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It was the last thing, indeed, an estimated one-in-three desperate Cuban escapees did during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. This is according to a study by the late Cuban-American scholar Dr. Armando Lago. This hideous arithmetic translates into those tens of thousands of estimated deaths at sea over the past half-century.
A consistently hot item on Cuba’s black market is used motor oil: poor man’s shark-repellent, they call it. Perhaps for a few minutes. I suppose we all cling to false hopes when we are desperate. And people get no more desperate than when striving to flee the handiwork of Newsweek’s “quality-of-life” winner.
A seventeen-year-old named Orlando Travieso was armed with only a homemade paddle when he was machine-gunned to death in March 1991. His crime was trying to flee Cuba on a tiny raft. Loamis Gonzalez was fifteen when he was machine-gunned to death for the same crime. Owen Delgado was fifteen when Castro’s police dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy where he sought asylum and clubbed him to death with rifle butts.
After so many machine-gun blasts kept disturbing their coastal subjects, the Castro brothers hit upon the scheme of having their Soviet helicopters hover over the escaping freedom-seekers. Rather than machine-gun them to death, they simply dropped sandbags onto their rafts and rickety boats to demolish and sink them. Then the tiger sharks and hammerheads could do the Castroites’ deputy work.
Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Newsweek Magazine’s favored country was gunning down desperate Cubans who tried to swim into America’s Guantanamo Bay base, and then retrieving their corpses with gaffing hooks. “This is the most savage kind of behavior I’ve ever heard of,” said Robert Gelbard, deputy assistant secretary of state for Latin America during the Clinton administration. “This is even worse than what happened at the Berlin Wall.”
So what’s the alternative if you can’t flee Cuba? Well, in 1986, Cuba’s suicide rate reached twenty-four per thousand — making it double Latin America’s average, making it triple Cuba’s pre-Castro rate, making Cuban women the most suicidal in the world, and making suicide the primary cause of death for Cubans aged 15-48. At that point, the Cuban government ceased publishing the statistics on the self-slaughter. The figures became state secrets. The implications horrified even the Castroites.
But apparently the implications did not faze Newsweek.
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