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Sunday, June 29, 2014

20 Years Demanding Justice for the 37 Victims of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat Massacre

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. - Elie Wiesel


37 Cubans, of which 20 of them ranged in age from 5 months to 27 years old were massacred by agents of the Cuban government on July 13, 1994  in an operation stage managed by State Security. It was only the unexpected appearance of a Greek trawler that brought the massacre to an end leaving survivors to tell what had happened.  The murdered Cubans had been seeking to live in freedom and had a relative who was a tugboat captain that would get them there on board the "13 de Marzo"tugboat. What these Cubans did not know was that State Security had gotten wind of the affair and had prepared for their departure and execution six miles off the Havana coast line.

For the past two decades at FIU a moment of silence held on July 13
The Free Cuba Foundation (FCF) came into existence in August of 1993 and less than a year later this atrocity would shock and outrage its members and lead the organization to commit itself until the present day denouncing the crime and calling for justice.

On the first anniversary of the tugboat sinking FCF members participated in the flotilla organized by Ramon Saul Sanchez and what would later become known as the Democracy Movement that entered Cuban waters to lay flowers at the site where the massacre had taken place. Cuban gunboats crushed the hull of the lead boat "Democracia"on which Ramon Saul Sanchez was on board. (Incidentally the Democracy Movement has organized a flotilla for the 20th anniversary of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre.) At the same time at Florida International University a silent vigil was held in memory of the victims.

Silent vigil at FIU on July 13, 1998

This began a tradition of holding a moment of silence on July 13 every year in memory of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat victims. Gathering around the main fountain at Florida International University in a silent vigil for justice. With or without press coverage, rain or shine, we would gather and pay our respects and continue our demand for justice. We would use the emerging social media at the time to inform the world about what had happened.

On July 14, 1998 Cathy Reyes of the FIU student newspaper, The Beacon, published a story on the vigil titled: "Free Cuba Foundation, community remember "13 de Marzo" victims" reporting on the 25 students and members of the university who gathered the day before in a silent vigil and quoted some of the FCF members who explained the reason for the event:
"Four years ago on early July 13, 1994, the tugboat "13 de Marzo" was attacked by agents of the Cuban government," said John Suarez, ... "They repeatedly rammed the tug, used high pressure water hoses on the victims and sank the ship seven miles off the coast of Havana, Cuba."

"We must remember those who died at the hands of Castro's inhumane regime," said Jose Raul Carro ...  

"We don't think FIU students know much about this event that occurred four years ago. It is an event that the whole world knows, but it is not as known in FIU," said Xavier Utset, FCF president
On December 10, 1998 we signed and sent a signed statement calling on the wider community to "Join Our Silent Call for Justice" that was published in The Miami Herald on December 28, 1998 which placed the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre into Cuba's historical context. In 1999 the Free Cuba Foundation made public another declaration, "Call for Justice on the 5th Anniversary of the "13 de Marzo" Massacre and announced the following:
"We seek to draw attention to these outrages, and we plan to do so by raising a civil and respectful call for justice. We believe that the crimes committed above are a result of the utilization of violence, arrogance, and hatred as government policy. The policy is evil. The best way to oppose evil is not with more evil. Gandhi observed that, "civility and humility are expressions of the spirit of non-violence while incivility and insolence indicates the spirit of violence." Therefore, on July 13, 1999, we will be fasting at Florida International University for 24 hours. We will be holding silent vigils in remembrance of those who have died violently in the Florida Straits..."
The 24 hour fast and a five minute silent vigil for justice were both carried out on July 13, 1999. Over the years in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 the silent vigils continued adding a minute to each year. On the tenth anniversary in 2004 the press descended on Florida International University and reported on the 10 minute vigil that year and The Miami Herald quoted FCF coordinator Neri Martinez:
'This was a massacre,'' said Neri Martínez, 22, coordinator of the Free Cuba Foundation, a student group that organized a vigil at Florida International University. The group marked 10 minutes of silence, one for each year that has passed. ''It's a silent call for justice,'' Martínez said. ``Not only are we remembering the victims, but we are also condemning the crimes committed by the Cuban government on its own people.''
 The Sun Sentinel offered the following report of what took place at FIU on July 13, 2004:
During a noon ceremony at Florida International University, about 20 people climbed up on the edge of an empty concrete fountain, joined hands and stood in silence for about 10 minutes."This was a very big crime against humanity," said Neri Martinez, coordinator for the Free Cuba Foundation, a student group. "People need to remember what's going on inside of Cuba."
On July 12, 2006 at Florida International University the Free Cuba Foundation organized a panel discussion on what had happened on July 13, 1994 and its links to the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. Guest speakers were Ramon Saul Sanchez of the Democracy Movement and Jose Basulto of Brothers to the Rescue. The Associated Press made mention of the gathering in one of its stories on Cuba policy. The following day on July 13 at 12 noon a 12 minute silent vigil was held at the FIU main fountain and captured on video.

Past FCF presidents Susana Navajas (center) and Pedro Ross (far right) listen to Jorge Garcia
 Silent vigils continued to be announced and held at Florida International University in 2007 and 2008 adding a minute for each year that had passed without justice. On 2009 for the 15th anniversary of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre the Free Cuba Foundation held a panel discussion with Jorge Garcia, a family member, who had 14 relatives extrajudicially executed in the massacre. Earlier that day FCF held a 15 minute silent vigil. The Spanish newswire EFE reported the following:
"We want to say to the world that this was a crime against persons who only wanted to leave Cuba to have liberty. We consider that this crime should not remain in impunity," said Julio Menache co-president of FCF at FIU. FCF will commemorate the event with a vigil and projection of a ducumentary about persons who lost family members in the sinking of the tugboat. At the event will be present Jorge García who lost 14 family members, among them his son Joel of 20 years of age and his grandson Juan Marion, of 10 years.
In 2010 a dissident who had been jailed for protesting for justice in the case of the July 13, 1994 tugboat massacre joined the silent vigil at FIU organized by FCF and afterwards spoke with us about his ordeal. The silent vigils without much press attention continued to be held in 2011, 2012 and 2013. This year will mark 20 years and the silent vigil will be for 20 minutes. Members will also continue to reflect on what else can be done to obtain justice using nonviolent means for the 37 victims of the tugboat massacre. We are already calling on people of good will world around the world to gather, hold and document their own 20 minute silent vigils for justice for the victims of the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre.

FCF silent vigil at Florida Internaitonal University in 2013

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