REPORT Nº 47/96
VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA
October 16, 1996
On July 19, 1994, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
received a complaint stating that in the early morning hours of July
13, 1994, four boats belonging to the Cuban State and equipped with
water hoses attacked an old tugboat that was fleeing Cuba with 72
people on board. The
incident occurred seven miles off the Cuban coast, opposite the port
of Havana. The complaint
also indicates that the Cuban State boats attacked the runaway tug
with their prows with the intention of sinking it, while at the same
time spraying everyone on the deck of the boat, including women and
children, with pressurized water. The pleas of the women and children to stop the attack were
in vain, and the old boat--named "13 de Marzo"--sank,
with a toll of 41 deaths, including ten minors.
Thirty-one people survived the events of July 13, 1994.
On February 28, 1995, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights received another complaint concerning the same events, which
was added to Case File No. 11.436, in accordance with Article 40.2 of
PROCEEDING BEFORE THE COMMISSION
The Commission, by letter of March 7, 1995, initiated the
proceeding on the matter and asked the Cuban Government to provide
information on the events subject of said communication, as well as
any relevant factors that would enable it to determine whether all
remedies under domestic jurisdiction had been exhausted.
In a letter dated 23 March 1995, the Cuban Interests Section
transmitted to the Commission a copy of the remarks by President Fidel
Castro to the Cuban communication media and an official communique by
the Ministry of the Interior mentioning the events of July 13, 1994.
On March 30, 1995, the aforementioned documents were
transmitted to the petitioners, who sent their observations on May 4,
1995. These were
transmitted to the Cuban Interests Section on May 10 of the same year.
The petitioners asked to be heard by the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights during its 90th Regular Session.
Consequently, the Commission extended an invitation to the
petitioners and representatives of the Cuban Interest Section, to
present their arguments concerning the events in the present case.
Said hearing took place on September 7, 1995.
The petitioners--Movimiento Cuba 21--were represented by
Lic. Sergio Ramos, Lic. Guillermo
Toledo, Dr. Belquis Rodríguez, and Mr. Jan Fernández. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also heard the
testimony of two of the survivors, Arquímedes Lebrigio and José
Alberto Hernández. The
Cuban Interest Section did not send any representative.
The petitioners' arguments in said hearing were submitted to
the Commission in writing on August 31, 1995.
The Commission, by letter of September 20, 1995, forwarded said
documentation to the Cuban Interest Section and gave it 60 days to
submit its comments thereon.
On February 2, 1996, the petitioners asked the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights for a report including the respective
findings, pursuant to Article 46.2 of its Regulations.
The Commission, in a letter of March 27, 1996, again asked the
Cuban Government for information, allotting it a period of 30 days to
its 92nd Regular Session, the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights approved Confidential Report No. 16/96, which was sent to the
Government of Cuba on May 3, 1996, so that it might make whatever
observations it deemed pertinent within three months of the
Cuban Government did not respond to Confidential Report No. 16/96,
approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during its
92nd regular session.
According to the information provided to the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights, the events that occurred are the
Sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo"
July 13, 1994, at approximately 3:00 a.m., 72 Cuban nationals who were
attempting to leave the island for the United States put out to sea
from the port of Havana in an old tugboat named "13 de Marzo".
The boat used for the escape belonged to the Maritime Services
Enterprise of the Ministry of Transportation.
to eyewitnesses who survived the disaster, no sooner had the tug
"13 de Marzo" set off from the Cuban port than two
boats from the same state enterprise began pursuing it.
About 45 minutes into the trip, when the tug was seven miles
away from the Cuban coast--in a place known as "La Poceta"--two
other boats belonging to said enterprise appeared, equipped with tanks
and water hoses, proceeded to attack the old tug.
"Polargo 2," one of the boats belonging to the Cuban
state enterprise, blocked the old tug "13 de Marzo" in the
front, while the other, "Polargo 5," attacked from behind,
splitting the stern. The
two other government boats positioned themselves on either side and
sprayed everyone on deck with pressurized water, using their hoses.
pleas of the women and children on the deck of the tug "13 de
Marzo" did nothing to stop the attack.
The boat sank, with a toll of 41 dead.
Many people perished because the jets of water directed at
everyone on deck forced them to seek refuge in the engine room.
The survivors also affirmed that the crews of the four Cuban
government boats were dressed in civilian clothes and that they did
not help them when they were sinking.
Cuban Coast Guard cutters arrived and rescued 31 survivors.
After being rescued, the survivors were taken to the Cuban
Coast guard post of Jaimanitas, which is located west of Havana.
From there, they were taken to the Villa Marista Detention
Center, which also serves as State Security Headquarters.
