Thursday, July 3, 2014

20 years later still no justice for 37 "13 de Marzo" tugboat victims: A Call to Remember and Take Action

“But men often mistake killing and revenge for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.” - Robert Jordan

The attack on and sinking of the"13 de Marzo" tugboat in the early morning hours of July 13, 1994 is probably one of the worse crimes committed by the Cuban government under the rule of the Castro brothers and it is definitely the best documented and widely recognized by international human rights bodies and is referenced in books on international law. 

However, after twenty years it has been largely forgotten (outside of the Cuban diaspora). The last time a national audience in the United States heard anything about this incident was during Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998 when Ted Koppel's Nightline did a story and interviewed survivors and family members. Koppel in his program explained how the mainstream media reacted to the massacre:
"Three and a half years ago, in the summer of 1994, something terrible happened out there, seven or eight miles out at sea, off the northern coast of Cuba. it was an incident that went all but unnoticed in the US media. The Cuban-American community protested but they protest a lot and as I say, we in the mainstream media all but ignored it. The Vatican, however, did not.
Today this crime is absent from the public conversation on Cuba. It is important that it not be forgotten by the general public, remaining a painful memory among Cubans,  and that the demands of justice for the victims and their families not be ignored.  

What happened

Three Cuban families seeking a better life away from the dictatorship sought passage aboard the Cuban tugboat the “13 de Marzo.” The captain of the tug was part of the group wanting to leave. The tugboat left Havana on Wednesday, July 13, 1994 according to reported accounts at around 3:00am. No sooner had they left the port they were being pursued by two other tugboats, also of the Maritime Services Enterprise of the Ministry of Transportation.
Seven miles from the Cuban coast line at a location known as "La Poceta" the “13 de Marzo”tugboat was confronted by two other tugboats . Amnesty International in their 1997 investigation reported that the vessels which attacked the “13 de Marzo” were Polargo 2”, “Polargo 3″ and “Polargo 5″ and identified as belonging to the Ministry of Transport. In the IACHR  report the attack does not appear improvised:

  "Polargo 2," one of the boats belonging to the Cuban state enterprise, blocked the old tug "13 de Marzo" in the front, while the other, "Polargo 5," attacked from behind, splitting the stern.  The two other government boats positioned themselves on either side and sprayed everyone on deck with pressurized water, using their hoses.
The Amnesty International report mentions another vessel that "appeared to be directing operations was believed to belong to the Cuban Coast Guard, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior.”

Despite the “13 de Marzo” tugboat stopping and passengers attempting to surrender while mothers held up their children begging for mercy the other tugboats continued to ram the tug and use high pressure hoses to blast them overboard. Following this the attackers began to circle the wreckage with the aim of creating a whirlpool effect to ensure that all would drown. Sergio Perodin, one of the survivors who lost his wife and young son during the incident, explained how the massacre stopped in the Nightline program:
"We saw in the distance a boat with a Greek flag that appeared to be what stopped them. lt looked like the boat was watching what they were doing, the murder they were committing. So they stopped and decided to pick us up."
It was then and only then that the attack was suspended and the survivors picked up by the Cuban Coast Guard.

On August 5, 1994 Fidel Castro made a speech to the official news media justifying the incident and praising the men on the ships that attacked and sank the "13 de Marzo"tugboat:
"The workers' behavior was exemplary, there's no denying it, because they tried to stop them from stealing the boat.  What are we to say to them now, let them steal the boats, their livelihood?  The actions of the Coast Guard crews were irreproachable, they saved 25 lives.  So, this is what happened and as soon as information became available, more details were given. 
Within three years of the crime beginning first with the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1995, followed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1996 and Amnesty International in 1997 all released reports on what had occurred with the information then available. The most in-depth of the reports was the one prepared by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Human Rights Watch in their 1999 report "Cuba's Repressive Machinery: Human Rights Forty Years After the Revolution" in their chapter on impunity explained the importance of the IACHR report:
 On October 16, 1996, the commission approved a public report concluding that on July 13, 1994, Cuba violated the right to life of forty-one people who died when Cuban government boats rammed, flooded, and sank the 13 de Marzo, a hijacked tugboat loaded with civilians fleeing Cuba. The report also found that Cuba violated the right of personal integrity of the thirty-one survivors of the sinking, and violated the rights to transit and justice of all of the seventy-two persons who attempted to leave Cuba. The report provides shocking survivors' testimony of the Cuban government's deliberate attempts to sink the boat. Statements by President Castro and the Interior Ministry regarding responsibility for the incident provide a disturbing counterpoint to the victims' experiences. Clearly, the government's effort was to exculpate itself from responsibility, rather than conduct a serious investigation and punish those responsible for this incident.
 New information emerges

