It was July 15 or 16, 1994 when Angela Medina, my children’s aunt, asked me to accompany her to a house in the Purisima neighborhood, Cotorro municipality, where she saw her neighbors shot with water cannons in Havana Bay by the military who shipwrecked the tugboat, 13 de Marzo, in which she had meant to leave for Florida with her husband, children, and dozens of people made desperate by hardship and lack of opportunities.
Ángela, Jesús, Mileidis and Miguel Ángel owed their life to the haste of the driver who forgot to pick them up in the middle of the secrecy and rush of the endeavor. They felt then, relief, frustration, anger and grief for their dead friends, whose relatives refused to say goodbye to them at the municipal funeral, controlled by the agents of State Security, ready to quell any outbursts in response to the crime committed by those who carried out the orders from the highest governmental level.
I can’t forget the face of tragedy of those tearful people, shocked by the news of the disaster and the offensive of the authorities. A few steps from the market were the Purisima market were the uniformed forces, ready to arrest and detain, robots without mercy.
A month later, Jesus threw himself into the sea on a raft and was taken to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, converted into makeshift camp for 40,000 boat people, among which were survivors of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, who gave witness to the tragedy in front of the cameras of the northern nation, despite having accused themselves in Havana under threat, made to corroborate the official version of events.
That event, still hidden away on the Island under seven locks, is an international scandal. The dedication of the authorities to protect the perpetrators and silence the aftermath of the assassinations is evidence of the absurdities of power. By violently preventing the diversion of the old tug loaded with children and young people they sent a message of horror to thousands party enthusiasts.
The familiar sequels rounded out the trauma: The Balsero/Rafter Crisis of August 1944; the signing of immigration treaties with the United States; the later illegal exits and other alternatives to exile through Mexico, The Bahamas, Venezuela or Ecuador, all mask the real problem. That socio-political immobility continues to fuel the dream of escape from the “socialist paradise.”
I hardly hear from Angela and her family, they live in Florida with the relatives of the victims of the tugboat 13 de Marzo, not wanting to know about Cuba or the circumstances that led them to abandon the country where they grew up. Perhaps in a short while, that “marine warning” of July 13, 1994, will be a chapter in the past and those guilty will be called to account for their infamy.
July 18 2011