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We Will Not Forget Cuba’s 13 de Marzo Massacre

By: John Suarez - Jul 15, 2014, 10:17 am

EspañolIn the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, 37 men, women, and children were killed by government agents seven miles off the Cuban coast, as they sought to travel to freedom on board the “13 de Marzo” tugboat. Eleven of these Cubans were children, ranging in age from Helen Martínez Enríquez — just five months old — to Mayulis Méndez Tacaronte, aged 17.

International human rights bodies and organizations investigated the incident. The UN Human Rights Commission’s special rapporteur on Cuba made the following observation on October 24, 1995, in his report on the human rights situation in Cuba to the UN General Assembly:

Although the Government maintains that the authorities bore no responsibility for what was considered to have been an accident, the Special Rapporteur received testimony from some of the survivors indicating that Government launches from the port of Havana tried to stop the 13 de Marzo with pressurized water jets and then deliberately rammed it, causing it to sink. Non-governmental sources informed the Special Rapporteur that the number of persons who died was not 32, as the Government had stated, but at least 37 and that the families have for a year now been asking for an investigation to be initiated.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a report released on October 16, 1996, concluded that what transpired that early morning “was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act” by agents of the Cuban government. The report held the Cuban State responsible for violating the right to life of all the people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug “13 de Marzo.”

Twenty years later, the men responsible for the mass murder remain at large and protected by the Cuban state. The survivors and family members, on the other hand, have faced persecution, harassment, death threats, and arbitrary detentions for speaking out.

In 2009, one of these family members, Jorge Garcia, agreed to address Florida International University students at a panel organized by the Free Cuba Foundation on the 15th anniversary of the tugboat massacre. Prior to the event, we met, and he sat down and explained on camera what transpired before, during, and after the events of July 13, 1994.

Jorge Garcia is a man who has suffered a loss few can imagine.

In a January 1998 Nightline interview Jorge described how he learned the news. “When I asked my daughter, ‘What about Juan Mario?’ ‘Papa, he’s lost.’ ‘And Joel?’ ‘Papa, he’s lost.’ ‘And Ernesto?’ ‘Papa, he’s lost.’ And then we knew that other members of the family were all lost, 14 in all.” His daughter, María Victoria García, had survived but lost her brother and son that day.

Jorge García was detained and interrogated on several occasions. His longest detention was for 15 days. His daughter survived the massacre continued to speak 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.”

The father and daughter had previously spoken on camera to Nightline from Havana, Cuba, about the July 13, 1994, massacre. A year later, in 1999, they had to go into exile as political refugees fearing for their lives.

Twenty years later the remains of the 37 victims have not been recovered and returned to their families. Nor has the state provided any compensation to the survivors or the families of the dead.

On Saturday, July 12, Jorge Garcia took part in a flotilla organized by the Democracy Movement to approach near to Cuba and the spot were 20 years later serves as a watery grave for fourteen family members including his son and grandson. This is as close as he can get to pay his respects to his loved ones.

On Sunday, July 13 at 3:00pm I took part in a 20 minute moment of silence to protest these 20 years of injustice and pray that a serious investigation finally be conducted, that the remains of the victims be returned to their families, and that the individuals responsible for this atrocity face justice in a fair trial with their rights respected in a court of law.

John Suarez John Suarez

John Suarez is a human rights activist who has spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council on several occasions. He is a specialist on the human rights situation in Cuba. John hosts the blog Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter. Follow him on Twitter @johnjsuarez.