In 2009  Jorge García who lost 14 family members on July 13, 1994 sat down and spoke on camera about what he had learned about the actions of the Cuban government  both before and after the massacre. He also named names of those who participated in the attack and sinking of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat.
The one who, according to him, was the most aggressive, the bloodiest and oversaw the operation was Jesús González Machín, captain of the “Polargo 5″ that sunk the “13 de Marzo” tugboat. He actually had the opportunity to meet him and photograph him. Although Machín denied having sunk the “13 de Marzo,” he said something of tremendous importance: “I didn’t work that day. They called me at 6 p.m. that there was an operation at the port.”

 On 6:00 p.m. on July 12, 1994, at the Port of Havana, Cuban state security knew that the “13 de Marzo” tugboat was going to be taken and had nine hours to prepare their response.  What took place on July 13, 1994 was planned for ahead of time.

Following the massacre, family members imagined that the bodies would be returned to them. The government organized rapid response brigades and blocked anyone from visiting the home. The Cuban government had persons with weapons to intimidate survivors and the families of the victims. Jorge García was detained and interrogated on several occasions. His longest detention was for 15 days. His daughter, María Victoria García, was one of three of his family who survived the massacre and spoke out:

"They tried on several occasions to kill my daughter, because she was the first to speak out and contradict the regime’s official narrative.
Jorge and his daughter are now exiled in Miami. Jorge maintains an archive of information and has interviewed the survivors of the massacre and the families of the victims. He has also confirmed that the number killed that day was 37. The initial investigation had placed the number at 41 with four unknown but has now been confirmed to be the 37 listed below.
Twenty years later and the thirty seven victims of a massacre are still without justice. Their families not only denied justice but have yet to have their dear departed returned to them for a proper burial. People of good will inside and outside of Cuba are organizing actions such as flotillas, candlelight vigils, 20 minutes of silence for 20 years of injustice, and Masses prior to and on July 13 to remember and continue the call for justice.  The question I wish to ask you who are reading this: What are you willing to do?

The persons killed on July 13, 1994 in the "13 de Marzo" incident are

Leonardo Notario Góngora, 
Marta Tacoronte Vega, 
Caridad Leyva Tacoronte, 
Yausel Eugenio Pérez Tacoronte, 
Mayulis Méndez Tacoronte, 
Odalys Muñoz García, 
Pilar Almanza Romero, 
Yaser Perodín Almanza, 
Manuel Sánchez Callol, 
Juliana Enriquez Carrasana, 
Helen Martínez Enríquez, 
Reynaldo Marrero, 
Joel García Suárez, 
Juan Mario Gutiérrez García, 
Ernesto Alfonso Joureiro, 
Amado Gonzáles Raices, 
Lázaro Borges Priel, 
Liset Alvarez Guerra, 
Yisel Borges Alvarez , 
Guillermo Cruz Martínez, 
Fidelio Ramel Prieto-Hernández, 
Rosa María Alcalde Preig, 
Yaltamira Anaya Carrasco, 
José Carlos Nicole Anaya, 
María Carrasco Anaya, 
Julia Caridad Ruiz Blanco, 
Angel René Abreu Ruiz, 
Jorge Arquímides Lebrijio Flores, 
Eduardo Suárez Esquivel, 
Elicer Suárez Plascencia, 
Omar Rodríguez Suárez, 
Miralis Fernández Rodríguez, 
Cindy Rodríguez Fernández, 
José Gregorio Balmaceda Castillo, 
Rigoberto Feut Gonzáles, 
Midalis Sanabria Cabrera

Please say a prayer for them and their families that the truth in its fullness is known and that justice be provided.

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