The women and children were released and the men were held.
victims who died in the incident of July 13, 1994 are:
Leonardo Notario Góngora (27), Marta Tacoronte Vega (36),
Caridad Leyva Tacoronte (36), Yausel Eugenio Pérez Tacoronte (11),
Mayulis Méndez Tacoronte (17), Odalys Muñoz García (21), Pilar
Almanza Romero (30), Yaser Perodín Almanza (11), Manuel Sánchez
Callol (58), Juliana Enriquez Carrasana (23), Helen Martínez Enríquez
(6 months), Reynaldo Marrero (45), Joel García Suárez (24), Juan
Mario Gutiérrez García (10), Ernesto Alfonso Joureiro (25), Amado
Gonzáles Raices (50), Lázaro Borges Priel (34), Liset Alvarez Guerra
(24), Yisel Borges Alvarez (4), Guillermo Cruz Martínez (46), Fidelio
Ramel Prieto-Hernández (51), Rosa María Alcalde Preig (47),
Yaltamira Anaya Carrasco (22), José Carlos Nicole Anaya (3), María
Carrasco Anaya (44), Julia Caridad Ruiz Blanco (35), Angel René Abreu
Ruiz (3), Jorge Arquímides Lebrijio Flores (28), Eduardo Suárez
Esquivel (39), Elicer Suárez Plascencia, Omar Rodríguez Suárez
(33), Miralis Fernández Rodríguez (28), Cindy Rodríguez Fernández
(2), José Gregorio Balmaceda Castillo (24), Rigoberto Feut Gonzáles
(31), Midalis Sanabria Cabrera (19), and four others who could not be
surviving victims are: Mayda
Tacoronte Verga (28), Milena Labrada Tacoronte (3), Román Lugo Martínez
(30), Daysi Martínez Findore (26), Tacney Estévez Martínez (3),
Susana Rojas Martínez (8), Raúl Muñoz García (23), Janette Hernández
Gutiérrez (19), Modesto Almanza Romero (28), Fran Gonzáles Vásquez
(21), Daniel Gonzáles Hernández (21), Sergio Perodín Pérez (38),
Sergio Perodín Almanza (7), Gustavo Guillermo Martínez Gutiérrez
(38), Yandi Gustavo Martínez Hidalgo (9), José Fabián Valdés (17),
Eugenio Fuentes Díaz (36), Juan Gustavo Bargaza del Pino (42), Juan
Fidel Gonzáles Salinas (42), Reynaldo Marrero Canarana (16), Daniel
Prieto Suárez (22), Iván Prieto Suárez (26), Jorge Luis Cuba Suárez
(23), María Victoria García Suárez (28), Arquímides Venancio
Lebrijio Gamboa (52), Yaussany Tuero Sierra (20), Pedro Francisco
Garijo Galego (31), Julio César Domínguez Alcalde (33), Armando
Morales Piloto (38), Juan Bernardo Varela Amaro, and Jorge Alberto
Hernández Avila (33).
Refusal of the Cuban Government to recover the victims' bodies
the days following the tragedy, relatives of the victims who had
drowned asked the Cuban authorities to recover the bodies from the
bottom of the sea. The
official response was that there were no special divers available to
recover the bodies.
nonprofit organization "Hermanos al Rescate" (Brothers to
the Rescue)--which is dedicated to rescuing Cuban boat people trying
to escape from the island--asked the Cuban Government for permission
to fly over the spot where the events took place, to help recover the
bodies, but the request was immediately denied. To date, none of the drowning victims' bodies has been
recovered by the Cuban authorities, despite the fact that the sinking
of the tug "13 de Marzo" occurred in Cuban territorial
ACTIONS TAKEN BY THE CUBAN STATE
March 23, 1995, the Cuban Interest Section sent the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights an English copy of the Official Statement
of the Ministry of the Interior, describing the investigations carried
out by the Cuban Government. The title of said statement indicated that the "Ministry
of the Interior reports on the accident caused by the illegal attempt
to leave the country."
statement indicated that "The investigations carried out by the
competent [Cuban] authorities into the incident that occurred on the
morning of July 13 , in which a tug belonging to the Maritime
Services Enterprise of the Ministry of Transportation sunk seven miles
north of the port of Havana, revealed that the disaster occurred as a
result of a collision between said tug and another from the same
company that was trying to capture it."
tug '13 de Marzo' was stolen by a group of people from the dock where
it was moored. Before taking the tug, the leaders of the group intending to
leave the country illegally, disabled the port's communications
system. There was a
report concerning the boat, which indicated the existence of leaks.
The perpetrators were aware of this and irresponsibly failed to
repair the boat before going ahead with the escape."
the attempt to stop the robbery, three boats from the Maritime
Services Enterprise of the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS) tried
to intercept the tug. This was the cause of the unfortunate accident that led to
the sinking of the tug [13 de Marzo].
Coast guard units patrolling the area near the place where the
events occurred immediately joined the three MITRANS ships in a rescue
operation to save the victims of the disaster."
of the navigating conditions and the rough seas (Force 3) during the
early morning hours, only 31 people were saved.
The survivors of the disaster were taken to shore at the port,
where they received medical treatment.
The other members of the group vanished.
The main leader has been incarcerated."
unfortunate accident demonstrates once again how unscrupulous
individuals take the lives of many people, including women and
children, because of their wish to emigrate illegally from our country
and to be welcomed as heroes by the United States, despite the fact
that the American authorities--as we all know--deny them visas to
travel in a normal manner."
POSITION OF THE PARTIES
The Cuban Government
a letter dated March 23, 1995, the Cuban Government sent the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a copy of the speech of
President Fidel Castro to the Cuban news media on August 5, 1994.
In this speech, the Cuban Head of State spoke of the events of
July 13, 1994 as follows: "...it
[the United States] wants at all costs to undermine the country's
economic effort, as part of its overall plan to destroy the
broadcasts, subversive propaganda, all of this is spearheaded from
outside and is encouraged abroad.
But, to be sure, this concrete fact--this phenomenon--has been
much more clearly in evidence in recent weeks, starting with the
accident involving the tug '13 de Marzo'.
