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

Santa Clara: Another Forceful Eviction; Dissidents Violently Arrested as they Tried to Intercede

A Cuban house; Photo taken from internet

On the morning of November 20th, Idania Yanez Contreras received a peculiar phone call from Yulema Benitez Sigler.  Yanez, along with various other dissidents, had been helping Benitez Sigler as she was going through a forced eviction at the hands of the Cuban regime.  In the phone call, Sigler told Idania (and the rest of the dissidents) to not show up in her house as they had planned to do so on that Monday, the day in which the authorities had declared they would demolish the house, saying that the regime had already given her a free plot of land and had already constructed her a new home.  But dissident Yanez Contreras noticed that Yulema was crying and something was wrong.  This led her to call another opposition member who lives nearer to Yulema and she asked him to please investigate what was really happening.  As it turns out, according to Benitez herself,  a State Security official by the last name of Gil along with a political police official, had threatened her with prison time and with taking away her three children if she did not make that phone call.  It was a plan to keep activists away and to impede any sort of public protest.

Upon hearing this, Idania Yanez decided to go on with the original plans and she and a group of dissidents head out towards the humble and improvised home of Yulema, located by the Sagua Highway, Kilometer 1 1/2 in Santa Clara.  With very little help, “Yulema constructed that house on a dump site“, explains Yanez, “along with her small children- the eldest who is 11, and the younger two who are 7 and 8- they cleaned out the site and managed to get rid of some animals living there.  She had to sell the only television set she had in order to purchase the wood to make the house“.  The family had no running electricity and the only light they had emanated from candles.

The first group of dissidents arrived to the house at around 6 AM on that Monday- they were three activists from the United Anti-Totalitarian Council: Yasmin Riveron, Yusmany Rafael Alvarez, and Jose Luis Lopez.  They were also the first to be removed from the premises by force and then aggressively detained by State Security and political police agents.  Just a few minutes after, another group of three (Damaris Moya Portieles, Enrique Martinez Marin, and Idania Yanez) was approaching the area.  However, Yanez explains, they were also all violently arrested, detained, and sent off to different police units.

Damaris was taken to the Encrucijadas Unit, Enrique deported back to the municipality of Manicaragua, and I was kept in a Police Unit of Santa Clara“, narrates Yanez, “Yasmin, Yusmany, and Jose were also detained in a police unit of that region“.

It was at that moment that the forces of the regime began to demolish Yulema’s  house.  When this news reached other members of the Resistance, some began to protest publicly.  Yanez tells that “the fellow dissidents Guillermo del Sol Pérez, Alcides Rivera Rodríguez, Víctor Castillo Ortega, Ana Rosa Alfonso, Jose Luis Lopez, María del Carmen López, Ramón Abreu, Mayra García, Rolando Ferrer Espinosa and Omar Núñez Espinosa all showed up and began to protest outside the Police Unit where some of us were being kept“.  All these activists who joined in solidarity were also arrested and taken into detention cells of the same Unit.

Other dissidents- Alberto Reyes Morales, Michel Oliva Lopez, Yanisbel Valido Perez, and Rodolfo Perez Benitez- decided to also protest outside that Unit.  Though these were not detained, they remained there the entire day until 8:30 PM when the last of the activists was released.

As of now, we do not know the whereabouts or situation of Yulema Benitez Sigler and her young children“, declared Idania Yanez to this blog during the afternoon hours of Tuesday, November 22nd.  “What we do know is that her smallest son- 7 year old Reiko- fainted” during the violent arrests and the demolishing of the house.

Idania Yanez was savagely beaten and arrested a mere two weeks ago and suffered serious health complications along with her husband Alcides Rivera Rodriguez and dissident Rolando Ferrer Espinosa who were both on hunger strike at the time.  Despite the fact that they were still recuperating they decided to try and assist a victim of the abuses of the Cuban dictatorship, someone who has not committed a single crime.

