Saturday, July 13, 2019

Crimes of the Castro regime: The attack on and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994

To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie WieselNight
Twenty five years without justice, but we remember and continue to demand justice for the 37 victims of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat who were extrajudicially executed on July 13, 1994.

Please share the report and testimony with others. Let them know of this atrocity.

REPORT Nº 47/96
CASE 11.436
October 16, 1996
 Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Excerpts from the report:
"82. The evidence clearly shows that the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo" was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act.  In fact, Jorge Hernández, a survivor of the events that occurred on July 13, 1994, states that, "After leaving the pier, boat No. 2 rammed them" and once out to "sea they began to be attacked by boats No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5."  That "the tug they were in was hit on the port and starboard sides" and that "they attacked them with jets of water."  "After the last attack, the boat sank because the stern was destroyed."  Finally, "the tugs did not help them" but rather "they told them to keep swimming toward the coast guard cutters."  For his part, Arquímedes Lebrigio stated that "when the boat weighed anchor, he was below deck and could see that there was no leak anywhere" and "when he went onto the deck of the boat he saw that the stern and the bow were smashed."  María Victoria García Suarez states that "that's when we saw that two firefighting tugs were coming after us," "they hit the sides and then they began to shoot water at us."  "Then we kept going and told them not to harm us, that there were children on board and we showed them the children and they kept shooting water."  "Later we saw two more [tugs] about seven miles out and they positioned themselves one on each side:  one in front, another in back, and one on each side" and "then all four started shooting us with water and one of the boats rammed us...."  Finally, the witness states that "there were the four tugs--the ones that were sinking us--and we asked them to save us, to take us on board, that there were children, and what they did was laugh....
"VIII.                 CONCLUSIONS
          105.    The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life (Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) of the 41 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", which events occurred seven miles off  the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994.  The persons who died that morning 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, and four other victims who could not be identified."

Please  consider wherever you are to hold a silent vigil every July 13th and invite others to join in this continuing demand for justice is achieved. Let others know about your action and use the hashtags #JusticeForThe37, and #WeRemember.

25 minute silent vigil for justice for the "13 de Marzo"tugboat victims

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dr. Ricardo Bofill, founder of the Cuban human rights movement. Requiescat in Pace

"I can't understand the hatred towards me. Because, really in the only field I’ve done battle, is the field of ideas." - Dr. Ricardo Bofill, 1987 in "Nobody Listened" documentary
Dr. Ricardo Bofill in a PBS documentary in 2005
The founder of the human rights movement in Cuba just passed away in Miami. Ricardo Bofill co-founded the Cuban Committee for Human Rights in 1976, dedicated his entire life to and suffered years in Cuban prisons for defending human rights.

This blog has celebrated the work of Dr. Bofill over the years and will do so again today. His story and legacy changed the course of a nation, and the outcome is still playing out today. The 400th blog on this site was dedicated to him.

On December 10, 2014 Regis Regis Iglesias, spokesperson of the Christian Liberation Movement at 1:40pm posted a picture of Ricardo Bofill over twitter with the text: "Honoring honor. Ricardo Bofill, an essential reference in the defense of Human Rights of Cubans." He was and remains correct in his assessment of this man.

Ricardo Bofill, President of the organization that initiated the civic movement during 
the first exposition of dissident art, shortly before an assault by repressive forces
In the 1987 documentary Nobody Listened, directed by Néstor Almendros and Jorge Ulla the world was introduced to Ricardo Bofill and the nonviolent human rights movement on the big screen.  Dr. Bofill is interviewed and discusses his circumstances as a dissident in Cuba engaged in the battle of ideas:
"I can't understand the hatred towards me. Because, really in the only field I’ve done battle, is the field of ideas. In this field I’ve had no response just prison and the police. And I don’t know why because the revolution controls all mass media. They have editorials, journalists, even many writers in the world. I don’t know why the response, time and again, has been jail. The response should come in the field I fight in, with ideas. I was arrested again in 1983. On that occasion, I was sentenced to 17 years in jail accused of activities in the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and the last period of prison began. For reasons of health and others I know not of in 1985 I was placed in the status I’m now in which is “conditional liberty with restriction of movement.”
Fidel Castro was asked the name of the human rights defender in another interview. The Cuban dictator dismisses his importance, but it is obvious in the context of his answer that he knows very well who this lone activist is, and views him as a threat.