I believe that one of the most infamous and most grossly
cynical acts of the United States Government occurred because of this
27. "(...) As soon as news of the tug accident arrived, a thorough and
exhaustive investigation was immediately carried out, based on
information provided by the survivors, those who had been rescued,
what each of them said; based on the information provided by some of
those responsible for the seizure of the boat; the meticulous,
detailed information provided by each of those who were on the tugs
concerning each of the events that occurred, and as the facts became
known, they were reported. Three
reports were prepared, as more data were collected, exactly on what
had occurred. (...) and
it was they, the tug workers, who, as soon as they realized that the
seizure of the tug--in this case the theft, the stealing of the
tug--had occurred, acted swiftly to prevent them from taking the
who took the tug had accomplices, among them the one who had the key
to the padlock, and they had the skipper of another tug.
They destroyed the communications, and the tug workers were not
even able to communicate with the coast guard; the coast guard learned
of it later. All of this
occurred within about an hour and 20 minutes, from the time they took
the boat until it was sunk. They
tried to prevent the departure, and the boat they took, the stolen
boat even collided with one of the boats that was trying to prevent it
from leaving, there at the entrance to the bay, and this tug and the
others kept trying somehow to stop the tug, to prevent it from being
stolen. The Coast Guard,
informed later, received instructions to go to the place were these
events were taking place, but it all happened very quickly."
know exactly what happened: one
boat positioned itself in front to try to slow the speed, another boat
positioned itself behind, and another boat went to the side, but none
of the crews had the intention of sinking that boat.
They were attempting something very difficult, actually, that
is, to stop a boat. All
of this happened at night, on a dark night, in rough seas; in these
conditions there were trying to stop it until the Coast Guard patrol
boats arrived. This is
how the accident happened: the
one that went behind collided with the stern--and sailors and everyone
who knows anything about the sea will realize that this is perfectly
possible--of the stolen tug, the one that had been taken, with the 13
de Marzo, and that is how the collision occurred that led to the
sinking; that's how it was; it was really an accident, and this was
thoroughly investigated by the authorities, the Ministry of the
Interior investigated and there was not the slightest intention to
sink the boat. What are
we going to do with those workers who did not want them to steal their
boat, who made a truly patriotic effort, we might say, to stop them
from stealing the boat? What
are we going to say to them? Listen,
let them steal the boat, don't worry about the boat, and they went out
to try--even though it was not their job--to keep them from stealing
Coast Guard had nothing to do with it, they arrived there a few
minutes after the accident. The
tugs that were trying to stop the robbery threw them the lifesavers
they had, a few lifesavers. They
had boarded a tug that had at least one leak, in very poor condition
for doing that; it was tremendously irresponsible, that tug would have
sunk even if there hadn't been a collision."
had only a few lifesavers--those tugs are small, they have only a few
crew members--they threw the lifesavers they had and pulled some out,
even some crew members, and with some danger, because there was the
risk that they would seize their own tugs.
The Griffing patrol ships arrived with a lot more equipment,
many more lifesavers, much more experience, and pulled 25 people from
the water; between the tugs and the patrol ships they pulled 31 people
from the water. But it
was all a deplorable, grievous, unfortunate accident.
We are all distressed that it happened."
workers' behavior was exemplary, there's no denying it, because they
tried to stop them from stealing the boat.
What are we to say to them now, let them steal the boats, their
livelihood? The actions
of the Coast Guard crews were irreproachable, they saved 25 lives.
So, this is what happened and as soon as information became
available, more details were given.
Three reports were prepared concerning the incident.
However, the tug accident became the raw material for a
terrible campaign against our country; it became the raw material for
a campaign of disgusting slander, truly disgusting, and the United
States Government was a willing participant, because, without finding
out what happened and how it happened, it blamed the Cuban authorities
for sinking the boat. With
incredible perfidy, it said: 'Government
ships.' In a socialist
state everything belongs to the State:
buses, trains, boats, merchant ships, tugs, but they are
operated by civilians, and the authorities were represented there
essentially by the Coast Guard patrols."
I saw a great deal of perfidy in the attempt to describe the ships as
'government' ships, because what they meant to say is that the
Government was responsible for sinking the boat.
They also issued statements, angry speeches in the Senate,
warnings against committing these brutal acts, they called it
'brutal'; but it was all meaningless, for in fact the authorities had
saved 25 lives. What was
the reason for this? It
was revealed, they not only launched a libelous campaign but also
wanted to take the matter to the United Nations as part of the scheme
and the strategy they were formulating, because they want to intervene
in other countries through these international organizations.
The idea is clear, the intentions, starting that way, and to
Coast Guard received a complete explanation from the Ministry of the
Interior about what to do to avoid accidents, to avoid the use of
weapons if at all possible; they actually told them:
'Do not use any weapons.'
But, in fact, for a patrol boat to stop a ship at night, when
things have already reached a certain point, is practically
Coast Guard crew received numerous instructions about how to handle
this problem, and besides, what for?--because we don't have any
special need to stop a departing boat."
There will always be time in history to hold each individual
responsible for his actions. To
demand investigations! When
we investigated ourselves first, without anyone demanding it, and no
one can demand it, because only our conscience, our duty, and our
sense of responsibility can demand and do demand that we conduct an
investigation in any case of this type; but, then, to demand
do they reward our effort to obey the law every time an accident
occurs, by accusing us of being murderers, accusing us, even, of
stowing corpses? They
spread gossip, rumors that corpses were stowed away, they accuse us of
being keepers of corpses." "What
they did because of the accident of the tug 13 de Marzo was to give
the order to steal as many boats here as can be stolen.
