Monday, July 28, 2014

Maleconazo: A rumor of freedom that shook the Castro dictatorship

"We now know that any method or model which purportedly aims to achieve justice, development, and efficiency but takes precedence over the individual or cancels out any of the fundamental rights leads to a form of oppression, to exclusion and is calamitous for the people." - Oswaldo Paya, Strasbourg, December 17, 2002

Near the Havana Sea Wall on August 5, 1994
Cubans have been fleeing the dictatorship in Havana for decades, but there is one episode that stands out that shook the Castro regime to its very core. It has become known as the Maleconazo. Less than a month after the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre of July 13, 1994 a thousand Cubans were marching and shouting for freedom. On that same night as the uprising, Fidel Castro, was re-framing the circumstances surrounding the attack and sinking of the tugboat that claimed the lives of 37 men, women and children. The following account is taken and translated from the Spanish newspaper ABC and from testimony by "13 de Marzo" tugboat survivor Sergio Perodin.

What happened? 
500 Cubans gathered on August 5, 1994 on the pier "de la Luz", to take the launch that goes to Regla and Casablanca because there was a rumor that it would again be diverted to Florida. It was a rumor of a path to freedom that these 500 people had seized upon. 

Cubans marching and shouting for freedom on August 5, 1994

Military trucks arrived and announced the suspension of the launches departure and dispersed the crowd.  People walking along the Malecón (The Havana Sea Wall)  joined the dispersed crowd and gathered near the  Castillo de la Real Fuerza (Castle of the Royal Force). A thousand Cubans began to march shouting Freedom through the streets of Havana. 

That 500 Cubans would gather to flee the island is not a new phenomenon but that another 500 would join them  to march and call for freedom was something new and an unexpected development for the security services.

After marching for a kilometer, a hundred Special Brigade members and plain clothes police confronted the protesters.
Plainclothes regime agent aiming his gun at protesters August 5
The demonstrators dispersed into the neighborhood of Central Havana, burning rubbish bins, smashing the windows of the dollar stores and clashing with the police with stones and sticks. Regime agents responded with physical beat downs, several gun shots and their own mobilization of repressive actors.

That same day Fidel Castro took to the official airwaves and as usual blamed the dictatorship's problems on the United States but had to address the event that took place on July 13, 1994 saying:
 " [the United States] wants at all costs to undermine the country's economic effort, as part of its overall plan to destroy the Revolution.  Radio broadcasts, subversive propaganda, all of this is spearheaded from outside and is encouraged abroad.  But, to be sure, this concrete fact--this phenomenon--has been much more clearly in evidence in recent weeks, starting with the accident involving the tug '13 de Marzo'.  I believe that one of the most infamous and most grossly cynical acts of the United States Government occurred because of this accident."
An exhaustive investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the events of the attack and sinking of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat on July 13, 1994 found that "[t]he evidence clearly shows that the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo" was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act," and held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of all those killed that day aboard the tugboat. 

The beginning of the massacre had been witnessed from the Malecón and according to one of the survivors, Sergio Perodin: "People in Havana Malecon (a popular seafront place), couples, fishermen, began to shout asking the Polargo's crew not to sink us." 

Twenty three days later 1,000 Cubans were marching through the streets of Havana and clashing with regime officials and Fidel Castro was trying to justify the events surrounding the "13 de Marzo" tugboat sinking portraying the perpetrators of the massacre as heroes and defaming the victims.
ABC newspaper in Spain outlines what happened on August 5, 1994
Mass arrests followed and on Saturday, August 6, 1994 the Malecón and various Central Havana streets were closed off. Communist youth patrolled the streets. Several police officers and demonstrators hurt during the protests were hospitalized.  

It appears that what had started provoked by a rumor of freedom frustrated by repressive forces then combined with outrage from the previous month's massacre of innocents turned into a popular protest that initially caught the Castro regime by surprise. For the first time in 35 years a mass popular protest was able to sustain itself long enough to be reported on by international media before it was crushed by the regime's repressive actors.

Two decades later and the Maleconazo is still remembered in the popular consciousness of Cubans. The Cuban punk rock group, Porno para Ricardo named a song and album after the protests. Below is a video the banned group produced for the 18th anniversary of the August 5th uprising in Cuba.

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