Cubans Throughout the Island Pay Tribute to Victims of the “13th of March” Tugboat Massacre

Some of the victims of the Tugboat Massacre

18 years ago, forces of the Cuban regime assassinated 41 people who were trying to flee the country in search of freedom in the United States aboard an old tugboat (“13th of March”).  The crime occurred on July 13th, 1994, when a couple of other state vessels persecuted the tugboat (which had 69 people on board), blocked its path, and used a cannon to fire water at the Cubans.  41 of those people died, drowned or from the impact, and among them were 11 minors.

In 2012, during the anniversary of this massacre, the repression of the regime (the same one which committed the crime) was not able to impede Cubans throughout the island from honoring the victims.

On the eve of the anniversary, about 18 activists in Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey, met at the home of dissident Yoan David Gonzalez Milanes to carry out a candlelight vigil followed by a pots and pan protest in memory of the vicitms.  On the following day, July 13th, this same group had plans to march out of the home up to a local river, where they would deposit flowers in honor of those assassinated.  However, government mobs surrounded the home, shouted violent slogans, kicked down the door, and impeded the dissidents from stepping out.  Regardless, on the morning of Saturday July 14th, the dissidents once again tried to step out of the house, and this time they did, although they were arrested by forces of the political police.

Another successful pots and pan protest took place on July 12th in the city of Placetas, in Santa Clara, where dissidents like Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Marta Díaz Rondon and Leticia Ramos Herrería participated.  They were carrying out a meeting there, debating a new opposition campaign dubbed “Towards the National Strike”.

July 13th began with the news that 6 activists from the Central Opposition Coalition in Santa Clara also carried out a peaceful march to a local river to also deposit flowers, but all of these members were violently arrested.  Among them was Idania Yánez Contreras, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa, Alcides Rivera and Damaris Moya Portieles. However, Alcides Rivera managed to throw the flowers into the river right before being arrested.  In the case of Yanez Contreras, she was shoved into a police vehicle and kept in there for nearly an hour before being taken into custody in a police unit, with the engine off, the windows up and under the scorching sun.

The Free Yorubas Association of Cuba, a religious organization independent from state control, carried out a religious ceremony a couple of days before the anniversary, in which they prayed for the victims and prayed for the freedom of Cuba.

In Havana, the home of Lady in White Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo had already been completely surrounded by the political police for 5 days, keeping her family and other dissidents from going out to the street.  Fonseca explained that, although they could not make it out, she managed to hang a large sign on her porch with messages condemning the Castro regime for the tugboat massacre and honoring the victims, highlighting that there were minors among the murdered.  The activist added that other members of the group which she presides over- the Pro Human Rights Party of Cuba– did manage to surpass police cordons and pay tribute to the victims publicly in the same province of Havana.

Meanwhile, also in Havana but in the neighborhood of Arroyo Naranjo, Eriberto Liranza Romero said that various activists from the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy shocked the police, despite having been under threats and vigilance for 2 weeks, managing to throw flowers into a local river.  On the morning of Saturday the 14th, Liranza explained on Twitter that other activities were being carried out by other members of the same youth group.

In Banes, Holguin, a group of dissidents from the Eastern Democratic Alliance marched to a river as well, successfully throwing flowers.  These same dissidents managed to surpass a police cordon which had been set up by State Security Major Roilan Cruz, one of the main culprits of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s assassination in 2010.

Other similar activities were reported in other provinces and cities, although telephone interruptions made it difficult to confirm further details.

Meanwhile, various Cubans across the island sent out messages through Twitter, using the hashtag #Remolcador13M (#Tugboat13M).  One of these Twitter users was former political prisoners Pedro Arguelles Moran who mentioned the anniversary and emphasized that the crime was executed under “orders of the Castro tyranny“.

The Pastor and blogger Mario Felix Barroso tweeted, “The assassins are still out on the street, but God will do justice“.  Meanwhile, Yoani Sanchez recalled that she was 17 years old when the massacre occurred and mentioned that many people, including her friends, would also risk their lives at sea in search of freedom.  She explained that she did not know of the crime until “a couple of months after“, but affirmed that “ignorance does not free us of responsibility“.

Help us to not forget them“, continued another Tweet by Sanchez, “to denounce the injustice“.  The blogger also published a link to a harrowing testimony by one of the survivors.

