Members of the Cuban exile community, organized by the Center for a Free Cuba, held a moment of silence to observe the anniversaries of communist murders on Monday, including the drowning of dozens in the July 13, 1994, tugboat massacre, the killing of Christian dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero, and the death of Chinese Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.
The Center for a Free Cuba organized the subdued and socially distanced event before the Cuban Embassy in Washington, holding posters showing images of the many victims of communism.
13 minute silent vigil today at the Cuban Embassy in DC to remember the 37 men, women, and children murdered on July 13, 1994, to demand #TruthAndJustice & advocate for #nonviolent democratic change. #JusticeForThe37 #JusticeForOswaldo #JusticeforHarold #JusticeForLiu pic.twitter.com/sbYgv9YP9Y
— John Suarez ن (@johnjsuarez) July 14, 2020
July 13 is the anniversary of the March 13 tugboat massacre, in which the Castro regime deliberately drowned 41 people attempting to flee the island. Castro regime policies at the time encouraged Cubans to build makeshift marine vessels and flee to the United States, causing an untold number – believed to be thousands – of drownings at sea. Many bodies have never been found, believed to be eaten by sharks.
In the early morning hours of July 13, 1994, 72 people boarded the March 13 and attempted to steer it towards the United States. They did not get past Cuban sovereign waters before government agents surrounded them. Rather than attempt to apprehend the would-be refugees, Cuban agents began sinking the tugboat. Survivors of the killing say that those on board immediately conveyed their intention to return to see when they realized the Castro regime was trying to drown them, desperately shouting at agents that they had young children on board and wished to save them. The families were entirely ignored and agents did not stop until the boat had sunk and most of those on board had died. The Castro regime refused to conduct search operations to find the bodies of those killed; they have never been recovered.
Among those drowned with pressurized water hoses on the March 13 were 11 children. The youngest, Hellen Marínez Enriquez, was five months old. Two-year-old Xicdy Rodríguez Fernández was the second-youngest victim. The oldest victim was 56.
The Castro regime justified the killings by insisting that the boat was “stolen” and calling the victims “unscrupulous” for trying to escape communism.
Prior to 2016, Cubans were considered legally present in America if they touched land, a policy known as “wet foot, dry foot.” President Barack Obama, as part of a series of reforms friendly to the Castro regime, overturned “wet foot, dry foot,” necessitating the deportation of Cuban refugees who reach the United States. As the process of overturning the longstanding policy took time, it resulted in a surge of dangerous treks to the United States by Cubans desperate to arrive before Obama shut the door on them. In an incident reminiscent of the March 13 massacre, Cuban officials sank a boat carrying 32 would-be refugees, including an eight-year-old, attempting to reach the United States in 2014.
“We were screaming and crying for help as the boat was sinking … Some people dove in the water and others stayed aboard as the boat sank,” a survivor of the incident said at the time. “They knew there were children aboard, but continued to charge against us. They didn’t care.”
The government of Cuba has faced no legal repercussions for its attacks on civilians.
The participants in Monday’s event told Cuban-American media that they felt the vigil was necessary to honor to dead and remind the world of the horrors of communism.
“I am here because we cannot forget that, on a day like today 26 years ago, 37 Cubans were drowned at sea, among them 11 children,” one woman told Radio Viva 24, adding that they wished “to lift our voices for Cuban prisoners of conscience” who are still alive, as well.
“The Castro regime are murderers who have destroyed our country for the last 60 years … abusing our population,” another man participating in the event said.
In addition to the extended moment of silence, the event featured remarks by Pastor Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso to honor the dead.
“The crime will not remain unpunished before the celestial tribunal, where all is known, where all is seen and where all are held to account,” Pastor Lleonart said, according to the U.S.-based Martí News. In prayer, the pastor asked God for “justice on earth, in human courts and an and to this dictatorship.”
John Suarez, the head of the Center for a Free Cuba and organizer of Monday’s event, noted in a statement on the vigil that he intended it also to be in honor of the killing of the head of Cuba’s Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero, forced off the road and to their deaths by Castro regime agents in 2012. Payá had been working to organize a referendum on the nation’s leadership. Their killings occurred on July 22.
Suarez also noted that Liu Xiaobo, the celebrated Chinese dissident who Beijing refused to allow to collect his Nobel Peace Prize in person in 2010, died on July 13, 2017, and honored him, as well. Liu allegedly died of “multiple organ failure” after being diagnosed with late-stage cancer that year – after nearly a decade in prison for openly criticizing Chinese communism. Liu was formally convicted of “incitement to subvert state power” for publicly favoring constitutional democracy to communism.
Radio Free Asia reported on Monday that dictator Xi Jinping had heightened repression in the years since Liu’s death, both within China and in Hong Kong, where it recently banned all speech considered a threat to the Communist Party’s “national security.”
“Fear is being cultivated both in China and in Cuba by the secret police to perpetuate their respective totalitarian regimes, and they are using the internet to do it,” Suarez wrote in anticipation of this week’s vigil. “We must combat the effort to erase the past with actions that observe these anniversaries.”