by Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton

July 13, 2001 is the seventh anniversary of one more unpunished crime by the Castro regime. It was July 13, 1994, and again I say, we must not forget the infamous case of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat, in which 72 Cuban men, women and children were trying to escape for the U.S. In this incident, 42 lost their lives, including 12 children – one of them just 6 months old. The U.S. media was been silent when it happened and thereafter has hardly mentioned it.

According to the testimony of survivors and Tim Bower’s book Cuba: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, the passengers attempted to surrender and many of them held their children up in the air. But Castro’s Coast Guard was relentless in their savage attack and began to pummel the helpless passengers with water cannons. Bower’s book recounts the testimony that water cannons were used to "spray children from the arms of their mothers into the ocean waters." Other children were simply swept off the deck into the sea. Desperate to protect the children, the women carried the remaining children down into the boat’s hold.

Maria Victoria Garcia, a survivor of the massacre who lost her husband and 10-year old son, her brother, three uncles and two cousins said, "We struggled to stay above water by clinging to a floating body. I held on to my son because I saw he was weakening and he didn’t have the strength to go on. But people fell on me and my son slipped from my grasp." Bower’s book explains, "The young boy could not fight the huge waves created by the government vessels and his mother was forced to watch helplessly as her baby drowned just five feet away."

The survivors relate how "The tugboat filled with water and cracked in two by renewed ramming." Another survivor relayed that she "saw how they (the fire hoses) were filling the hold with water. Once the boat was sinking, I didn’t see anybody come out (of the hold)."

Cuba’s Coast Guard, following Castro’s orders, executed this criminal massacre, which to this day, remains unpunished. Those responsible for this barbaric act received congratulations and promotions from Castro’s regime. And Castro himself travels the world with proud impunity. Unlike Milosevic, he will not face justice when he is no longer in charge since he will be in charge until he dies.

This was not the first time Cuban children have suffered and paid with their lives at the whim of the Castro regime.

Prior to 1959 Cubans did not leave their country; once Cuba became Castro’s, its history is riddled with massive and daring escapes. There are enough thrilling and dramatic stories to fill entire libraries and entire graveyards.

"I had never faced death before nor saw it on other people’s faces. I’ll never forget those children. Or the look on their mothers’ faces," said Eduardo Serrera in Helga Silva’s book The Children of Mariel.

Serrera, recalls the traumatizing event he experienced while leaving via the port of Mariel, Cuba in 1980. He was crammed aboard a 24-foot shrimp boat along with 36 men, women and children. He was leaving with his mother, but Castro’s guards forced them to travel apart. He lost track of her.

"By the third day water started coming into the boat. We used everything at hand – buckets, containers – to bail out." Fortunately, around noon the U.S. Coast Guard spotted the boat. Serrera recalls, "The sailors had to make a human chain to physically lift us from our sinking boat."

Aboard the cutter on their way to the U.S., they encountered other Cubans in distress in the Florida Strait. But not everybody could be saved because the waves prevented the Coast Guard cutter from getting close enough to rescue them. A boat was drifting away and falling apart and Serrera cannot forget the screams for help.

"It was awful." When the women aboard realized that they could not be rescued, they "picked up their children and threw them over the railings over to our side. Eight or nine children were flung in the air. I caught one, a baby – about nine months old – so cold his skin was blue. And his eyes were open wide in terror.

"The women on the boat looked so desperate when their boat began to drift away. They wailed in pain. I could hear their voices trail off in the darkness begging us to look after their children."

According to Helga Silva’s book, of the more than 125,000 refugees who came to the U.S. during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, there were 13,000 to 18,000 minors.

However, the biggest exodus of unaccompanied children ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere – which is largely unknown to the American people thanks to the U.S. media – took place in Cuba from December 26, 1960 through October 22, 1962. During that period, 14,048 children between the ages of 6 and 18 years left Cuba for the U.S. in what was later called "Operation Peter Pan."

This massive exodus was triggered by the increasing revelation of Castro’s turn to communism. This awakened fears in Cuban parents that they were about to lose the right to make decisions about raising their children and their education as happened in the Soviet Union, China and other communist regimes.

This fear was well founded. On May 1, 1960, Castro ordered the creation of communist indoctrination schools and private schools were under increasing pressure from the regime to change to Marxist textbooks to indoctrinate the children. Many private schools closed rather than be taken over by Castro’s regime. Many parents kept their children home instead of sending them to public schools where communist indoctrination had already begun. The future didn’t look promising for families under Castro in 1960, just as today.

Cuba is a country where parents have taken extraordinary risks for decades to get their children out. This desperate exodus has Castro’s fingerprints all over it. He often uses a crisis to divert attention from his failing revolution as he masterminded with the Elian Gonzalez case.

These stories of daring escapes from Castro’s Cuba are just a few grains of salt on the vast sea of the ongoing tragedies taking place for the last 42 years in the Florida Strait. The fact that Cubans have been risking their lives and would rather die at sea is very eloquent testimony, indeed.

When taking a vacation cruise traveling through the Florida Strait, just consider for a minute the thousands of lives that have been needlessly lost at sea and the last minute human struggle for survival of men, women and children before they drown or are eaten by sharks - about 84,800. All of it because of the ambition for power of one man shielded behind a failed and inhumane political system and very much protected by the silence of the U.S. media.

Let us remember on July 13 all the children who died along with their parents seeking freedom. Is it moral to look the other way in order to visit Cuba as tourists? Or for the sake of making some dubious business deals, giving up principles and ideals on behalf of a man and the dehumanized political system he created to violate the human rights of the citizens of his nation?

Agustín Blázquez

Producer/Director of the documentaries

COVERING CUBA, COVERING CUBA 2: The Next Generation and the upcoming COVERING CUBA 3

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