I actually believe that tug was stolen on July 13.
But by July 26, a boat was stolen, one of the ones they usually
use to transport passengers from Casablanca, which carry 10,000 or
12,000 people every day."
their response of May 4, 1995, the petitioners stated inter alia
that "The people [who were attempting to leave Cuba] went
directly to the tug '13 de Marzo' without doing anything else.
The alleged damage to the communications systems of the
state-owned Empresa Mambisa de Navegación is untrue.
All of the enterprise's communications system were intact.
Moreover, the other tugs had their radio communication systems
intact and were under the control of the Government personnel who were
operating them. This
means that they could easily have informed the authorities and
received instructions from their control centers or from the Cuban
Coast Guard and Navy corps."
departing, the passengers in the boat '13 de Marzo' saw two tugs, in
the dark, on either side of the outlet from Havana Bay.
The survivors indicate that as soon as they passed them, they
started their pursuit, spraying water on them with their hoses to
flood them and sink them. The
speed of the other tugs' reaction should be noted.
This means that their basic crew was already on board and ready
to set out. Notice that
Castro himself acknowledges and admits that there was a tug at the
mouth of the bay that tried to stop the departure and that the others
kept trying to stop it. Castro
himself says that the entire incident, from the departure to the
rescue of the victims 7 miles off the Cuban coast took one (1) hour
and twenty (20) minutes. This
supports the theory of the prior preparation of the other ships, i.e,
that there was an ambush, and that the Cuban Government knew in
advance of the escape plan, and perhaps to give a warning to prevent
people from getting in the habit of taking ships to flee the country
in search of freedom. The
massacre was premeditated."
of the acts reported by all of the survivors was the fact that almost
as soon as they left the mouth of the Bay of Havana, the two
heavy-draft, iron tugs made by Polaca began to spray water on the old
tug '13 de Marzo' to try to flood it and sink it.
Castro claims that the tug was leaking.
If this were true, the operators of the other tugs knew it, so
why did they spray it with water if not to sink it even faster?
This is not the way to stop a ship in flight, as Castro
alleges, but rather to sink it."
pursuing tugs were new, larger, made of iron, and faster.
The fleeing tug, the '13 de Marzo,' was old, made in the 40s,
slower, smaller, and made of wood.
Logically, it had everything to lose in a deliberate collision
with the tugs pursuing it."
"Castro speaks of a 'collision' at the mouth of the bay
and another on the open sea. However,
the survivors' report indicates that the '13 de Marzo' was hit by
several of the tugs pursuing them.
In her testimony, survivor Janet Hernández tells us that the
MININT tugs started bumping into their sides.
It was seven miles off the Cuban coast, after losing the
captain, who was thrown overboard by the impact of the jets of water,
that one of the fugitives stopped the boat's engines.
It was then that the largest of the tugs pursuing them rammed
the '13 de Marzo' in the stern and split it; and then returned to the
charge and rammed the bow, causing it to sink.
If it had been a random accident, it would have received only
one hit, but not two serious, separate blows, with time elapsing
between the two. Moreover,
anyone with a little knowledge of navigation and logic will realize
that objects in water do not stop abruptly, but come to a gradual
stop. Consequently, this
was a 'collision' that could have been avoided.
This barrage of hits and these attacking boats prove that the
sinking was intentional."
is widely and publicly known that the coasts opposite Havana Bay are
constantly patrolled by Soviet-made type p-4 or p-6, high-speed
torpedo boats, or 'TURYA' type gunboats (commonly known as Griffings).
These boats are capable of reaching speeds of 40 to 50 knots.
If, as Castro claims, they appeared on the scene and remained
at a distance, why did they not act rapidly to stop the action of the
attacking tugs? This
comes up in the survivors' reports and demonstrates the complicity of
the military authorities in these macabre acts."
survivors' report reveals that despite the victims' pleas to stop
trying to sink them, showing them the children on board, they
continued their macabre persecution by spraying water on the deck, to
the point that they forced the women and children to seek shelter in
the cabins because of the danger of being thrown into the sea by the
pressure of the jets of water. When
the boat sank after the collisions, 40 people were trapped in there,
23 of them children. Had
they been able to remain on deck, many would have been saved."
survivors also describe how those who were able to jump into the sea
received no help from the tug crews.
On the contrary, they began circling at a high speed around the
people in the water to create whirlpools and thus drown them.
The survivors say that it was not until the 'Griffing' patrol
boat and another small boat arrived that they were pulled from the
sea. The tug crews were
indifferent to those who were drowning, looking on and enjoying the
Dante-esque spectacle, the work of their villainy."
should be pointed out that those who were rescued and/or survived were
taken to the headquarters of Castro's political police, the Department
of State Security, in the gloomy 'Villa Marista' torture center.
However, none of the aggressors was punished or tried by the
courts of law, despite the crime committed.
On the following day, the
women were released, but not the men.
The women told the international press what happened, as stated
in our reports to you."
few days later the Cuban Government claimed that it could not go down
to investigate the blows sustained by the sunken boat, or recover the
bodies, because it lacked the necessary equipment and personnel.
We refute this claim because the Cuban armed forces have
frogmen units that were well trained by the former Soviet Union.
It also refused the offer of Cuban exiles who are qualified for
this work, and it even prevented the service organization Brothers to
the Rescue from approaching the spot where the incident occurred to
help rescue victims and recover bodies."
his public appearance, Castro covered up for the murderers by
applauding this act as a true patriotic effort, claiming that none of
the crew members intended to sink the boat.
