14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2020 — The official newspaper Granma chose to commemorate the arrival in Cuba of the alleged remains of Ernesto Che Guevara, while it hid the anniversary of the sinking of the ’13 de Marzo” Tugboat, and the anniversary of the shooting of General Arnaldo Ochoa on Monday, both events that occurred on July 13, 1994 and 1989 respectively.
The official organ of the Communist Party, much given to marking historical dates and reminders, has overlooked one of the most fateful events in Cuban history. The sinking of a boat in the summer of 1994, which left 37 people dead, including at least several children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years.
In the early morning of July 13 of that year, 62 people tried to escape from Cuba to the United States aboard the 13 de Marzo tugboat. The ship was intercepted and sunk by three other ships, Polargo 2, Polargo 3, and Polargo 5, according to testimonies collected from survivors. Many of the bodies of the deceased were never retrieved.
Unlike the drum and the cymbal with which the remains of Guevara were received on the Island in 1997, the sinking of the tugboat was barely reported in the official press and those involved were never tried, despite the fact that witnesses reported that the Polargo rammed the ship and blasted jets of water onto the deck to prevent its exit from Cuban waters.
A day after the sinking, Granma published a note from the Ministry of the Interior in which it was stated that the boat had “capsized” and that only “antisocials” were traveling on it. Shortly after, when the details of what happened were revealed, the official newspaper assured that the Polargos had been involved in a “regrettable collision” during the maneuvers to prevent the theft of the boat.
No one was tried for the sinking of the tugboat and the event was erased from the calendar, public debates and academic research. Something similar to what happened with Case 1 of 1989, for which another July 13, five years earlier, General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Captain Jorge Martínez and Major Amado Padrón were shot.
Much of the trial against these officers, for an alleged drug trafficking crime, was broadcast on national television and for many analysts it marked a before and after in the Cuban political process.
The alleged links of the accused with the Colombian cartels, their shady deals with ivories in Africa, and the trafficking activities attributed to them during the oral hearing have for decades been the source of speculation about a possible involvement of the Cuban leadership, especially Fidel Castro, in such maneuvers.
At the Supreme Court, presided over by General Juan Escalona Reguera, then Attorney General of the Republic, capital punishment was requested for four of the accused, a sentence that was supported and ratified by the Council of State a few days later.
For many faithful party militants, the execution of Ochoa catalyzed their break with the Communist Party and their disappointment with the political model. In the international community, numerous voices also rose in rejection of what they called “institutional murder.” But, despite its importance, the official press has not referenced that court case or its implicated parties.
On the other hand, the authenticity of the remains of Ernesto Che Guevara that rest in the Santa Clara Mausoleum has been questioned on several occasions. An extensive investigative report published in the Mexican magazine Letras Libres casts doubt on the finding. “Only a DNA test carried out by totally independent experts will make it possible to verify whether the skeleton attributed to Che really belongs to him,” says the report.
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