Santa Clara: Another Forceful Eviction; Dissidents Violently Arrested as they Tried to Intercede

The “War of Wearing Out”: Increase Violence, Destroy Symbols to Martyrs

This will be a war with the aim to wear you out“, that’s what the new political police chief in Placetas- Raul Acare Martinez- told Antunez while the latter resided in a jail cell during his most recent detention.  Martinez signaled that “every time you all (dissidents) go out to the streets, you will all continue to be arrested“.

Antunez has confirmed this, as he has been victim of 3 arrests (of 72 hours in length) in just one month.  The most recent one was on Tuesday, November 8th, when 14 dissidents from the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front met up in a public location in order to carry out a peaceful sit-in in solidarity with Alcides Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer, both of who were in hunger strike at the time.  In addition, it was also a demonstration of solidarity with the savagely beaten Idania Yanez and various other dissidents who remain imprisoned for political reasons in Santiago de Cuba.

As soon as we concluded that activity and we started to walk back to my house, we were violently repressed and taken to the police unit“, explains Antunez, emphasizing the cases of various of his brothers and sisters in struggle who suffered health complications, such as Xiomara Martin Jimenez who suffered “a serious hypertension crisis” and the blind activist Jose Angel Vazquez who was treated just as ruthless as the others.  In the case of Antunez, relatives were informed that he was also experiencing various complications during his second day behind bars.  “I regularly suffer from hypoglycemic problems, and I grew very dizzy, had tachycardia, and strong pains in my chest“, he narrates.

Political Police agents 'hunting for dissidents' in Placetas. Taken from Antunez's blog "Im not leaving, im not shutting up"

The dissident from Placetas adds that his sister, Caridad Garcia Perez Antunez, who is not even a dissident, was “beaten and arrested along with her 15 year old daughter” as they walked in front of his home, trying to find out what was happening to her brother.

After 72 hours, all the non-violent demonstrators were released but the ‘war to wear out’ was clearly underway.

Since the weekend and Monday the 14th, the home of Antunez “has been target of a massive police operation, where no one is allowed to walk in front of the house, passing cars are diverted and they are asking all neighbors for identification“.  Despite this, numerous activists were able to surpass the police circle and met up to re-inaugurate a monument to the fallen Orlando Zapata Tamayo (which was debuted a few months ago during the ‘Zapata with Us’ campaign) which was destroyed by the political police last October 24th, during the Day of the Resistance.

Though some dissidents were present, many were detained, deported, or impeded from traveling.  Among those arrested were María del Carmen Martínez López and Yanisbel Valido Pérez (Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, Central Opposition Coalition) and among those deported were Yaimara Reyes Mesa, Lorenzo Hernández García, and Blas Agusto Fortun Martínez. Many other activists, from other provinces, were not able to make it due to the strong police operation in their towns which would not let them mobilize, as was the case of Ricardo Pupo Sierra from Cienfuegos.

Regardless, among those present were “from Camaguey, Santo Fernandez Sanchez and Leonardo Garcia Tomas from the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (CID), and coming from Banes, Rene Quiroga, Aurelio Antonio Morales, and Vivian Tamayo Ramayo from the Eastern Democratic Alliance, and from Ciego de Avila Julio Columbie Batista“, informed Antunez.

The vigilance, the threats, and the repression on behalf of government agents has not ceased, but regardless, the activists carried out the planned activities.  “Though many could not be there with us, there was still a significant number of people present,” affirms Jorge Luis Garcia ‘Antunez’, “and, in addition, Zapata was there with us in heart and in spirit“.

Antunez and other members of the Cuban resistance throughout the island have proved that even if the war unleashed against them by the dictatorship is trying to wear them out, they will not tire.

The “War of Wearing Out”: Increase Violence, Destroy Symbols to Martyrs

Santa Clara Dissidents End Hunger Strike, but “the Struggle Continues”

A special thanks to Bertha Antunez who recorded and shared these declarations made by Damaris Moya Portieles on Tuesday, November 8th.

(Left to Right) Rolando Ferrer & Alcides Rodriguez

On Tuesday morning the dissidents from Santa Clara- Alcides Rivera Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer Espinosa- decided to end their hunger strike which lasted exactly 41 days and left them with serious health ailments.