It should be pointed out that if it was not murder, then it was
negligence; nevertheless, none of the aggressors was tried in court;
instead, they were absolved and applauded by the Cuban Head of State.
The Cuban Criminal Code states that negligence does not excuse
the commission of a crime (Article 48), and punishes it with sentences
of 5 to 8 years."
the facts and pursuant to the Cuban Criminal Code, the perpetrators of
these acts committed the crimes of major destruction (Article 195),
violation of the rules of navigation or maritime traffic (Article
209), murder (Article 36), crimes violating international law (Article
123), and, above all, genocide (Article 124, subparagraph 2)."
his appearance, Castro affirmed that it was perfidious to call the
ships Government ships, because what they meant to say by this is that
the Government was responsible for sinking the boat, and he pointed
out that they were operated by civilians.
With this argument, the Cuban Head of State tried to excuse his
Government. However, if
we look at how the State is structured internally, we realize that
every activity is under centralized State control."
to the Socialist Political Constitution of 1976, the means of
production are state-controlled (Articles 15, 16 and 17) and the
economy is centralized. Everyone
who works for state enterprises is an employee of the Government.
Within each state enterprise there are two types of controls:
(a) management control, exercised by the director,
and (b) political control, which is the responsibility of the
Secretary of the Communist Party for that enterprise.
The Communist Party is the country's only legal party (Article
5 of the Constitution). A
third important factor in these enterprises is the presence of members
of the security police, who are in the Party's employ and who serve as
agents or informants of the Department of State Security."
aspect that Castro did not mention is that there are certain
enterprises that are classified as strategic and are therefore
military reserves of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, such as Civil
Aviation and Maritime Transport.
The Maritime Navigation Enterprises are Armed Forces reserves
and are chiefly coordinated by and attached to the security agencies
and armed forces of the Cuban State."
interesting fact is that the survivors identified the attacking tugs
as belonging to MININT (Ministry of the Interior).
This Ministry's functions encompass police and state security
matters, as well as the organs of repression of the Cuban State.
It is obvious that the crime was committed by the repressive
forces of the dictatorship. Moreover,
centralism is one of the characteristics of the system.
No major decision can be taken without the approval of Castro
or of a high-level Government agency.
This case is no exception, given the presence of the
surveillance element and the type of organization involved.
This act had to have been planned and directed by high-level
are behavioral factors that support this argument.
It is the custom of the Cuban State, when it is carrying out
acts of repudiation and aggression against dissidents (witness the
case of the poet María Elena Cruz Varela) to use agents of the
Department of State Security dressed in civilian clothes, along with
cadres from the Communist Party and the Young Communists Union.
This attack against defenseless civilians was planned,
orchestrated and directed by the Communist Party and State Security
and involved the direct participation of both."
the hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on
September 7, 1995, the petitioners stated inter alia that
"We have no doubt whatsoever that on the morning of July 13,
1994, the 72 people who left Havana Bay by seizing the old wooden tug
and who were fleeing Cuba in search of the liberty denied them there,
were pursued and their vessel rammed by three of the Cuban State's
most modern tugs; and this occurred as soon as they left the bay.
While they were executing these maneuvers, they also sprayed
jets of water on the people who were on the deck of the tug '13 de
Marzo,' who pleaded that there were children on board, to stop
spraying them with water and stop ramming their boat, that they were
giving up and returning to Cuba.
Finally, at a distance of 7 miles from the Cuban coast, a blow
to the stern caused the tug '13 de Marzo' to sink."
complete the spectacle, the Cuban State tugs circled around the people
who were still afloat, creating whirlpools so that they sank, and
continued spraying them with jets of water.
The death toll of this abominable crime, of this genocide, was
41 people, including several children.
Three days after the incident, some of the 31 survivors were
rescued by other Cuban State ships and not by the tugs.
The first thing the Cuban State did was to arrest these
survivors and, on the second day, release the women and children.
Of particular note is the testimony given in Havana by survivor
María Victoria García Suárez after her release.
WSCV Channel 51 managed to get the interview out of Cuba.
The television images of this woman crying and accusing the
Cuban Government moved the public.
María Victoria García Suárez, who is still in Cuba, told how
she lost her husband, her 10 year-old son, her brother, and three
uncles and two cousins."
other eyewitnesses in Cuba, such as Janet Hernández, overcame their
fear of government repression and told the outside world the truth
about the incident. It should be pointed out to this distinguished Commission
that the survivors' testimonies, given on different dates and in
different places, are consistent, which proves the absolute truth of
the crime committed by the Cuban Government."
first reaction of the Cuban Government through its representative in
the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C., Mr. Rafael Dausá, was
to describe the survivors' testimonies as 'science fiction.'
On July 15, 1994, the Cuban Government, through Mr. Dausá,
said that the tug '13 de Marzo' was '9 years old and no longer used
because of its appalling condition.'
'It was no miracle,' Dausá said.
'It sank because of its poor mechanical condition.
The irresponsible attitude of these pirates caused the
accident.' (See the
article from the newspaper 'El Nuevo Herald de Florida' of Saturday,
July 16, 1994)."
same day, July 16, 1994, the Cuban Government changed its version of
the previous day in a statement issued by the Ministry of the
Interior, stating that an investigation had been conducted, which
revealed that the tug '13 de Marzo' had sunk because of a collision
with another tug that was trying to catch up with it.
