This past Friday marked a day painfully etched in the collective memory of some Cuban-Americans: The Massacre of the 13th of March Tugboat.
For those who wish to know more about this horrible event can check two very thorough reports by:
- Amnesty International: The Sinking of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat on 13 July 1994.
- (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Victims of the Tugboat "13 de Marzo" vs. Cuba.
Approximately thirteen years ago, on July 13, 1994, 72 Cubans emigrating their island nation, on a dilapidated tugboat named "13 de Marzo", were confronted at sea by Cuban authorities who proceeded to ram the stranded tugboat and use water cannons. 41 lives were lost.
According to Amnesty International:
"While acknowledging that those on board the '13 de Marzo' had committed a crime by stealing the tugboat, there is no evidence to suggest that they were armed or that they were in a position to offer any serious resistance to the pursuing vessels. Indeed, from many of the survivors’ accounts, it appears that their pleas to surrender and to be rescued may have been deliberately ignored. Amnesty International has therefore concluded that at the very least the force employed by the pursuing vessels to prevent the departure of the '13 de Marzo' was disproportionate to the nature of the crime, especially taking into account the risk to the lives of those on board the '13 de Marzo' who included women and children. The Cuban authorities have argued that those on board the pursuing vessels were dock workers acting on their own initiative and not government or law enforcement officials. However, several of the survivors have doubted this assertion and have alleged that the whole operation appeared to be coordinated and directed by radio from a coast guard vessel. The Cuban coast guard service falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior. Amnesty International believes that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that it was an official operation and that, if events occurred in the way described by several of the survivors, those who died as a result of the incident were victims of extrajudicial execution."
The Cuban government has stood firm in denying any responsibility for this event, and has also failed to conduct an impartial investigation in the face of international condemnation.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this event is the how the Cuban government and its information sources reported the incident:
"On 14 July 1994, the day after the tragedy, Granma, the official Communist Party newspaper, in an article entitled 'Capsized Tugboat robbed by Anti-Social Elements' described what happened as an 'irresponsible act of piracy promoted and stimulated by counter-revolutionary radio stations, the most reactionary elements of the [Cuban exile] nest of maggots in Miami, and by the well-known failure of the United States to abide by migration agreements.'"
This is language more suited for Saturday nights on Radio Mambi.
There are few words to say about such horrendous events, especially when there are powerful obstacles to find the truth.
"Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts. Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be seduced by blitz. To speak to you [...] I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say-no words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become."
"The Dead of September 11"
By Toni Morrison
Written September 13, 2001
July also happens to mark another great tragedy.
On July 3, 1988, a US Navy warship Vincennes in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian civilian passenger jet (Iran Air 655) after apparently mistaking it for an F-14 fighter.
Of the 290 passengers and crew killed, most were pilgrims heading toward Mecca. Iran said that the radio signals of the aircraft could not be mistaken for a fighter jet, and that "[t]he tragic downing of the passenger aircraft was only an example of the many crimes committed by the American Government against the Iranian people."
More facts here and here.
This post is dedicated to all innocent men, women and children who have died mercilessly and whose relatives have not yet seen justice.