The Fate of Two Cuban Men

Arnaldo Ochoa
Guillermo Fariñas
Arnaldo Ochoa was one of the most respected generals in the Cuban Armed Forces. A veteran of the guerrilla warfare that overturned the Batista regime in 1959 and a key player in choking the U.S. invasion two years later, he had been given the title of ‘Hero of the Revolution’ by Fidel Castro in 1984. Five years later, he revisited ‘el paredon’, the infamous wall stained with the blood of enemies of the state. But this time the rifles were aimed at him, and the General was granted the honor of giving the firing squad the final order to fire upon himself.

Guillermo Fariñas was still a young soldier steeped in revolutionary zeal when Ochoa fell under a hail of bullets. But the swift trial and execution of such a reverent figure made him question the official line given by the Castro regime. Arnaldo Ochoa had been accused of corruption and drug trafficking, but such activities were the daily bread and butter of the political elite. So why was he singled out? Perhaps the media caught a smelly fish, and to save face the regime had to set an example. Another possibility was that realpolitiks rained down on the veneer of idealism. He was executed in 1989, a turbulent year for the Soviet Union and Cuba, and Fidel felt the ground shake beneath him. A general increasingly popular among the military, with close ties to a dying empire desperate for change, could someday organize a coup against him.

The truth might be buried forever. But the Ochoa case echoed in the chamber of Fariñas’ own encounters with the regime. Decorated for his military services in Angola and the Congo, he too was praised and honored. Yet his denunciation of corruption against a hospital board director, and his subsequent imprisonment, cast Cuba’s revolutionary reality in shadows of power, not justice. History had absolved Fidel; but in Fariñas eyes it had absolved the wrong man.

Fariñas has been on a hunger strike since Febuary 26, demanding the liberation of 26 political prisoners. His emaciated body speaks of hunger, but Fariñas doesn’t want food, he wants martyrdom. Willing to die so that the world pays attention to what is happening in Cuba – a place where political dissent can put you in prison for decades, the use of the internet without government permission is an act of treason, where individual thought is repressed, where small girls prostitute themselves to  sex tourists while the government looks away. Fariñas is battling a formidable censorship and propaganda apparatus, but foreign media, and more importantly, emerging Cuban bloggers such as Yoani Sanchez ( are giving it a run for its money. Hopefully his case will not be shrouded in conspiracy theories.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Fate of Two Cuban Men

  1. Isabelle Kostecka

    Nice piece!

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