Nightline Transcript: July 13, 1994 Massacre - January 20, 1998
TED KOPPEL Three and a half years ago, in the summer of 1994, something
terrible happened out there, seven or eight miles out at sea, off the
northern coast of Cuba. it was an incident that went all but unnoticed in the
US media. The Cuban-American community protested but they protest a lot and
as I say, we in the mainstream media all but ignored it. The Vatican,
however, did not.
A letter of condolence speaking in the name of the Pope was sent by the
Vatican's secretary of state to Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, who
passed it on to the survivors of the incident and to their families. And that
created a ripple which caused a ground swell, the full impact of which is
Liz Balmaseda is a columnist for "The Miami Herald" who specializes in Cuban
LIZ BALMASEDA What the letter from the Pope did was it really gave strength to
the church in Cuba so the church, so that the archbishop could turn around and
denounce this act.
TED KOPPEL (VO) What happened occurred at night at sea in the middle of July
in 1994. The time is important because it wasn't all that long ago, not, in
other words, in the bad old days of mass arrests and widespread executions.
Seventy two Cubans, men, women and children, slipped out of this harbor
aboard a tug boat. They were bound for Florida. Their boat was followed out
to sea by three Cuban fire boats. What happened next we learned from some of
the survivors, two of whom ultimately made it to Miami, while the other two
risked arrest by talking to us here in Havana.
SERGlO PERODIN (Miami) (through translators) This boat came directly for us,
cut us off and attacked us without a word, without saying anything to us or
telling us to stop.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) They told us stay here and show
them the children so that they don't shoot at us. One boat comes up behind us
and they started ramming the boat.
JANETTE HERNANDEZ (Miami) (through translators) As we were showing them the
children, they started spraying strong bursts of water at really high
pressure, right at us.
SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) With the pressure hoses, they blew apart
our boat's windows, its doors, they wrecked our radio and we knew then that
their intention was to sink our boat.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) Our tugboat started taking on
water. We shouted to the crewmen on the boat, "Look at the children! You're
going to kill them!" And he said, "Let them die. Let them die."
JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) I remember the banging and the noises
from inside as the boat was sinking. In the water, everything is louder. That
is what I heard. And I still hear it at night in nightmares.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) I don't know how to swim but I
said I can't sink with this boat. I was holding onto a pipe and I had my son
right in front of me and I held him and then I went down. I sank. When I made
it to the surface again I found a body floating that I know was Rosa.
TED KOPPEL (VO) Maria and her son held onto the body of her friend. lt was the
only thing keeping them from sinking again.
REYNALDO CARRAZANA (Havana) (through translators) At the moment the boat
sank, the survival instinct is the strongest. At that moment, I just thought
of saving myself.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) There was a boat just in front of
me and it's showing its light on me and I said, "pull us up." And it was the
same crewmen. And I said pull us up, pull up the boat because he's going to
drown. And he said, "If you want to be rescued, wait for the Coast Guard
boat." And he turned the boat around.
SERGIO PERODIN (through translators) They started going around us in a circle
fast creating a whirlpool that sucked the people down to get rid of everybody
because they didn't want to leave any witnesses to this tragedy.
REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) I didn't know how to swim. I just
floated. It seems that the boat's freezer was nearby and I hung onto it. And a
number of people were there hanging onto it, too.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators)I tried to reach that group. When
I get there I hold onto the board because they were holding onto a piece of
wood. I tried to hold onto the piece of wood. It was the ice pot that had
come off the tugboat. But there were many people hanging onto it and when I
held onto it, it seems that my weight made the boat overturn and a lot of
people fell on me. And it was then that I let go of my son and I tried to
grab him again but I couldn't. It was so fast, he just went and I couldn't
SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) We saw in the distance a boat with a
Greek flag that appeared to be what stopped them. lt looked like the boat was
watching what they were doing, the murder they were committing. So they
stopped and decided to pick us up.
JORGE GARCIA (Havana) (through translators) 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.
JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) Fidel is the only one who could have
given the order to sink the boat. And soon after the boat sank, the captain of
one of the fire boats was decorated as a hero.
