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Monday, December 28, 1998

Free Cuba Foundation's non-violent call for justice

Published Monday, December 28, 1998, in the Miami Herald


Join our silent call for justice

``Justice does not help those who slumber but helps only those who are vigilant.''-- Mahatma Gandhi

IN A FEW DAYS the world will be marking the 40th anniversary of the systematic denial of human rights and basic human dignity in Cuba. The 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was observed in Cuba by beatings and arrests of dissidents and human-rights activists leading up to and on the anniversary itself.

It is sad to note how far the Cuban government has sunk. It was 50 years ago that the Cuban delegation, representing a democratic and constitutional republic, wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The members recognized that this document would have been ``accepted by that generous spirit who was the apostle of our independence: Jose Marti, the hero who -- as he turned his homeland into a nation -- gave us forever this generous rule: `With everyone, and for the good of everyone.' ''

Last Dec. 10 a spiritual heir of the 1948 Cuban delegation held up copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the New Testament and was knocked down and dragged away by Cuban police. Today the mere support of those principles enunciated by the Cuban delegation in 1948 leads to beatings, arrests, and in some cases, deaths.

We shall raise here a silent call for justice. We shall use petitions, silent vigils, and fasts to raise the issue of justice for those who no longer can speak. We will not forget those innocents who died at the hands of the Cuban government such as:
  •  On Dec. 22, 1997, Sebastian Arcos Bergnes died of a cancer that was allowed to spread until terminal while he sat with violent criminals in a Cuban prison cell. His crime was being a human-rights activist and the vice-president of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights.
  •  On March 29, 1997, Joachim Lovschall, a 26-year-old Dane studying Spanish at the University of Havana, was shot to death by Cuban state-security agents while crossing a street in Havana. Nearly two years later no disciplinary or lawful investigation of the guard who killed Lovschall has begun despite Denmark's official protests.
  •  On Feb. 24, 1996, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Peña, Carlos Costa, and Pablo Morales where blown out of the sky over the Florida Straits while searching for Cuban rafters in international waters. The Cuban pilots responsible for the shootdown have yet to face justice for their actions.
  •  On July 13, 1994, an estimated 41 men, women, and children were drowned by agents of the Cuban government for the sole crime of exercising their right to leave Cuba. The Cuban government has not held a proper investigation, brought those responsible to justice, or recovered the bodies of the victims and returned them to their families.
  • We call on all people of goodwill to join our silent call for justice. Let others know of these travesties.

    We have embraced the principle of nonviolence, and we seek the truth as our ends. Gandhi said:
    ``Use truth as your anvil, nonviolence as your hammer, and anything that does not stand the test when it is brought to the anvil of truth and hammered with nonviolence, reject it.''
    We call on people everywhere who share our passion for justice to join us. Nearly a year ago we signed an Accord for Democracy in which the final line quoted Marti's noble sentiment: ``With everyone, and for the good of everyone.''

    Let us work so that in Cuba once again this will become a reality and not just a noble sentiment.

    Susana Mendiola
    Viviana Mendiola
    Vice President,
    Marco J. Alonso
    John Suarez
    Free Cuba Foundation
    Florida International University

    Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald 

    Tuesday, July 14, 1998

    Silent vigil for justice for the victims of the July 13, 1994 "13 de marzo" tugboat massacre

    Free Cuba Foundation, community remember "13 de Marzo" victims

    The Beacon

    Staff Writer
    On July 13, 1994, at least 41 men, women and children died in the "13 de Marzo" Massacre. Yesterday, approximately 25 individuals from The Free Cuba Foundation and the FIU community attended a five-minute silent call for justice to remember those victims.

    "Four years ago on early July 13, 1994, the tugboat "13 de Marzo" was attacked by agents of the Cuban government," said John Suarez, member of The Free Cuba Foundation. "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."

    According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the pleas of the women and children on the deck of the tug "13 de Marzo" did nothing to stop the attack. The boat sank with 23 dead children. Many people perished because the jets of water directed at everyone on deck forced them to seek refuge in the engine room. The survivors also affirmed that the crews of the four Cuban government boats were dressed in civilian clothes and that they did not help them when they were sinking.