Damaris Moya Portieles, provincial delegate of the Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement and Co-President of the Central Opposition Coalition, expressed her relief and satisfaction that both dissidents- which carried out the protest from her home- had ceased their hunger strikes after “Dissidents Marta Beatriz Roque and Arnaldo Ramos Lazarique visited them at home just a few days ago and asked them to please stop, considering that Raul Castro’s dictatorship already gave them an answer, which is that they will not stop the violent beatings” against dissidents.  Many other members of the Cuban resistance asked them to do the same, declaring that these brave men are needed alive.

Rodriguez and Espinosa decided that, just as Moya Portieles expressed, the dissident’s struggle belongs “out on the streets, our stage“.

And it is in that same stage, or sector, where members of the Central Opposition Coalition and the Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Resistance Front have planned to “work more directly and together with the everyday people, so that they step out of the lies hurled upon them by the dictatorship, and see just how they are being oppressed“, affirms Damaris.

Nevertheless, the human rights activist warns that Rodriguez and Espinosa still run serious health risks, considering that their lengthy hunger strike left them in a “very poor state of physical health“.  Alcides is suffering from broncho-pneumonia, pain in his kindeys, and other complications, while Rolando is reeling from pains on his arm, “the tightening of his chest“, and has a “green-ish” color to him on his hands and feet.  “A doctor which visited him told us that it is very probable that he may be suffering from a heart or blood circulation condition“, adds Portieles.

Strikers Alcides Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer have seen, through this protest, how the Castro dictatorship pays no attention to their demands.  They’ve comprehended, according to declarations made by themselves and fellow dissidents, that before losing their lives while demanding their rights before a nomenclature which simply ignores such demands, it is better to confront the oppressors directly, face to face, despite repercussions this could have.  “They may kill us on the way but we must put an end to this dictatorship“, affirms a confident Moya Portieles, “We are letting the dictator- and the world- know: this has not been a defeat.  We are going to continue out on the streets, our scene, our stage.  The dictator will know very well know who we- the Central Opposition Coalition and the National Resistance Front- are“.

Shortly after putting and end to the hunger strike, a group of 13 dissidents were violently arrested and beaten in Placetas during a peaceful sit-in protest in which they demanded the unconditional release of all political prisoners and an immediate end to government-sponsored violence against the resistance and the people of Cuba as a whole.  Those detained were Jorge Luis García “Antúnez”, Pastor Alexei Gómez, Rene Quiroga, José Ángel Abreu, Oscar Veranes Martínez, María del Carmen Martínez, Donaida Pérez Paseiro, Xiomara Martin Jiménez, Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, Orlando Alfonso Martínez, Enrique Martínez Marín, Mayra Conlledo García y Víctor Castillo Ortega. (As of Wednesday afternoon, the activists remain imprisoned)

The struggle continues“, assures Damaris Moya Portieles.

Members of the Central Opposition Coalition
Santa Clara Dissidents End Hunger Strike, but “the Struggle Continues”

Dissident Testimonies: Hospital Break-In, Savage Beating, and Arrest

Yris Tamara Aguilera, Antunez, Idania Yanez

The last group of Cuban dissidents who were brutally attacked and arrested by the political police this past 31st of October in the Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital of Santa Clara were released this 3rd of November.

Activist Jorge Luis Antunez explains that the purpose of such a congregation of more than 15 dissidents in the hospital was to demonstrate solidarity with hunger strikers Alcides Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer who had been urgently rushed to the hospital after 29 days of their ongoing protest.  Also, the dissidents wanted to accompany Idania Yanez, wife of Alcides Rodriguez.

It was a completely peaceful atmosphere among the dissidents, we were there in solidarity“, recounts Antunez, continuing, “After a while, my wife Yris and I head upstairs to the B-Medical Room, Bed 11 to keep Alcides some company.  It was then that we received a call from Idania from the lobby.  She was telling us that government agents were entering the building- they were political police and Rapid Response Brigade agents, sent to arrest dissidents“.  The dissident from Placetas shares that he did not think that the officials would go to the point of breaking into the intensive care center where there were many gravely-ill patients- men, women, old and young.  However, the agents paid no attention to this.