TED KOPPEL (VO) Jorge Garcia lost his son. In this picture, you can see a
chain around his son's neck. Against all odds, it was brought back to the
JORGE GARCIA (through translators) This chain is a symbol for me. it
preserves the sweat of my son. This chain was around his neck. lt was brought
to me through the generosity of a survivor. I will keep it forever. My wife
gave this chain to my son. lt has the image of the Pope. lt has double
significance for me, the memory of my son and the image of the Pope, who very
soon will come to Cuba. (Commercial Break)
ANNOUNCER ABC News Nightline continues. Once again reporting from Havana,
Cuba, Ted Koppel.
TED KOPPEL The Castro government had dismissed the tugboat sinking as an
accident and insisted that no one in the government could have played any
role. But then the church cleared its throat.
LIZ BALMASEDA I think the letter that came from the Pope really showed that
there was an important international ring to this incident, that somebody at
least, somebody as important as the Pope knew what had happened.
TED KOPPEL (VO) The letter from the Vatican's secretary of state read, in
part, "It profoundly saddened the Holy Father to hear of the deplorable death
of the families on a boat," and then, "I ask that you extend to the families
the Holy Father's deepest sympathy and to express his concern and feelings of
JANETTE HERNANDEZ (through translators) He sent us his condolences for what
had happened and when I received it, I said to myself, well, at least people
knew about what happened.
TED KOPPEL (VO) Janette Hernandez and her husband, who also survived the
sinking of the tugboat, went to sea again, this time on a raft, and made it
to Miami, where they have created a new life. Maria Garcia, who lost 14
members of her family, also lost her job. She says she is under constant
surveillance and risked arrest by talking to us.
MARIA VICTORIA GARCIA (through translators) I will be happy if the Pope, among
his many concerns, mentions the question about the tugboat. What has happened
about the incident with the tugboat? What has been done? I would like the
Pope to ask Fidel that question.
QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) I see him as a messenger of God and
since God always wants the best for human beings, he's going to bring us that
happiness we need, at least spiritually, so that little by little this comes
to an end.
TED KOPPEL (VO) Quana Carrazana's husband, daughter and granddaughter were
among the dead. She lives with her son in poverty and says she is also
harassed by state security.
QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) The jails are full of political
prisoners. As a result of this interview, I may be arrested. But I'm not
afraid if they arrest me, because I live for my son. If they kill me, I don't
mind, because I'm already dead. If they actually kill me, I don't mind.
REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) He's going to say mass. People are
going to feel fine while he's here and then things will go back to normal.
People will go back to their daily grind, live their day to day difficult
life, sweat and toil and everything will be the same.
TED KOPPEL (VO) Reynaldo, Quana's son, had to leave school. He says he's
periodically picked up or threatened. He supports his mother by making
furniture by hand. His mother is afraid that Fidel Castro will warmly greet
QUANA CARRAZANA (through translators) I don't want that moment to come. I
would turn my face because it's as if God were embracing the Devil. God
cannot embrace the Devil ever. The Pope's visit will help Fidel because it
will look to the world as if Fidel has become more open. But for the Cuban
people, nothing will change.
TED KOPPEL (VO) The men who survived were thrown into prison for several
months. When they were released, Sergio Perodin made his way into exile in
SERGlO PERODIN (through translators) I have always been against those who
travel to Cuba to attend one of the masses the Pope will say there. It has
never occurred to me the idea of returning to Cuba as long as this
REYNALDO CARRAZANA (through translators) I'm planning to go. Let's see if
they let me. They can warn me. Here they can warn you. They see you around,
they can simply arrest you and that's it. They don't tell you don't go, but
they say if you go, there might be consequences.
JORGE GARCIA (through translators) I'm planning to go see the Pope, go to the
mass. Probably he will not know that I am there. I will just be one in the
crowd. But I will go there because I have a debt of gratitude to the Pope
that I want to pay.
TED KOPPEL I'll be back with a closing thought in a moment. (Commercial Break)
TED KOPPEL The Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, once mocked the power of the
Pope with his famous rhetorical question how many divisions does the Pope
command? Fidel Castro has a more subtle understanding of the Popes influence.
By welcoming John Paul to Havana tomorrow, Castro may believe that some of
the Pope's moral authority will rub off. But the newly revitalized Catholic
Church of Cuba has already made it clear that the vicar of Christ will be
here visiting the people of Cuba, not engaging in political dialogue with its
A simple letter of condolence from the Pope has already showed that it could
make waves in this country. A Papal visit may yet stir up a storm.
That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Havana. For all of us here at
ABC News, good night.