CUBA: To the Wall!

  • Share
  • Read Later

From the hoarse throats of 250,000 Cubans jammed before the presidential palace in Havana rose the chilling cry: "Pa-re-don! To the wall! To the firing squad!" By whipping up a frenzy of hatred, Fidel Castro last week got mob approval for a resumption of the drumhead justice that earlier put to death 551 Cubans accused as supporters of ex-Dictator Fulgencio Batista. Now the blood purge would be aimed at defectors in the band of barbudos (bearded ones) who lifted him to power, of whom hundreds are now in prison.

Castro's younger brother, Raul, was detailed to warm up the crowd before Fidel himself appeared. "None of our prisoners are tortured," he cried. "But when necessary, we execute them." The crowd of peasants and union members, released from work for the day and trucked in from outlying provinces for the show, screamed its delight. At the appearance of Fidel himself, who landed in a helicopter carrying a new Belgian rifle (one of 24,000 he recently bought for his troops), the mob chanted for eight solid minutes.

"Life Is not important." "People of Cuba!" cried Castro, his shirt gaping over his potbelly, his eyes rolling. "Life is not important. All that is important is the destiny of the nation. All those in accord with re-establishment of the revolutionary tribunals, raise their hands." A quarter of a million hands shot up, machetes clinked in the air, and again came the chant: "Pa-re-don!"

Castro shouted the name of one candi date for the wall: Major Hubert Matos, the revolutionary hero who quit the army a fortnight ago charging Communist infiltration (TIME, Nov. 2) and for his troubles wound up in prison along with 38 of his officers. "Pilots who crash here," added Castro, referring to the leaflet-dropping runs by U.S.-based Cuban exiles, "will know that the firing squad awaits them inexorably."

To Work. Castro's voice had hardly died out in the night when the nation rushed to do his bidding. From the Cabinet came a flurry of decrees setting up the military courts, suspending habeas corpus, ending the right of prisoners to appeal on grounds of unconstitutionality. The Cabinet slapped a 25% export tax on minerals, living up to Castro's boast at the rally that his mining law would "hurt the vested interests," e.g., Freeport Sulphur's Moa Bay nickel and cobalt mines. Mining companies, still studying the law, said that it was "pretty rough" and might wipe out profits completely. Three days later, Castro seized oil-company records of land leases in Cuba, pending issuance of a new petroleum code.

Across the country, workers responded to Castro's appeal for funds to buy arms abroad. Around the clock, Havana television stations paraded donors, small and large. Some unions set a 4% deduction from salaries. In Pinar del Rio, 400 common prisoners pledged to stop smoking for two days and send in the 20¢ that each saved. Since Castro apparently cannot get the 17 Hawker Hunter jets that he wants from England (TIME, Oct. 26), he promised to buy planes "anywhere I can." Even Russia? asked a reporter. "Even the moon!"