Dr. Ricardo Bofill in the documentary Nobody Listened in 1987
Why do they view Bofill's movement as an existential threat? The Castro dictatorship's ideology and revolution are based in violence and blood shed. The July 26, 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks is a failure not only in the short term defeat suffered by Castro's forces but in the long term degradation of Cuban society and the abandonment of dialogue, moral and ethical restraints in favor of a cult of violence nurtured by a dictatorship now in its 60th year in power. 

Even the men responsible for doing this now complain about the society their revolution has created.They blame Cubans for their poor behavior and customs. Of course men and women with sound moral groundings who speak clearly what they believe and defend human dignity and freedom have an unfortunate tendency to die under suspicious circumstances in Cuba.

There are two traditions battling for control in Cuba. One tradition, embodied by the Castro regime, based on violence and the destruction of the other has dominated Cuba's political discourse for over half a century. It views dissent as treason and demands unanimity; the only acceptable ideas belong to the dictatorship. 

The second, an older tradition that built the institutions of Cuban democracy in the 19th Century using nonviolent means, who founded companies with a social conscience such as Bacardi, that contributed to the common good until forced out of their homeland, and of the democrats who helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 are still there in Cuba's nonviolent civic resistance movement.

This is the movement founded by Ricardo Bofill and a handful of activists on January 28, 1976 that today is  a nationwide movement of thousands who are nonviolently engaged in the battle of ideas and the defense of human rights. Today's repression across the island continues to demonstrate that the Castro regime is terrified of what Ricardo Bofill started.

In an open letter written in 1986 Dr. Bofill rejected regime slanders and staked out their position as a movment: "We have nothing to do with the CIA, we do not participate in violent acts, we have no other weapon than the word, and we are going to use it while we have a breath of life left."

In 1988 he was forced out of the country by the dictatorship, but continued his human rights work from exile in Miami, while Gustavo Arcos remained and continued to do the work in Cuba.

Dr. Bofill meets President Reagan in The White House in 1988
It is a long and frustrating struggle to achieve the freedom of a country in the grip of totalitarian rule. One must neither over estimate or underestimate what has been achieved and what remains to be done. This is a marathon, not a sprint that requires persistence and faith, not despair. Dr. Bofill told me that 28 years ago and it still holds true today.

This is what he did, and Dr. Ricardo Bofill's legacy will live on in Cuba and in the end will triumph over the forces of brute force and tyranny.

Requiescat in pace.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Acts of remembrance to mark 25 years since the "13 de marzo" tugboat sinking

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie WieselNight

Twenty five years have passed but the victims are not forgotten, the survivors continue bear witness, and this crime is part of our collective memory along with our continued demand for justice.

July 13th marks 25 years since 37 men, women and children were massacred by Cuban government agents who sank the tugboat they were on and used high pressure hoses to drown them. July 13th also marks two years since Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo died of "multiple organ failure" while still under the custody of the Chinese communists. Friends and family had expressed concern that he was not receiving proper medical care.  On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed for dedicating their lives to a nonviolent transition to democracy and freedom in Cuba.

Five years ago visual artist Rolando Pulido created an artwork that became a visual reference at protests observing the 20th anniversary of the "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre. He has now updated it to mark the protest to be held tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 10 at 8pm) at the Cuban Embassy (2630 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009) to mark 25 years without justice with a 25 minute silent vigil.

On Saturday at the Museum of the Cuban Diaspora located at 1200 Coral Way, Jorge Garcia, who lost 14 family members in the "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre will give a presentation of an edition of his book on the subject that has now been translated to English.  Ramon Saul Sanchez and Marcel Felipe are co-hosting the event. Below is a tweet from Ramon Saul Sanchez of Movimiento Democracia announcing the event.
Jorge Garcia and survivors of the massacre, such as Sergio Perodin, have done the hard work of bearing witness both for the dead and the living. It is a heavy burden they carry, but a necessary one to safeguard memory from the malicious fictions propagated by the Castro regime's propagandists.

Below is a playlist of videos beginning with Inspire America Foundation's announcement of the event on Saturday, July 13 at 2pm. The videos are mostly in Spanish, but some are subtitled in English. Please share them widely with others, and let them know about this terrible crime.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Response to a critique of my piece in the Gainesville Sun over Twitter

A block and a hit. Luckily for me others let me know of this critique and I was able to respond. 