    According to Susana Stefek, who left Cuba 32 years ago, "it is important for all of us to participate in this remembrance because the more people we have, the bigger the force to obtain what we want, which is the liberty of Cuba. Cuba Libre for everyone."

    This year, for the first time, the pictures of the victims of the "13 de Marzo" Massacre were published.

    "We must remember those who died at the hands of Castro's inhumane regime," said Jose Raul Carro, former president of The Free Cuba Foundation.

    According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the damages caused by the illegal acts committed by the Cuban State are the following: irreparable physical harm, consisting of the deaths of the 41 people shipwrecked on the tug "13 de Marzo"; the emotional and psychological distress inflicted on the relatives of the victims and survivors, consisting of emotional suffering due to the loss of loved ones, the trauma caused by the incident; the impossibility of recovering the bodies for proper burial; the knowledge that they did not receive justice, i.e., that the deaths caused by Cuban State employees remain unpunished; and physical damage, consisting of the loss of income and indirect damages.

    "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, President of The Free Cuba Foundation. 18 years ago, a similar massacre was committed by Castro against Cubans who tried to escape his tyranny.

    According to the book, "Cuba: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," on July 6, 1980, Fidel Castro ordered the sinking of a riverboat that had been commandeered by a group of youngsters trying to escape. The orders were carried out with the loss of dozens of innocent lives. The massacre of at least 45 innocent children, women and men on the "XX Aniversario" river boat was dismissed by the Castro regime as a "thwarted illegal exit from the country." The government's version was that the Cuban Navy's Patrol Boats had "accidentally destroyed the 'XX Aniversario' when waves forced the vessels to collide." The same version would be repeated 14 years later after the sinking of the tugboat "13 de Marzo" in which at least 41 children, women and men were killed trying to escape Castro's Cuba.

    "This moment of silence is important because the crime that the victims of the tug '13 de Marzo' committed was trying to leave Cuba. They were brutally murdered. International organizations condemned the Cuban government's actions, yet four years later, the bodies of victims have not been recovered nor have they been returned to their families," Suarez said. "Those responsible for the attack and the sinking of the tugboat have not been prosecuted or even investigated. The families have not been compensated in any way for their loss. That's why today we held that circle of silence. It was a silent call for justice."

    Saturday, January 17, 1998

    Cuban dissidents gather in Rome before pope's trip to Cuba | Associated Press

    Associated Press, January 17, 1998

    Cuban dissidents gather in Rome before pope's trip to Cuba
    4.59 p.m. ET (2346 GMT) January 17, 1998


    ROME (AP) --- Seeking to capitalize on the pope's trip to Cuba, 15 Cuban dissidents gathered in Rome on Saturday to press for greater freedoms in the communist island nation and the release of political prisoners.

    The dissidents asked the pontiff to appeal for the respect of human rights and urged Italy's political parties to press for an end to totalitarianism in Cuba.

    "The consensus is that in terms of a spiritual reawakening, the pope's visit is very important, and that is ultimately important for the future of the Cuban nation,'' said John Suarez, a spokesman for the meeting sponsored by Cuba Libera (Free Cuba).

    Cuba Libera is an Italian organization that promotes human rights in Cuba. It was founded by Gianni Pilo, a Parliament deputy from the conservative Forza Italia party.

    "We know that when the pope goes there, there will be 2,000 or 3,000 journalists there, but the exiles won't be,'' he said.

    John Paul II leaves Wednesday for a five-day trip to Cuba --- his first to the communist nation.

    Among those attending Saturday's gathering were Mario Chanes de Armas, a former comrade of Cuban leader Fidel Castro who spent 30 years in Cuban prisons; Ricardo Bofill, co-founder of the Cuban Committee for Human Rights; Dariel Alarcon Benigno, a former guerrilla companion of Che Guevara; and Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez, recently released from 22 years in jail.

    When Castro came to Rome a year ago, he was received with acclaim by the Communist Refoundation, an Italian party that provides key support to Italy's center-left government.