The statement went on to say that the leaders of the group
attempting to flee Cuba illegally had destroyed the port
communications system of the Interior Ministry's Maritime Services
Enterprise, the owner of the tug '13 de Marzo,' that the tug had a
leak, and that those responsible for the incident knew it, which made
them irresponsible for not fixing this problem before continuing with
the escape. It also said
that in an effort to prevent the theft, three tugs tried to intercept
the '13 de Marzo' and it was then that the unfortunate accident
occurred that caused the latter to sink."
to the statement of the Ministry of the Interior, two coast guard
ships that were on patrol in the area joined the three tugs in a
rescue operation to save the victims of the accident.
The statement concludes by blaming those who were fleeing Cuba
in the tug '13 de Marzo' for the 'alleged' accident."
this statement announcing the investigation of the incident by the
Cuban Ministry of the Interior, the Cuban Government maintained
official silence on the matter, except for a few statements of the
Chief of the Army, Raúl Castro, on July 26, 1994, in which he
repeated the official version in order to show that the sinking was
accidental. On August 5,
1995, the Cuban Head of State, Fidel Castro Ruíz, held a press
conference as a result of the disturbances against his government by
more than 30,000 Cubans in Havana that day.
In this interview, he enlarged upon the events involving the
sunken tug and confirmed the Government's version.
The transcript of this interview is the one submitted to this
distinguished Commission by the Cuban Government, together with the
brief note on the investigation of the incident by the Cuban Ministry
of the Interior."
this interview, Fidel Castro elaborated on the Cuban Government's
version of what happened to the tug '13 de Marzo'.
In it, he distorted certain facts, concealed others, and
generally lied about what actually happened.
The first thing that jumps out is his statement--incredible
from any perspective--that his Government conducted a thorough and
exhaustive investigation. How
can it be believed that two days after the events occurred, that is,
in so short a time, his Government could have conducted a thorough and
exhaustive investigation? Can
any sensible person believe that the simple statement issued by the
Ministry of the Interior concerning the investigation it conducted was
the product of a thorough and exhaustive investigation?"
on August 5, 1994, when Fidel Castro again spoke of the events
involving the tug '13 de Marzo', 23 days had elapsed since its
sinking. Is it possible
that an exhaustive and thorough investigation could be conducted of an
event of such a magnitude as the sinking of said tug 7 miles off the
Cuban coast? Where is the
seriousness, the responsibility, and the sensitivity of a government
and of a leader who dare to lie publicly in this manner, in a case
where 41 innocent people lie dead at the bottom of the sea?
So far, we have not seen this thorough and exhaustive
investigation carried out by the Cuban Government.
We don't know if the Cuban Government has made anything else
thorough and exhaustive investigation would have involved raising the
tug '13 de Marzo' and delivering the bodies to their relatives.
If the Cuban Government was unable, because of its resources to
raise the sunken tug, then it could have requested help from other
governments and international organizations.
The Cuban Government can still demonstrate its good faith and
its 'alleged' interest in the truth by allowing international
organizations, such as this distinguished Commission, to conduct an
independent investigation both outside and within Cuban territory and
attempt to raise the tug '13 de Marzo'.
This distinguished Commission should note that the Cuban
Government, through its Ministry of the Interior and its Head of
State, in its version of what happened, remains silent about the jets
of water that the men on the three pursuing tugs sprayed on those who
were sinking in the tug '13 de Marzo'.
The Cuban Government should be asked why it remained silent
about this matter, when all of the survivors relate this fact.
Or is it perhaps that the Cuban leaders realized that admitting
this truth would cast doubt on their claim that the sinking of the '13
de Marzo' was accidental?"
Cuban Government should be asked what it meant when it said that the
tug crews "kept trying somehow to stop the tug, to prevent it
from being stolen..." Aren't these expressions a veiled attempt to conceal the
facts, that the manner of stopping them was to attack the tug '13 de
Marzo' and spray its occupants with jets of water?
can the Cuban Government and its leader be believed when they say that
those who were fleeing in the tug destroyed the company's port
communications and that this is why the Coast Guard learned of it
later? What this is
supposed to suggest is that the people who were on the three pursuing
tugs were unable to communicate from shore with the Coast Guard, so
they were the ones who stopped the tug that sank.
The claim that the Coast Guard learned of it later contradicts
the report of the survivors that the Coast Guard ships were following
the '13 de Marzo' as soon as it left the bay."
Cuban leader should be asked what he meant by the statement 'the Coast
Guard learned of it later.' By
what means and from whom did they learn of it?
How much time after the tug '13 de Marzo' left the port was the
Coast Guard informed? Obviously, a thorough and exhaustive investigation could not
leave these and many other questions unanswered.
Furthermore, it slipped the Cuban Government's mind that the
Coast Guard naval units have radios on their ships and that the tugs
also have radios to communicate with other vessels or their bases on
shore. Here is another of
the Cuban Government's lies."
Fidel Castro tried to establish that the operators of the three
pursuing tugs were civilian employees of Empresas Mambisas de Navegación
and that they were acting in their own interest, in our petition of
May 4, 1995 to this distinguished Commission, we clearly show that the
men at the helm of those tugs were State Security employees.
We reach this conclusion not only because of the nature of the
Cuban system, but also because the survivors' testified that it was
so. These same State
Security employees, dressed as civilians, are members of the 'Swift
Action Brigades' that the Cuban Government sends into the streets with
weapons and clubs to beat dissidents."