On July 2, 2019 The Gainesville Sun published my OpEd critcizing their editorial on U.S. Cuba policy. Today, the same OpEd was reproduced in The Star-Banner, the daily newspaper in Ocala, Florida, and it got the attention of a Mr. Andrés S. Pertierra.  Never engaged with him before over social media.

He has accused me of writing an OpEd "riddled with lies" and over the course of a series of tweets appears to make his case. However, reviewing these tweets I find that the facts, as I understand them do not correspond to his version of events.

Below is my rebuttal. 

First, his two assertions do not contradict the statements I made. However his claim that the Somoza dictatorship overthrown in Nicaragua in 1979, by the Sandinista's and their Cuban allies was US backed is wrong, the dictator was no longer being supported by the United States. President Jimmy Carter had cut off assistance to the Somoza regime. The Carter Administration imposed sanctions on the Nicaraguan regime when it refused to pursue democratic reforms. According to Robert Pastor:  "Somoza pretended the sanctions had no effect on him," but they did.

The assassination of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez on March 24, 1980 took place on President Carter's watch.  It was the failure of Carter's Cuba policy and expanding Cuban and Soviet influence in the hemisphere that led to his devil's bargain with the El Salvadorean military to combat the Cuban/Russian backed FMLN.

Since Mr. Pertierra raises the issue of genocide in Central America and American culpability in Guatemala I wonder if he has commented on the Cuban role in genocide in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s?

Castro with Nicanor Costa Mendez, and Reynaldo Bignone of Argentina's military junta 
Carter's abandonment of Somoza was part of a wider human rights centered policy by the Carter Administration which included placing sanctions on the military junta in Argentina.  President Carter took steps to normalize relations with the dictatorship in Cuba while at the same time isolating the military junta in Argentina, it was Fidel Castro who responded by embracing the Argentine regime.  This was while the Argentine junta had "disappeared" 30,000 leftists.

Mr. Pertierra in the above tweet is engaging in a white wash of a terrible crime, and ignoring other episodes were swimmers were shot at or had grenades lobbed to prevent them escaping to the Guantanamo Naval base in 1993. The actions of the Castro regime were reminiscent of the behavior of East German border guards at the Berlin Wall (who Castro praised during his 1973 visit there).  

In the case of the July 13, 1994 "13 de marzo"tugboat sinking reports from the IACHR, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch indicate that a terrible crime was committed. However your claim that regime authorities were just trying to "stop the ship" ignores a number of inconvenient facts. Here are two important ones to consider.

1. The "13 de marzo" tugboat stopped and surrendered, but that did not stop the attack. Testimony from the IACHR report of one of the survivors, María Victoria García Suarez:
 Did they order you to halt?  What were they trying to do when they sprayed water?  No, they never told us to stop.  Then what they did was to shoot water at us.  Then the time came when we saw that we could not go on because it was going to be fatal and we stopped because the water was getting in.  Then we stopped and we told them:  "Look, we're turning back, we have already stopped, and they saw that we had stopped, and it was then that they split the side and turned the boat  around."
2. According to Jorge Garcia, who lost 14 family members that day, and has closely investigated what took place, "the authorities of the Cuban regime were present at the wharf from very early on, that is, the intelligence sources knew of this exit, of the tugboat, however; instead of aborting it, instead of stopping those involved, they prefer to let them leave to sink the boat with jets of salt water launched from three tugs to give a warning, a message to the Cuban population."

Both Kornbluh and LeoGrande are not the most objective individuals to assess what took place in the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. I would recommend reading the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the  International Civil Aviation Organization, and the United Nations that demonstrate that both planes had not entered Cuban airspace on February 24, 1996 and were shot down in international airspace in a premeditated and criminal act. The claim by the Castro regime that they had overflown Cuba on February 24, 1996 is false.

The above statement by Mr. Pertierra is factually untrue on a number of grounds. First ten members of the WASP network had been spying on U.S. military bases. Secondly, they had received instructions to plan acts of terror and sabotage on U.S. soil.