The youngest victims
Cubans Throughout the Island Pay Tribute to Victims of the “13th of March” Tugboat Massacre

In Cuba, a New Religious Group is Born Outside the Grasp of State Control

Jonniel Riverol on the right with the orange shirt, with other members of the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba

A number of practitioners of the afro-Cuban Yoruba religion in Placetas, Cuba have decided to create their own religious group, independent from the control of the Cuban totalitarian system which presides over all sectors of day-to-day society.  Jonniel Rodriguez Riverol, a Yoruba priest, announced this past Wednesday 29th of February that “a group of Cuban santeros, practitioners of the Yoruba religion, have created the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba with the purpose of practicing our religious beliefs outside the state control which all believers of this African faith are subjected to in this country“.  Rodriguez Riverol is the president of the newly founded organization.

The official launch of the group took place in the home of Donaida Perez Paseiros (dissident and human rights activist) and Loreto Hernandez Garcia (Yoruba priest and vice-president of the Association).  According to declarations made by Riverol, a number of neighbors were invited to take part in the event, where they prayed “for the life of the political prisoner currently on hunger strike, Andy Frometa Cuenca, and for the end of violence and repression in Cuba“.

Jonniel Rodriguez Riverol has been a Yoruba priest since 1992 and decided, along with other Cuban santeros, to create the Free Yoruba Association of Cuba with the intent of “breaking away from the control which the government exerts over all religions in Cuba”.  As a goal, the members of this group wish to practice their religion “completely independent from the control and supervision of the state organisms which has traditionally occurred on the island for the past century and a half“.

In Cuba, the Castro dictatorship does not only oppress dissident groups made up of human rights activist who demand freedom out in public, but they also maintain a strong vigilance over all religious groups, which is evident by the existence of the Office for Religious Affairs, a department of the Communist Party put in place to preside over religious events throughout the island.  In fact, it has even been reported in the past that the regime has infiltrated religious groups as much as they have infiltrated public opposition groups.

Jonniel Riverol established that the Association is “not a political organization, nor is it identified by political or philosophical ideas.  With that said, the character of the group and the activities we carry out will have a completely religious focus, which will be in total correspondence with the pretexts and postulates of our ancestral religion“.  He added that the Association will not hesitate to democratically debate with Yorubas who are associated with the state “to share with them our points of view on the subject of religion, or any other topic“.

The Free Yoruba Association of Cuba will be affiliated with the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front, according to Riverol.  “These non-violent organizations will respect the beliefs and strategies of our organization.  In other words, the relationship between our organization and the groups which make up the internal resistance will be based on mutual respect: comprehension and no meddling or impositions“.  He also pointed out that the executive structure of the Association will be made up of a president, a vice-president, and an executive secretary and a spokesperson.  “As the membership of the group grows and as it spreads throughout the country, we will then open different headquarters in different regions and provinces which will be headed by specific representatives previously designated by the national executives“.

The dissident and national coordinator of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front, Jorge Luis Garcia Antunez, published a welcome message for this religious group on his blog “I Won’t Shut Up, I’m Not Leaving“.  Antunez expressed that “in light of the foundation of this association, the political police has been deeply alarmed.  Firstly, because independent civil society is growing and, most of all, because the majority of the members of this group are political dissidents and many of them have participated or will participate in protests and other acts of  civil disobedience”.  Donaida Perez Paseiros is one of these activists which frequently participates in public demonstrations against the communist tyranny through her activism with the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights.

The Free Yoruba Association of Cuba has also opened its own Twitter account under the name @YorubaLibre, where it has already sent out numerous Tweets.

Each passing day, more and more Cubans who wish to live in a plural country raise their voices in favor of freedom.  The establishment of this new Afro-Cuban Yoruba association is yet another achievement of Cuba’s independent society which has been losing fear and demanding their political, social, economic, and religious rights.

Considering the absence of a state of rights in our country, our association has the sufficient moral strength to carry out each one of our activities without having to rely on the most minimal authorization of those who we consider to be atheists and ignorant on this subject and, most of all, non-representative of the freedoms and rights of the people”, affirmed Jonniel Riverol.

In Cuba, a New Religious Group is Born Outside the Grasp of State Control