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Asdrubal Caner

Asdrubal Caner
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jueves, 16 de julio de 2009

Cuban ‘rafters’ Commemorate Tugboat Massacre

(L-R) Nelson Taylor, Miguel Figuerola and his son Dennis and wife Susana Gonzalez, Lazaro Gonzalez (no relation), Juan Carlos, and Asdrubal Caner pose with a makeshift raft. (Pam McLennan/The Epoch Times)

By Pam McLennan
Epoch Times Staff

OTTAWA—On the early morning of July 13, 1994, 72 Cubans, among them nine children and a five-month-old baby, set out in an old but sturdy tugboat from the Port of Havana, heading for the United States and a new life of freedom.

The small wooden vessel was about seven miles out to sea when it was ambushed by four state-owned boats. The larger metal-hulled boats encircled the tug. Two of the boats stopped the tug and repeatedly rammed its hull until it split and began taking on water.

In the meantime the other two boats, which were equipped with firefighting hoses, were spraying the people on deck, driving many overboard and others to flee to the cargo hold.

Witnesses claim that the four boats then repeatedly drove around the sinking vessel at high speed to create a whirlpool that sucked those floundering in the sea under the water and to cause the tug to sink even faster, while continuing to spray both the people and the boat with high-powered jets of water.

No attempts were made to help the people on board the tug or to rescue those who were in the water despite the presence of a government Coast Guard cutter. Only when a Greek liner happened upon the scene did the Coast Guard start to pull people from the sea.

The old tug, named 13 de Marzo (13 March), sank. Of the 41 who perished, no bodies were returned to their families as the Cuban government refused to recover the victims’ bodies.

What was dubbed the Tugboat Massacre has been recounted by the survivors and investigated by numerous agencies including Amnesty International and the UN Rapporteur on Cuba.

The Cuban government claimed that the tugboat sank because of an accident that occurred as the state-owned boats tried to stop a fleeing stolen vessel, and that there was no deliberate attempt to sink the tug.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, however, saw it differently.

“The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life of the 41 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug 13 de Marzo … for violating the personal integrity of the 31 persons who survived the sinking of the tug … as a consequence of the emotional trauma it caused,” stated a report by the commission.

“The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to freedom of movement and the right to a fair trial of the 72 people who attempted to flee Cuba…”


To commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Tugboat Massacre, Juan Carlos, a resident of Guelph, Ontario, brought a makeshift raft to Parliament Hill on Monday similar to the one he had used on the open sea to escape from Cuba in 1994.

Carlos is a “rafter,” one of thousands who fled Cuba in 1994 after Fidel Castro declared that people were free to leave the country without reprisal. He used a combination of innertubes and wood to cobble a raft that would take him to the United States and escape what he saw as Castro’s oppressive regime.

Carlos said that at 17 he was badly beaten for using a public washroom that was designated for use by tourists only.

“From that day on I have been very angry. I wonder how Canadians would feel if they were beaten for using a public washroom in their own country but which foreign people are allowed to use. I won't welcome tourism in my country until the Castro government is over. I would like to tell the Canadian people that the only thing you are doing by going to resorts in Cuba is hurting the Cuban people.”

After his escape, Carlos languished in Guantanamo Bay along with 32,000 other expatriate Cubans, awaiting their fate while Castro and then-president Bill Clinton took nearly a year to negotiate a revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the outcome of which was the “dry foot wet foot” policy of May 2, 1995.

This policy states that Cubans who flee to the U.S. will be accepted if they make it to dry land. If they are stopped while on the waters between the U.S. and Cuba they will be sent back.

Eventually Carlos was sent to Spain. He subsequently lived in the U.S. and then Canada, where he married a Canadian woman.

‘Canada has huge leverage’

Asdrúbal Caner, a representative of the Social Democratic Party of Cuba, is also a rafter. It took Caner four days during stormy weather to cross from Santiago to Guantanamo Bay in August 1994. Without food or water for most of the trip, he weighed just 45 kg (100 pounds) when the U.S. rescued him.

Caner says that while about 800,000 Canadian tourists visit Cuba each year, tourism doesn’t benefit the people of Cuba much. The money mainly goes to the Cuban government to support the armed regime and keep the people oppressed.

One family of expat Cubans attending the event was from Switzerland. Miguel Figuerola, his wife Susana Gonzalez, and their son Dennis Figuerola left Cuba when Miguel got a job with the U.N.

They said the Canadian government is in some ways complicit in the difficult life that Cubans live, as Canada is Cuba’s second highest trading partner and has invested in Cuban businesses including Sherrit International (nickel and oil).

Despite the fact that Canadian businesses create jobs for Cubans, Figuerola says that the people aren’t paid directly by the companies. The monies are collected and distributed by the Castro government, which are used to support the army.

Toronto resident Lazaro Gonzalez’s father was a rafter as well. His father was sentenced to 28 years in jail in the 1960s for speaking publicly against the communist regime. After 18 years in prison Castro freed all prisoners and allowed them to leave the country. His father boarded a raft and was never heard from again.

Gonzalez said he was fired from his job as a professor of economics at Havana University when it was discovered that his father had been a political dissident.

Nelson Taylor Sol, the Ottawa representative of the Cuban Canadian Foundation, said that Canada is the biggest investor in Cuba and he would like to hear the Canadian government publicly denounce the Castro regime as murderers and thugs, and to have a similar policy of sanctions against the Cuban government much like the U.S. has.

“We think that Canada is a very important country to change what is happening in Cuba, as Canada has huge leverage that they could apply to Cuba. People ask why is Canada not doing anything,” he said.

“We would like Canada to publicly state support for the Cuban dissidents. Some are in jail as prisoners of conscience, recognized by AI, and we would like Canada to officially and publicly recognize the Cuban Opposition movement in the same way that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is supported. That would really encourage the Cuban people.”

As for Carlos, he said he plans to keep returning to the Hill each year on the anniversary of the Tugboat Massacre.

“My plan is to do this every year at this time until the Canadian government allows us to testify in front of the Canadian parliament and say what we have witnessed as survivors of the genocide the Cuban government has been committing for the past 50 years.”

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