The police officers broke into the room and “brutally arrested us without telling us a thing, savagely beating us at the same time”.  The couple was then dragged throughout all of the hospital to the outside and shoved inside police vehicles.  “While they were dragging us“, narrates Antunez, “we could hear screams of patients and those accompanying them, protesting against the situation“.

Both Yris and Antunez were taken, while being beat, to the Police Unit of Caibarien.

Idania Yanez, Damaris Moya, Yanisbel Valido, Rene Quiroga, and others were also victims of physical aggression and an arbitrary arrest.  The Assembly of the Resistance, an umbrella group of dissident organizations in and out of Cuba, published a testimony, through the Cuban Democratic Directorate’s website, of the horrors Damaris Moya went through.  In the testimony, Moya denounced that both she and Idania Yanez were dragged from a police vehicle to the police center known as “UPOC”.  Moya explains that in the case of Yanez, she was taken into the Unit by various agents who were “punching her on her abdomen, on her head, and all over her body“.

The report continues, “I was able to break free from a female agent who held a tight grip on me and I ran towards Idania and Yanisbel.  Yanisbel was being choked, she had turned very red.  They were continuously punching Idania.  It was then that a guard from Guamajal- a very tall and corpulent woman- hit me on my head.  I fell hard against the prison bars.  At that moment, my hands and feet began to grow numb.  My feet were swollen and I couldn’t move.  They left me on the floor and they once again pounded Idania, punching her and dragging her into a jail cell“.

The officials then turned to Damaris and began to kick her while on the floor.  She couldn’t get up.  They sat her on a chair and were screaming at her to get up.  “A doctor came and opened my eyes and then told me I didn’t have anything.  They continued the same thing.  They screamed at me to get up.  They grabbed my hair and hurled me to the floor, chair and all.  I was once again dragged, by the hair as usual, but only one of them was grabbing my hair, the other two were kicking me at the same time.  They threw me into a cell where there was a red ant pile and I was just left there after they tore off my clothes and left me in my underwear“.

According to Moya, the functionary who ordered so much violence against these women was Yuniel Monteagudo Reina, a State Security agent.  The dissident also recounts that Idania was savagely beaten on the face and on her eyes, which caused her to swell up.  Yanez was also bleeding from her back.  She had a long scratch which Moya speculates could have not been done with a hand or nails, but instead with some sort of object.

Idania Yanez was taken to the State Security Barracks of Santa Clara while Damaris was taken to the Unit of Encrucijadas, where she carried out a protest, refusing to eat any food or drink any liquids, despite the constant threats and insults.  She was released Wednesday night.

While all these dissidents were being tortured and arrested, the hunger striker Rolando Ferrer was kicked out of the hospital while Alcides Rodriguez remained alone.  For that reason, on Tuesday November 1st Guillermo Farinas, a veteran in his own right with hunger strikes, head out to visit his brother in struggle at the hospital.  The political police did not allow Farinas to enter the hospital and they also beat him aggressively.  He remained detained until the morning hours of November 3rd.

During that same afternoon of the 3rd, all the dissidents who were still arrested during this operation were released, except for Idania.  Information about her whereabouts and condition was very scarce which led to various activists- Damaris Moya and Antunez among others- to declare that if by 5 PM Idania had not arrived to her house, they would carry out a protest in the streets of Santa Clara all the way to the detention center in which she was being held.  Shortly thereafter it was reported that Yanez was released but her family took her directly to the hospital due to the fact that she had suffered countless severe physical blows and was in a very bad state of health.  According to her mother, who denounced the violations her daughter suffered, the last few times Idania has been detained she has ended up in the hospital afterward because of all the blows she has suffered.

“I am very concerned about our beloved sister in struggle, Idania Yanez, because she has been severely injured“, declared Antunez- a worry he shares with all his other brothers and sisters in struggle, “We are all holding the Castro dictatorship accountable in regards to what may happen to Idania“.