QUESTIONS RAISED IN THIS CASE
other question to be resolved is whether the sinking of the Tugboat
"13 de Marzo" took place with the support or tolerance of
the public authorities or whether the latter acted in such a way that
the violation occurred for want of prevention or with impunity.
That is, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must
determine whether the Cuban State is internationally liable for the
deaths of the 41 people who were trying to flee the country on the
morning of July 13, 1994.
Considerations regarding the formal requirements of
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has handled this case in
accordance with the provisions of Chapter III of its Regulations.
Article 51 of said chapter states that "The Commission
shall receive and shall examine petitions containing a complaint about
alleged violations of the human rights enshrined in the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in respect of member
States of the Organization which are not signatories of the American
Convention on Human Rights."
above statement leads the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to
conclude that it is competent to hear this case as it involves
violations of rights enshrined in the American Declaration of the
Rights and Duties of Man: Article
I on the Right to Life and Personal Integrity; Article VIII, Right of
Residence and Movement; and Article XVIII, Right to Justice.
procedure followed in this case is that provided for by Article 52 of
the Regulations of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
which states: "The
procedure applicable to petitions concerning member States of the
Organization which are not signatories of the American Convention on
Human Rights shall be that established in the General Provisions
contained in Chapter I, Title II; in Articles 32-43 of these
Regulations, and in the articles indicated below."
presentation of the petition satisfies the formal requirements of
admissibility set forth in Article 32 of the Regulations of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the procedure provided for
in Article 34 of the same regulatory text having been exhausted.
Likewise, the claim is not pending in another international
settlement proceeding, nor is it the repetition of a prior petition
already examined by the Commission.
the remedies under domestic law, the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights considers that in the present case, the provisions of
Article 37(1) of its Regulations have been fulfilled, that is, said
remedies have been applied for and exhausted in accordance with the
generally recognized principles of international law.
This is inferred from the information provided by the Cuban
Government on March 23, 1995. According to the Official Statement of the Ministry of the
Interior, "the investigations carried out by the competent
authorities concerning the events that occurred in the early morning
hours of July 13,  (...) revealed that the disaster occurred as
a result of a collision between said tug and another from the same
company that was trying to capture it."
was the cause of the unfortunate accident that led to the sinking of
the tug [13 de Marzo]." "Because
of the navigating conditions and the rough seas (Force 3) during the
early morning hours, only 31 people were saved."
Considerations regarding the facts denounced and analysis of
the present case, documents have been submitted that provide
information on the facts denounced, which facts were moreover made
public knowledge by the international press.
Among the documents submitted to the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights is the following testimonial evidence of persons who
were present at the site of the events and at the time they occurred
on July 13, 1994: Arquímedes
Lebrigio and José Alberto Hernández (surviving witnesses who
appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during
its 90th Regular Session, September 7, 1995), María Victoria García
Suarez, Jeanette Hernández Gutierrez (survivors).
statements of the eyewitnesses show that on July 13, 1994, between
3:00 and 4:00 a.m., a tug called "13 de Marzo" left the port
of Havana, Cuba, headed for the United States, and that there were 72
people on board, including a number of minors.
surviving witnesses concur in stating that they were overtaken and
surrounded by four boats when they were seven miles off the Cuban
coast, and that the latter turned jets of water on them--on everyone
on deck--using the tanks with which they were equipped.
The women who were on deck showed them the children to prevent
the attack with the water hoses from continuing.
Moreover, two of the ships rammed the tug on the port and
starboard sides, causing it to sink. The survivors agree that while the disaster was occurring,
the crews of the four ships did not help them.
Later, Cuban Coast Guard cutters arrived to rescue the
survivors of the wreck.
Considerations regarding the international responsibility of
the Cuban State
established the facts as they occurred on the morning of July 13,
1994, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers it
necessary to determine whether the Cuban State is internationally
responsible for the deaths of the 41 victims who died in said
shipwreck. The basic
elements for establishing international liability can be summarized as
An act or omission exists which violates an obligation
established by a rule of current international law.
illegal act must be imputable to the State.
or harm must have occurred as a result of the illegal act.
EXISTENCE OF AN ACT OR OMISSION THAT VIOLATES AN OBLIGATION
ESTABLISHED BY A RULE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must state, first of all, that
the obligation of respecting and protecting human rights is an
obligation erga omnes, i.e., one that the Cuban State must
assume--like all other member states of the OAS, whether or not they are
signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights--toward the
inter-American community as a whole, and toward all individuals subject
to its jurisdiction, as direct beneficiaries of the human rights
recognized by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Said international instrument, while not binding, embodies
general principles and rules of customary international law.
jurist and former Judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Dr.
Asdrúbal Aguiar confirms
the foregoing, pointing out that, "Within the inter-American
system, as is true of its European counterpart and the United Nations
universal system itself, the general obligation exists which calls for the
respect of the basic rights of man by states.
This obligation is inferred from the preamble and, among others,
from Articles 3.k, 16, 17, 32, 44, 45, 46 and 136 of the Charter of the
Organization of American States, in consonance with the precepts of the
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man."
