Press release from Cuba Archive

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​We reproduce below our release of July 2007 on two massacres occurring in the month of July. Sadly, the Cuban regime enjoys continued impunity despite these and many other crimes against humanity. Let’s continue to ask the international community to demand accountability for the historic and ongoing crimes of the Cuban dictatorship and to assist the Cuban people in attaining all their rightful freedoms.

CUBA: JULY ANNIVERSARIES OF TWO MASSACRES — Unpunished, but not forgotten

July 6, 2007, 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 —the Canimar River Massacre of 1980 and the Tugboat Massacre of 1994. Both took place in the month of July and poignantly illustrate the Cuban leadership’s profound disregard for human life and their egregious violation of the fundamental right of citizens to leave their country.

On July 6, 1980 three youngsters hijacked an excursion boat that was to navigate inland along the scenic Canimar river flowing into Matanzas Bay. Surprised passengers screamed their approval to go to the United States, but the security guard resisted and shot at the youngsters, who wounded him with firearms clandestinely obtained from their military service. Concerned for his health, they sent him back to shore with a passenger who refused to leave. Alerted authorities commanded a chase. High-speed Cuban Navy patrol boats fired on the escapees and attempted to sink the vessel. Then, a Cuban Air Force plane overflew the boat and opened fire. Finally, most not yet wounded or dead drowned when a special boat used for heavy industrial work was brought in to ram and sink the vessel.

The excursion boat had capacity for one hundred passengers, yet only ten survived. Reportedly, there were at least 56 victims, including four children, ages 3, 9, 11, and 17. The actual number was kept secret and recovered bodies were not handed to the families, communal funerals forbidden. The Cuban government claimed it was an accident, but survivors were threatened with prison into silence and kept under surveillance for years.

Fourteen years later, on July 13, 1994, a group of around seventy family members and friends, including many children, boarded the tugboat “13 de Marzo” in the middle of the night planning 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 started a chase. Relentlessly, they sprayed the boat with high-pressure water jets, ripping children from their parents’ arms and sweeping passengers off to sea. Finally, the attackers rammed the “13 de Marzo” enough to make it sink. Passengers who had taken refuge in the cargo hold were pinned down and desperately pounded on the walls, the children wailing in horror, as they went down. Survivors who then clung to life in high seas, contended with the three pursuing tugboats circling them and creating wave turbulence and eddies for them to drown. The attack stopped suddenly when a merchant ship with a Greek flag approached Havana Harbor and Cuban Navy ships picked up survivors. Brought to shore, the stunned women and children were interrogated and sent home. The men were kept in detention for months and given psychotropic drugs. No bodies of the 37 victims (including 11 children) 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.

It later transpired that an infiltrator in the group had helped plan the operation to set an example with its violent suppression. The Cuban government claimed it was an accident and blamed it on the escapees and United States’ 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, received a “Hero of the Cuban Revolution” medal. Requests by international organizations for information and redress have been all disregarded.

These and similar tragedies in Cuba remain largely ignored by world media and public opinion. Yet, the Castro regime has for decades systematically murdered civilians for trying to escape their country. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, may have been killed by government authorities for attempting to escape by sea, for seeking asylum in foreign embassies, or trying to cross into the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo. Today the U.S. Naval base in Cuba remains sealed off by barbed wire and mines, with Cuban border guards ready to shoot to kill. Cuba’s Penal Code punishes attempts to leave the national territory without government authorization with up to twenty years in prison or death. Over the course of decades thousands have served prison, under dire conditions, for these so-called crimes. Still today, a number of political prisoners are serving very long sentences for attempting to escape the country.

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, safety, and the right to leave their country at will.

See www.CubaArchive.org for details on victims of exit attempts. Website sections “Reports” and “Case Profiles” have detailed reports on both massacres and other cases. The Multimedia section has several short interviews narrating killings in exit attempts. The database has individual case records for all documented victims.

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