fusté decided to collect money to spring those still jailed after weekend protests. First they consulted Dade State Attorney Rundle, then announced the drive over the radio and local cable station Telemiami. At 2 p.m. cars flooded to the
station, 2920 NW Seventh St., to donate.
Two hours later, as Ybarra darted in the street between cars to collect, Miami Police Lt. Rene Landa asked officer Jennifer Pastor to pull Ybarra aside, according to Landa's deposition. As Pastor approached Ybarra and grabbed her arm, the two scuffled over the attorney's collection box.
Ybarra either was pushed or fell into the crowd, gathered on the sidewalk, and police began to spray tear gas.
The attorney told officers she had Rundle's consent to collect the money, but in a deposition Rundle said she tried to urge Ybarra to wait until they could further investigate how many people were still in jail.
The state attorney couldn't recall if the two discussed whether Ybarra would be standing in the street.
The cable station caught the arrest on videotape, and it was played over and over on TV news. Then Miami City Manager Donald Warshaw said he was "disturbed'' by the way Ybarra was taken into custody. Saying Pastor falsely arrested her and used too much force, Ybarra filed an internal
affairs complaint against the officer.
Pastor has since been cleared of any wrongdoing, said Delrish Moss, Miami Police spokesman. Ybarra faces charges of resisting arrest nonviolently and disobeying a police officer's order. Miami Lt. Rene Landa was one of three officers who testified in a deposition that they had warned Ybarra to
get out of the street.
"You can't stand in the middle of the street,'' he recalled telling Ybarra during a deposition. "She said, 'No, it's OK.' . . . I said, 'No, if you stand in the middle of the street you may get hit by a car. I can't let you stand there.'
"And she turned to me in Spanish and told me, 'M'ijo [short for my son] . . . don't worry. I'm not going to get hit by a car.''
Ybarra, who said she was actually helping traffic move along, said she wasn't explicitly warned.
"They never said 'You are going to be arrested unless you get out of the streets,' '' said Ybarra, who says she was doing nothing more than what firefighters and other groups do to collect money for charity.
She has asked a judge to dismiss the case. A hearing is set for Sept. 15.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald