Human Error or Premeditated Violence?

By Javier Herrera

HAVANA TIMES – News recently broke of a boat sinking near Bahia Honda, in the north of the Artemisa province of Cuba.  According to the Ministry of Cuban Interior (MININT), a speedboat that had come from the United States and was transporting many Cubans with the intention of reaching that US illegally, suffered an accident, capsized and resulted in the death of 5 passengers. According to the same statement, 23 alleged migrants were rescued. MININT has held the US and the Cuban Adjustment Act responsible, as it encourages illegal emigration.

Putting this incident into context, it’s important to recognize that Cuba is suffering an unprecedented migration crisis, which already exceeds the 1980 Mariel Boatlift crisis and the Rafters’ Crisis in 1994, combined. The Cuban Government can repeat to death that the US is responsible for the disorganized and dangerous migration Cubans take on.

However, personally-speaking from my understanding of the cause and living everyday reality on the island, I can say that the real culprit of the migration crisis is none other than the Cuban Government, which has condemned the Cuban people to a life of hardship and despair with its disastrous economic policy. If you add hardcore repression against any dissident voice or just someone criticizing official policy to the widespread poverty we suffer you have the perfect recipe for a mass stampede.

This article doesn’t intend to lay out or analyze the causes and consequences of Cuban people migrating, but rather sheds a little light on why there is so much violence.

In order to understand whether this incident was an accident or deliberate act, we need to go back to several precedents of vessels sinking under the revolutionary Government. A Government that capitalizes on violence as its exclusive property, as the general population have no weapons.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Cuban Government has a totally vertical hierarchy of power, just like every Cuban institution does, where they decide what will be sold in stores and for what price, to how and when a law will be amended, without taking public opinion into account at the highest levels of power. Understanding the situation in which the tragedy took place, I find only two possible options: either it was a terrible accident, or it was an expression of violence and premeditated punishment ordered from the highest level of government or the military.

Havana’s Marina Hemingway

We can analyze the incident known as the massacre at Barlovento as a precedent. In 1962, illegal sea crossings were common in Cuba by people who were fleeing Communist ideology or revolutionary justice, which was more revolutionary than justice. In January 1962, a group of 29 people tried to leave Cuban soil onboard the “Pretexto” yacht, anchored at the Marina de Barlovento, known as Marina Hemingway today. State Security caught wind of the escape and took drastic and fatal measures, supposedly under Fidel Castro’s orders.

When the ship tried to reach open sea along the main channel of this marina, it ran into a heavy chain that had been strung across. As it hit the chain, a Navy warship opened fire on the ship with 30 caliber machine guns, leaving a death toll of 5 and many passengers injured. The 24 survivors were sentenced to 20 years in prison in a summary judgement by a revolutionary court. Participants in the operation to capture and machine gun the ship never stood trial and continued in their positions.

Those killed who after the attack on the “13 de marzo” tugboat

Thirty-two years after this tragedy, the Government showed no mercy once again with illegal Cuban migrants when the “13 de marzo” tugboat sunk in the outskirts of Havana Bay. On July 13, 1994, the old “13 de marzo” tugboat tried to leave the island with 72 people onboard. Seven miles away from the bay, the ship was intercepted by 4 government ships, which attacked it with water cannons. The ship ended up sinking and 41 people died in the incident, 10 of whom were minors. Survivors testified that they continued to shoot at them with water cannons once they were in the water, and they were refused help. The Government covered up the crime until August 5th, when Fidel Castro himself came forward and went public with the news, praising the actions of those involved and loyal to the regime. Once again, the culprits were never taken to trial and weren’t even investigated for their actions, even when Cuban Law stipulates that Criminal Recklessness is a crime and has signed international naval security pacts.

Six of those who died after the attack on the speedboat on October 29, 2022. Collage: 14ymedio

Now, on Saturday October 29, 2022, a speedboat that had arrived from the US tried to leave the island with approximately 30 people onboard. While the ship tried to reach open sea with its human cargo, it was intercepted by two Cuban Coast Guard vessels. After rendering the outboard motors useless, and when they were already drifting and easy to capture, one of these Coast Guard vessels broadsided the boat that was fleeing, resulting in it splitting in half and seven people dying, with at least one of the fatalities being a child (a girl just 2 years old). According to testimonies from some survivors, they were only offered life-saving equipment after the shipwreck survivors begged them.

There are many more examples if we look into recent Cuban history a little: the massacre on the Canimar River, the bags of sand that were apparently thrown from military helicopters onto the rafts that were fleeing, the execution by firing squad of three young men in 2003, who tried to hijack a boat in Havana Bay to head north.

I’ll stick with these two examples for now, because I’m limited for space. After studying these incidents, it’s hard – not to say impossible – for me to believe that they were simple accidents during a capture and arrest operation at sea. It’s also hard for me to believe that these criminal actions are decided by the crew onboard ships intercepting vessels or even their officers onboard. You just have to look at the Cuban President’s involvement, at the time, and his protecting those responsible for this tragedy.

After looking at these facts and how the Government acted in the recent event, there is only one conclusion I can deduce and that is that these unfortunate accidents when trying to capture a ship, are premeditated state crimes. It’s using premeditated violence for a political end against civilians whose only crime is trying to flee despair.

An accident? No, a crime.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times