Five mostly elderly and retired Cuban military generals have died in recent days in mysterious circumstances, the country’s communist regime has confirmed, adding intrigue to a new round of freedom protests taking place in the island and US.
There is no suggestion of foul play in the deaths of the five, one of whom was the former head of Cuba’s air force when it shot down two American private planes in the infamous 1996 Brothers to the Rescue outrage.
But with Covid-19 surging across the island, and the average number of daily new cases in Cuba close to 8,000, almost eight times higher than the beginning of July, observers fear that the pandemic could be responsible. The youngest of the generals was 57.
Cuba’s government has not given an explanation or cause of death for any of the five.
According to the Miami Herald, which first reported the story, the deaths came within days of anti-government protests across Cuba, the largest show of public dissent against the regime in decades.
The demise of the generals also caught the attention of Florida’s senior senator Marco Rubio, whose parents immigrated from Cuba in the 1950s, before Fidel Castro’s 1959 communist revolution.
“Nine days. Five dead generals in #Cuba. Very strange,” he tweeted on Tuesday, following up an earlier tweet in which he noted that high-ranking military officials “have had some incredibly bad luck recently”.
Rubio has been one of the most vocal politicians against the Cuban government in Florida, home to more than 1.5m exiles and first and second-generation Cuban-Americans, and has joined recent protests in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.
The best-known of the five is Ruben Martinez Puente, 79, a former chief of the Cuban air force who was indicted in Miami in 2003 but never faced trial for the incident seven years earlier in which two pilots and two other passengers were killed when a Cuban military jet shot down their Cessna planes in international waters.
Martinez Puente died on 24 July, the Herald reported, citing a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba memorandum.
The others, the newspaper said, included Agustín Peña Pórrez, a former head of Cuba’s eastern army, who died on 17 July at the age of 57. It said the communist party newspaper Granma published pictures of his funeral and quoted a tweet by Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel saying the death was “sad news.”
Marcelo Verdecia, a retired brigadier general and former Castro bodyguard, died 20 July in Santa Clara. Retired brigadier general Eduardo Lastres Pacheco died on Monday this week, and on Tuesday the Twitter account of the university of Las Villas reported the death of retired brigadier general Armando Choy Rodriguez, 87.
No ages were given for Verdecia or Lastres Pacheco.