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On the 20th aniversary of the tugboat massacre

Cuba: On the 20th aniversary of the tugboat massacre
[02-07-2014 09:55:43]
Maria C. Werlau
Directora Ejecutiva de la organización de derechos humanos sin fines de
lucro Cuba Archive

Summit, New Jersey. Among the most flagrant atrocities committed by the
Castro regime in its long history of human rights’ abuses, two incidents
stand out that took place in the month of July —the Canimar River
Massacre of 1980 and the Tugboat Massacre of 1994. Perpetrated by the
Cuban regime still in power, they illustrate its profound disregard for
human life and fundamental freedoms. On this anniversary, we remember
the victims —their tragic loss is compounded by the continued impunity
the Cuban dictatorship enjoys for these and many other crimes against
On July 13, 1994, a group of around seventy family members and friends
boarded the tugboat “13 de marzo” in the middle of the night hoping to
escape to the United States. As they made their way out of Havana’s
harbor, three tugboats that had been waiting in the dark took up a
chase. Soon, they began to relentlessly spray the boat with
high-pressure water jets, ripping children from their parents’ arms and
sweeping passengers off to sea. Finally, the tugboat was rammed to make
it sink. Passengers who had taken refuge in the cargo hold were pinned
down; they desperately pounded on the walls and the children wailed in
horror as the boat sank and they all drowned. The three pursuing
tugboats circled around survivors who clung to life, creating wave
turbulence to make them drown. The attack stopped suddenly, apparently
to conceal the crime, when a merchant ship with a Greek flag approached
Havana Harbor. Cuban Navy ships standing by began picking up survivors
and took them to shore. The traumatized women and children were
interrogated and sent home, the men imprisoned for months and given
psychotropic drugs.

Thirty-seven perished, including eleven children. None of the bodies
were returned to their families for burial. Survivors and relatives of
the dead were denied information and put under surveillance. Many were
dismissed from their jobs and systematically harassed by the
authorities, most eventually left for exile. It later transpired that an
infiltrator had helped plan the operation; the goal was to set them up
to serve as example and discourage future escapees. The Cuban government
claimed it had been an accident and, as usual, blamed it all on U.S.
immigration policies. An international outcry prompted the government to
promise an investigation, but instead it awarded the head of the
operation, tugboat pilot Jesús González Machín, a “Hero of the Cuban
Revolution” medal. Requests by international organizations for
information and redress were all disregarded.

Fourteen years earlier, on July 6th 1980, a similar incident had
transpired. Three youngsters had hijacked a recently inaugurated
excursion boat navigating inland along the scenic Canimar river flowing
into Matanzas Bay. Surprised passengers screamed their approval to go to
the U.S. but authorities commanded a chase, Navy boats and an Air Force
plane fired freely on the boatful of passengers and an industrial boat
was brought to ram and sink the vessel. There were at least 56 reported
victims, including four children. The actual number was kept secret,
recovered bodies were not handed to the families, and communal funerals
were forbidden. Survivors were silenced with the threat of prison and
kept under surveillance for years. The Cuban government claimed it had
been an accident.

The world community largely ignores that the Castro regime has for
decades systematically murdered civilians for trying to escape their
country. Even after a new migration law allowing more widespread travel
since January 2013, Cuba’s Penal Code continues to punish attempts to
leave without government authorization with up to twenty years in prison
or death and authorities have reportedly shot at civilians trying to
leave by sea. In 55 years of the Castro brothers’ dictatorship,
hundreds, perhaps thousands, have been killed by government authorities
for attempting to escape by sea, by seeking asylum in foreign embassies,
or by trying to cross into the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo. Today the
U.S. base remains sealed off by barbed wire and surrounded by mines,
with Cuban border guards ready to shoot to kill. Thousands have served
prison under very dire conditions over the course of decades for the
so-called crime of leaving without government authorization. Today, many
are serving long sentences for attempting to escape the country. We
highlight the case of five very young men who were part of a plot in
2003 to hijack a boat to escape Cuba. Though no one was harmed, the
three main conspirators were executed and five young men remain
imprisoned; four are serving life sentences —Harold Alcalá Aramburo,
Yoanny Thomas González, Ramón Henry Grillo, and Maikel Delgado Aramburo;
one, Wilmer Ledea Pérez, has 19 years to go of a 30-year sentence.

Cuba Archive calls on world governments, international organizations,
and all people of goodwill to hold the Cuban government accountable for
its crimes and demand respect for the fundamental rights of Cuba’s
citizens to life, personal security, and the right to leave their
country at will. We extend an invitation to raise awareness of these
crimes and organize or join activities of remembrance worldwide.

Source: “Cuba: On the 20th aniversary of the tugboat massacre –
Misceláneas de Cuba” –

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