Dissident Testimonies: Hospital Break-In, Savage Beating, and Arrest

(October 29th)- Update on Hunger-Strikers Alcides Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer, Both in Critical Condition

Alcides Rivera Rodriguez, with his wife Idania Yanez and their two children.

As has been recently reported, Santa Clara opposition activists Alcides Rivera Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer Espinosa have been urgently rushed to the Provincial Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital during a 29 day (up to now) hunger strike.  Rodriguez was taken during the night hours of Thursday the 27th while Ferrer was checked in on the 28th.

In the case of Rivera Rodriguez, upon arriving to the hospital he was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia.  Shortly after, doctors informed his relatives that the diagnosis was not very clear and that his potassium levels were alarmingly elevated.  The dissident from Placetas, Jorge Luis Garcia ‘Antunez’ informed through his Twitter account that the Milian Castro Hospital was completely “militarized” due to the presence of the activists.

The president of the Central Opposition Coalition and wife of Rodriguez, Idania Yanez Contrera reiterated that the strikers were willing to take their protest, which they began on September 28th, to the final consequences.  She added that with the protest, they are demanding “an end to the excessive violence against the non-violent opposition and the people of Cuba in general, that dissidents be allowed to have their own social spaces, and that, once in for all, the activists jailed within the past months in Santiago de Cuba and other provinces be released“.  Yanez explains that the two strikers did not want to be taken to the hospital, especially after the sudden death of Lady in White Laura Pollan.  However, their physical conditions left no other option.  “On Thursday, Alcides couldn’t even get himself up from bed and it was nearly impossible for him to urinate“.  In the case of Rolando Ferrer, “he has been suffering from severe abdominal pains“.

Yanez Contrera warns that a third activist is also taking part in this strike, though from the Prison known as “Pre”.  His name is Arselio Lopez Rojas and is a political prisoner  whom “joined the strike on October 1st and since then has been physically and verbally attacked by the penitentiary authorities, especially by an official by the name of Osmany Febles de la Paz” who has even threatened with killing him.

The hunger strike initially included three other dissidents- Frank Reyes Lopez, Guillermo del Sol Perez, and Jorge Vazquez Chaviano.  Each one of these men stopped the strike due to serious health complications, according to Yanez.  “Frank Reyes stopped the strike last Saturday, the 22nd of October.  He was suffering from a chronic gastritis and is currently still in the hospital“, while the other two suffered similar outcomes.  “In the case of Jorge Vazquez he was urinating blood“.

A seventh dissident- Franklin Peregrino del Toro, from Cacocum, Holguin joined the hunger strike on the 10th of October but discontinued it on the 27th.

Idania Yanez declares that she, along with all the other relatives of the strikers, are extremely concerned for their lives.  “Their health is deteriorating daily.  Alcides entered the hunger strike weighing 220 pounds and is now weighing 165.  Rolando Ferrer was 156 and is now weighing 125 pounds.  Meanwhile, the government has paid no attention to their demands whatsoever“.  But Yanez also points out that these are “very brave actions on behalf of the three remaining protesters and all those who participated in the strike, who for diverse reasons have found themselves in a position where they had to discontinue it“.


(UPDATE- Saturday, October 29th.  6:00 PM)- As of the afternoon hours of Saturday the 29th, Idania Yanez offered declarations to this blog about her husband Alcides and also Rolando Ferrer, both of which are still in critical condition with health complications.  In the case of Ferrer, he cannot even speak and the doctors have not decided what will be done with him, while they wanted to move Alcides to an Intermediate Care Unit but the families protested and refused, for that floor on the hospital is commonly known as “The Slaughter Room”.  Yanez adds that the hospital continued to be completely militarized.  State Security agents are stationed all over the building, making decisions and watching over everyone and everything.  But this has not kept Idania and other fellow dissidents from showing up to the hospital and spending the night.

(Excuse the quality, but here are Idana Yanez’s audio declarations, in Spanish):

(October 29th)- Update on Hunger-Strikers Alcides Rodriguez and Rolando Ferrer, Both in Critical Condition