February 15, 2008
Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy
Forty-six years later, José Crúz says he still vividly remembers the dreaded sound of the firing squads that executed thousands of Fidel Castro opponents in the early years of the Cuban revolution.
'I can still hear the firing squad commanders yelling `ready, aim, fire!' and then, just before the volley, the defiant cries of the victims, 'Long live Christ the King!' and 'Long live free Cuba!,' ' said Crúz, 71, a former Cuban political prisoner.
He was among a dozen volunteers who on Thursday worked late into the night setting up neat rows of 10,000 white foam crosses -- a symbolic 'war cemetery' in south Miami-Dade evoking the memory of people who have died at sea or been killed by firing squad as a result of actions blamed on the Cuban government.
The sixth annual Cuban Memorial 'honoring victims of the Castro regime' will formally open Friday and be on display to the public until Sunday at Tamiami Park, 11201 SW 24th St.
Organizers plan a news conference and ceremony at noon Friday to dedicate the memorial. Visitors can walk among the crosses, each bearing a name, from noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
No one knows for sure how many people have died as a result of the Cuban communist government's direct or indirect actions, but some exile activists include those who were executed, those who have died attempting to leave Cuba by crossing the Florida Straits or those who have been killed in action fighting the Cuban government or who died in prison.
The nonprofit group Cuba Archive, www.cubaarchive.org, has documented 9,074 cases of people who have died fighting against the regime or trying to escape the island since the Cuban revolution in 1959. Maria Werlau, the group's executive director, said many more people have died but their deaths have yet to be documented. New names are added to the database all the time, she said.
Other experts cite higher estimates but that's because they include more than 11,000 Cuban soldiers killed in foreign deployments ordered by Castro such as in Angola, and higher estimates of Cuban migrants drowned at sea.
The number of Castro foes executed by firing squads has been estimated at more than 4,000 by the Cuba Archive program.
Emilio Solernou, one of the Tamiami Park memorial organizers, said the crosses his group has put on display bear the names of verified deaths as a result of executions, or who have died in prison or attempting to cross the Florida Straits.
Crúz, a former anti-Castro militant in Havana in the 1960s, was locked up for 18 years as a political prisoner. He was 24. He remembers an intensification of executions at the infamous La Cabaña prison in Havana immediately after the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
'One evening I heard eight executions and another evening nine,' Crúz recalled as he set up crosses at Tamiami Park. ``It was horrible. I heard the discharge of several rifles and then the single coup de grace shot each time.'