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A War Criminal's College Tour By: Myles Kantor
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 22, 2002

It’s not every day that a war criminal comes to town, or is it?

From 1974 to 1991, a communist gang called the Dergue (Committee) subjugated Ethiopia.  Led by Mengistu Haile-Mariam, these sadists unleashed a wave of murder and torture called the Red Terror that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

One of the Red Terror’s victims was Edgegayehu Taye, an employee at the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife imprisoned in February 1978.  Several men beat her for hours while she hung naked from a pole.  Taye remained in prison until 1981, never charged with a crime.

In 1989, Taye was working at a restaurant in Atlanta’s Colony Square Hotel when she met a dishwasher who looked familiar.  She soon realized it was Kelbessa Negewo, the man who oversaw her torture.

Negewo had come to America on a visitor visa and received political asylum in 1988.  In 1993, Taye and more of Negewo’s victims successfully sued him under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

Negewo became a citizen in 1995 while his conviction was on appeal.  His guilt was upheld in 1996, and he continues to live in America.

Another torturer recently visited Atlanta, but this time in a more prestigious capacity.

During the week of October 28, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College welcomed Victor Dreke to discuss his book From the Escambray to the Congo: In the Whirlwind of the Cuban Revolution.  The visit was part of a tour including November stops at Florida International University and Brown University.

Now vice president of the Cuba-Africa Friendship Association—Fidel Castro supported Mengistu, incidentally—Dreke was chief aide to the murderous Ernesto “Che” Guevara during his communist campaign in Zaire.  Guevara described him as “one of the pillars on which I relied.”

And like Guevara, Dreke has many corpses behind him.

After Castro came to power in 1959, thousands took up arms to resist Cuba’s conversion into Soviet-style totalitarianism.  Lest one think these were bitter supporters of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship, guerrilla leaders included officers in the anti-Batista forces like Plinio Prieto, Eusebio Peñalver, and Porfirio Ramirez.

Castro branded the mostly peasant guerrillas “bandits” and deployed the military to “clean” them, which took over six years despite the guerrillas’ much-inferior resources.  One of the main field officers in the “Fight against Bandits” was Victor Dreke.

Historian Enrique Encinosa, author of Cuba at War: History of the Anti-Castro Opposition, 1959-1993, observes, “During his tenure, Dreke enforced Law 988, which stated all captured guerrillas or supporters could be executed on the spot, without trial.  It was legalized murder.”  Plinio Prieto was one of his victims.

Castro’s forces also uprooted civilians in regions with guerrillas.  Encinosa notes Dreke’s participation in this war crime: “He was one of the supervisors of the forced relocations of thousands of Cuban farmers in Las Villas [central Cuba].  These people were imprisoned in the ‘captive towns’ of Sandino, Hatuey, Mangalarga, Briones, Montoto, and others, where 40 years their children and grandchildren have travel and educational restrictions placed against them.” 

Spanish general Valeriano Weyler inflicted a similar policy called “reconcentration” during Cuba’s Second War for Independence.  Imperial Spain also portrayed Cuban freedom fighters as bandits.
Dreke became part of the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 1965.  After the “Fight against Bandits” he perpetrated torture in forced labor camps populated by homosexuals and other “counterrevolutionaries.” 

How did this war criminal receive a speaking tour in America?  Thank in large part Piero Gleijeses, professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and chair of the Africa-Cuba Speakers Committee that hosted Dreke. 

Gleijeses has met with Dreke in Cuba and describes him admiringly in Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa, 1959-1976.  He notes Dreke’s role as “commander of a unit of the elite antiguerrilla force” and writes, “[I]t is difficult not to be impressed by the charisma, integrity, and intelligence of this taciturn man.”

Gleijeses responded when asked about Dreke’s atrocities, “I am not aware of any atrocity committed by Dreke.”  He did not respond to whether he would be interested in communicating with Dreke’s victims.

“I have a very high regard for Victor Dreke and am proud of the role I played in making it possible for American students to hear what he had to say,” Gleijeses stressed.

A war criminal glamorized across America.  What’s not to be proud of?

Equally if not more alarming is the visa granted to Dreke by the State Department, which classifies Cuba as a sponsor of terrorism.  Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen ask in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, “[I]f Dreke is allowed into the United States, who in the Cuban tyranny would be excluded?”  (Michelle Malkin demonstrates how this is the State Department norm in her recently released Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores.)

Here’s a challenge to the Castro regime: Since Victor Dreke has toured America’s colleges, reciprocate and open yours to someone with a different point of view.  Wait, that’s right, you beat and imprison people with different points of view.    

Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com and editor-at-large for Pureplay Press, which publishes books about Cuban history and culture. His e-mail address is myles.kantor@gmail.com.

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