July 1, 2014, 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 humanity.
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
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.♣
detailed accounts at www.CubaArchive.org:
Massacre (with photos of all victims):
Report: Canimar River
interviews of exit attempts:
Multimedia section of www.CubaArchive.org (in Spanish):
Iglesias on killings by Cuban Border Guard at Guantánamo.
Grave de Peralta on Cuba’s Berlin Wall at Guantánamo.
García on Tugboat massacre of 1994.
Pedraza on her son, killed in exit attempt in 1994.
Report - Documented
victims of exit attempts:
Individual records on
all documented victims of exit attempts:
redistribution of this material is
Authorized as long
as its source is cited.
July 2014. ©All rights reserved.