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Perhaps the least publicized and, paradoxically, most slandered achievement of the insurrectional struggle that placed the Cuban Revolution in power a little over half a century ago was the way in which, following the victory, the members  of the Batista tyranny were punished in an exemplary way for their crimes and other acts of cruelty.

As the forces of the insurrection became consolidated in the struggle and the first indications that victory was possible began to be seen, Fidel Castro, the highest-ranking leader of the Revolution, called on the combatants and on the people in general to prepare for a victory without bloodbaths, vandalism, lynchings or other personal acts of revenge.

In turn, the Revolution promised the people that it would try and severely punish those guilty for the assassination and torture of prisoners and that it would confiscate and recover for the nation’s patrimony all of the property that top members of the corrupt dictatorship had embezzled.

Thanks to this decision, which was disseminated by the rudimentary but very widely-heard means of communication that the insurrectional forces had in the mountains and in the underground in the cities—and, above all, observance of this line of conduct by the victorious Revolution—no one was hanged, dragged through the streets or killed by crowds (as had happened many times in Cuba’s past and in many other countries).

This was why there were no extrajudicial executions of presumed criminals of war and torturers. Rather, they were arrested and accorded the guarantees of all accused, and those who fled and were caught were treated with the same full respect for their persons if they didn’t put up armed resistance against the new authorities.

The revolutionary courts that functioned for several weeks immediately after the riumph of the Revolution in January 1959 applied the provisions of the Moncada Program.

Fidel Castro set these forth during his trial for the July 26, 1953,attack on the tyranny’s fortress. There were also the Penal Code of the Sierra Maestra and other legislative provisions of the Revolution and the laws that were in effect in Cuba before the tyranny modified them.

It is universally recognized in jurisprudence that revolutions are the source of law; the Cuban Revolution was no exception.

The speed and pressure under which the judges of the revolutionary courts had to carry out their functions of dispensing justice didn’t keep them from working with impressive professionalism, even though—as in all subjective activities—some mistakes were made.

The people demanded severity, and huge crowds protested against the leniency of the sentences. Hundreds of thousands of relatives and friends of people who had been tortured, killed and subjected to other crimes called for death by firing squad when they learned that, “because of lack of enough material evidence,” the sentences weren’t extreme.

The U.S. press and a large part of the media that echoed it in Latin America and Europe brought pressure to bear in the opposite direction, contributing to the recently-begun smear campaign against Cuba—that is still going on now, more than 50 years later.

“Castro is shooting his political enemies,” was one of the most-repeated lies that were used to pave the way for acts of war against the rebel island—such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, that the CIA organized, using Cuban mercenaries, some of whom had committed crimes against humanity and who, after being captured, were tried and punished with the same rigor that they had evaded by fleeing to the United States.

In those years, the death penalty was applied on an everyday basis in many other Latin-American countries—especially in those with dictatorships comparable to Batista’s.

Nor was it an unusual sentence in some states in the United States, but that didn’t keep Cuba’s enemies from using those acts of justice in Cuba—which were applied only in trials of assassins and torturers, and never as extrajudicial executions, as was done in the Latin-American dictatorships—to smear the Revolution internationally.

Because the calls for justice and punishment for the crimes committed by the military dictatorships supported by Washington under Plan Condor in many other Latin-American countries have been blocked or postponed for many years, it is very important to recognize that the political criteria and ethical principles that guided the Cuban Revolution in punishing the Batista tyranny’s crimes against humanity were exemplary and deserve recognition and praise—not jeers or condemnation.

By Manuel E. Yepe
A CubaNews translation by Mary Todd.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

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