More than 4,000 were killed by Fidel Castro's firing squads. Many others lost their lives fighting for and against him. Some drowned trying to leave Cuba.
The exact body count is elusive, but experts who keep track of those killed as a result of Castro's revolution know this much: During his nearly five decades in power, the toll kept mounting.
Armando Lago, a Cuban exile and economist who made a personal quest of counting the people who lost their lives as a direct consequence of Castro, estimates the total at well over 100,000.
His latest update on Dec. 31 2007 showed 4,074 people were killed by Castro's firing squads and 1,334 were the victims of extrajudicial killings. Another 16,282 died in combat, fighting both for and against Castro, both in Cuba and in places abroad like Angola.
The bulk of the other deaths will likely never be proven: he used a a mathematical formula based on U.S. Coast Guard and other figures to estimate that 77,833 would-be migrants drowned at sea.
"I am doing something for the history of Cuba," Lago said in a 2006 interview. îîI am making it my task to let the world know about this."
Lago's painstaking work recapping some of the most painful episodes of Cuba's years under communist rule took him nearly a decade. His mission was to document every person killed because of the revolution, citing names, dates and sources.
His work became the backbone of Cuba Archive, a project that sought to create the most undisputable list of Castro's victims. Experts hope the Cuba Archive project will serve as a base for future quests for justice, such as a truth commission, in a post-Castro Cuba.
"The extent of this tragedy is amazing, and nobody knows about it. Nobody is talking about this," said Maria Werlau, who runs the Cuba Archive program. "Will the issue of justice have to be addressed? Of course. Society demands it for the process to be healthy and for society to move forward."
By Lago and Werlau's count there have been:
- 1,334 extrajudicial killings.
- 16,282 estimated deaths in combat, both for and against Castro.
- 219 missing or disappeared
- More than 250 estimated to have been killed by Cuban forces while trying to flee, or after trials on charges of trying to flee.
Werlau acknowledges that while their list is exhaustive, it can't possibly be exact.
"We probably have about 60 percent. There are thousands more - thousands," she said. "But it's not about numbers to me. It's about the losses involved. Each number is a name, and each name is a story of one person."
Each name on the Cuba Archive list has been memorialized on a white Styrofoam cross displayed every year at Tamiami Park.
Each year at the event called Cuban Memorial, the list grows when relatives come to search for names Werlau had not heard about.
"We didn't make this memorial," Cuban Memorial project director Renato Gómez said. "Fidel Castro did."