Cuban war hero Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez, who fought alongside Fidel Castro in the revolution 30 years ago, was executed by firing squad at dawn Thursday along with three other officers after being convicted in a $3-million drug-smuggling and corruption scandal.
Their deaths, reported by the Cuban news agency AIN, came as no surprise to a nation that for a month watched the progress of the trial on television.
The drug scandal has stunned and embarrassed Castro and his Communist government, which for years denied U.S. accusations that Cuba was being used to smuggle drugs into the United States.
Found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by firing squad by a three-member military court last Friday were Ochoa; a former Interior Ministry official, Col. Antonio de la Guardia; a secret police official, Maj. Amado Padron, and Ochoa's military aide, Capt. Jorge Martinez.
"Today at dawn a sentence dictated by a special military tribunal was carried out against the accused," said Prensa Latina, identifying the four without further comment in a dispatch from Havana.
The four former officers, who were arrested in June, were also found guilty of drug trafficking and hostile acts toward foreign nations.
Last weekend, Cuba's Supreme Court and its Council of State, which is headed by Castro, refused to overturn the sentences. The Cuban leader later declared that even if he had the power he would not stop the executions.
They four were among 14 senior military and Interior Ministry officials convicted by the tribunal of embezzlement and helping Colombia's notorious Medellin drug cartel smuggle six tons of cocaine into the United States. They were said to have accepted at least $3.4 million in bribes.
Smuggled Other Goods
The officers were also convicted of black marketeering and smuggling diamonds, ivory, sugar, fine wools, manufactured goods and U.S. dollars.
All admitted guilt but asked for mercy based on their records and contrition. The other 10 officers, including one woman, were sentenced to terms that ranged from 10 to 30 years in prison.
Two Cabinet ministers also were fired in the crackdown.
The death sentences were carried out despite appeals for clemency from Pope John Paul II, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations.
Ordinary life virtually came to a halt during televised proceedings that began June 12. Cubans gathered around their sets in fascination not just at the drug scandal but also because of the scenario of unbridled greed that unrolled.
The trial was shown nightly on national television. Cubans watched as Ochoa, dressed in his general's uniform, with Cuba's highest decoration, Hero of the Republic of Cuba, pinned to his jacket, said: "One pays for treason with one's life."
For many Cubans, the trial was traumatic. The 57-year-old Ochoa was a much-decorated and popular hero who most recently commanded the victorious Cuban forces in Ethiopia during its war with Somalia that began in 1978 before becoming chief of the Cuban military mission in Angola.