The Cuban "WASP" spies arrested in 1998 used coded material on computer disks to communicate with other members of the spy network. From the 1,300 pages taken from those diskettes translated and used during the spy trial the criminal and terrorist nature of the Cuban regime's operation in South Florida emerges. The networks primary objective was "penetrating and obtaining information on the naval station located in that city." Intelligence operatives communicated about "burning down the warehouse" that housed the nonviolent organization Brothers to the Rescue and sabotaging their equipment. The spies also helped to identify who would be flying at certain times.

In addition the spies received orders from Havana to prepare a "book bomb" so that it evade post office security while at the same time phoning death threats to a man they described as a CIA agent and then having him killed via the mail bomb at his Florida home.

Mr. Pertierra is repeating Cuban government talking points.  It is unfair to conflate those who commit terrorism with those who are non-violent.  To label the "Cuban American right" as terrorist is as unfair as labeling the "Cuban American left" terrorist.  

Coretta Scott King and Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue
In the 1990s groups such as Brothers to the Rescue and Movimiento Democracia were conducting nonviolence trainings with The King Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia. Furthermore anti-Castro does not equate with right wing.

Mr. Petierra accuses me of lying when I say that the Cuban military's roles in the tourist economy expanded and further centralized economic control during the Obama Administration's detente with Cuba.  The Associated Press, Reuters and The Miami Herald described how the military expanded its control, taking over properties that had been controlled by the historian's office in Havana, during the Obama opening to Cuba.

Mr. Pertierra's straw man argument does not reflect my position on the embargo.  Economic sanctions will not cause Cubans to "rise up."  It will however raise the cost for the Castro regime's adventurism in Venezuela, Nicaragua and elsewhere that could be used to leverage and contain the dictatorship's bad actions in the hemisphere.

Finally, the need to engage in ad hominem attacks indicates that he is not sure of his argument. Furthermore blocking me so that I am unable to see his attacks only underscores this observation.

Nevertheless I bear no ill will towards Mr. Pertierra, and ask others who choose to engage him in debate or conversation to be civil and focus on issues and not personal attacks. We need to do better.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

July's Cuban and Chinese martyrs

"To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” - Elie Wiesel, Night 

July 13th marks 25 years since 37 men, women and children were massacred by Cuban government agents who sank the tugboat they were on and used high pressure hoses to drown them. July 13th also marks two years since Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo died of "multiple organ failure" while still under the custody of the Chinese communists. Friends and family had expressed concern that he was not receiving proper medical care.

The moral failing of the West to back Chinese democrats in 1989 in order to pursue commercial interests with their communist oppressors led to the modernization and empowerment of Communist China into an economic and military super power that is reshaping the international global order. The consequences are seen today with an aggressive communist regime in China with a modern military that backs rogue regimes in North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba. This is part of the reason that human rights have been in decline around the world over the past ten years.

Inside China the human rights situation has also deteriorated. The political show trial of Chinese scholar, dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo in 2009 who spent eight years unjustly imprisoned and died of medical neglect while in the custody of the Chinese communists. This treatment of a Nobel Laureate demonstrates the regime's cruelty and indifference to international opinion.

The same holds true in Cuba where the embrace of commercial priorities, especially during the previous Administration coincided with the deaths of many high profile dissident leaders. On July 22, 2012 Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were killed for dedicating their lives to a nonviolent transition to democracy and freedom in Cuba.

Harold Cepero (age 32) was a youth leader in the Christian Liberation Movement of which Oswaldo Payá was a founder. In 2002 he was expelled from the university for his role in a petition drive to reform Cuban laws to bring them in line with international human rights standards. At the time he wrote a statement on the injustice of what was taking place not only for him, but Cuban society as a whole:

"They are wanting to perpetuate something that it is not even known if it is fair, and in this manner they are denying the progress of a society that wants something new, something that really guarantees a dignified place for every Cuban. They are pressuring people or preventing them from expressing their true feelings, they are cultivating fear in the nation."
Fear is being cultivated both in China and in Cuba by the secret police to perpetuate their respective totalitarian regimes, and they are using the internet to do it.  We must combat the effort to erase the past with actions that observe these anniversaries. Join us on July 10 at 8pm for a candlelight vigil at the Cuban embassy (2630 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009) to remember the 37 victims of the "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who died on July 13th, and Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante who were killed on July 22nd.