The "obligations assumed by each member state toward the
inter-American community, represented by its organizations and toward
each and every one of the member states of the Union (...) are
obligations erga omnes; which may be inferred from Preamble of
the Charter of the OAS, wherein the states express their confidence that
the true significance of American solidarity and good neighborliness
can only mean the consolidation on this continent, within the framework
of democratic institutions, of a system of individual liberty and social
justice, based on respect for the basic rights of man."
point that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must stress is
that the right to life, understood as a basic right of human beings
enshrined in the American Declaration and in various international
instruments of regional and universal scope, has the status of jus
cogens. That is, it is
a peremptory rule of international law, and, therefore, cannot be
derogable. The concept of jus
cogens is derived from a higher order of norms established in
ancient times and which cannot be contravened by the laws of man or of
nations. The norms of jus
cogens have been described by public law specialists as those which
encompass public international order.
These are the rules that have been accepted, either explicitly in
a treaty or tacitly by custom, as necessary to protect the public
interest of the society of nations or to maintain levels of public
morality recognized by them.
established the value and importance of the basic rights enshrined in
the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers it essential to
determine whether, in this case, the Cuban State committed acts or
omissions that violate the first of the rights enshrined in the
Declaration: the right to life.
the case sub lite, all of the witnesses concur in stating that
upon leaving the port of Havana--in the tug 13 de Marzo--on the morning
of July 13, 1994, they were pursued and attacked by four Cuban boats.
According to the survivors, said boats, equipped with tanks,
sprayed jets of water on everyone who was on the deck, and also rammed
the port and starboard sides. Said
attacks caused the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", with a
death toll of 41.
evidence clearly shows that the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo"
was not an accident but rather a premeditated, intentional act.
In fact, Jorge Hernández, a survivor of the events that occurred
on July 13, 1994, states that, "After leaving the pier, boat No. 2
rammed them" and once out to "sea they began to be attacked by
boats No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5."
That "the tug they were in was hit on the port and starboard
sides" and that "they attacked them with jets of water."
"After the last attack, the boat sank because the stern was
"the tugs did not help them" but rather "they told them
to keep swimming toward the coast guard cutters."
For his part, Arquímedes Lebrigio stated that "when the
boat weighed anchor, he was below deck and could see that there was no
leak anywhere" and "when he went onto the deck of the boat he
saw that the stern and the bow were smashed."
María Victoria García Suarez states that "that's when we
saw that two firefighting tugs were coming after us," "they
hit the sides and then they began to shoot water at us."
"Then we kept going and told them not to harm us, that there
were children on board and we showed them the children and they kept
shooting water." "Later
we saw two more [tugs] about seven miles out and they positioned
themselves one on each side: one
in front, another in back, and one on each side" and "then all
four started shooting us with water and one of the boats rammed
us...." Finally, the
witness states that "there were the four tugs--the ones that were
sinking us--and we asked them to save us, to take us on board, that
there were children, and what they did was laugh...."
Jeanette Hernández Gutierrez states that "When we were leaving the
Bay we saw two tugs that were shut down, at the mouth of the Bay.
They let us leave, but afterwards came the streams from the water
hoses, they were constant, the streams, they wouldn't stop, knowing that
there were children." "When
we were seven miles out, we saw them speed up and they came
alongside" and "began bumping us," "we held up the
children and they saw them and we began to shout to them please...
please don't do this and they paid no attention...."
"They never spoke to us over the loud speaker to tell us to
stop or anything." Jeanette
went on to say that "they put a tug behind us, the biggest one
(...) they went up over our stern and split the back part of the boat in
that happened... the boat was adrift because the captain, whose name was
Fidencio Ramel, they knocked him down with the jets of water--they
knocked him into the sea." "This
is how they sunk us: the
tug that split our stern moved to the front, came up over the bow and
split it." Lastly, she
states that "the tugs backed away, they moved back a few meters,
but they did not throw us lifesavers--nothing; they did not give us any
kind of help."
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must point out that while it
is true that the intent and premeditation of those responsible for
sinking the tug "13 de Marzo" has been fully demonstrated, it
is also true that said intent is irrelevant in determining the
international liability of the Cuban State.
The basic issue in this case is to determine whether the
violation of the right to life was committed by cubans agents with the
support or tolerance of the State, or whether the latter acted in such a
way that the violation occurred for want of prevention or with impunity.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights--whose case law enshrines general
principles of customary international law--points out that "The
duty of prevention encompasses all means of a legal, political,
administrative and cultural nature that promote the protection of human
rights and which ensure that any violations thereof are effectively
considered and prosecuted as illegal acts which, as such,
may entail penalties for those who commit them, as well as the
obligation of compensating the victims for their harmful
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that the Cuban State
took no steps to reasonably prevent the events that occurred on the
morning of July 13, 1994. Moreover, the Cuban State not only allowed such grievous
events to go unpunished, it also encourages their repetition by
describing the actions taken by the crews of the boats that sunk the tug
"13 de Marzo" as "truly patriotic efforts."
In fact, the Cuban Head of State said in his response of March
23, 1995, that "the Ministry of the Interior investigated and there
was not the slightest intention to sink the boat.
What are we going to do with those workers who did not want them
to steal their boat, who made a truly patriotic effort, we might say, to
stop them from stealing the boat from them?
What are we going to say to them?
Listen, let the boat be stolen, don't worry about the
is obvious, moreover, that there was no judicial investigation of this
case and that the political organs headed by the Cuban Head of State
hastened to absolve of all responsibility the employees who attempted to
recover the tug "13 de Marzo."
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that the Cuban State
could have prevented the deaths of the 41 victims and the psychological
trauma inflicted on the 31 people who survived the sinking of the tug
"13 de Marzo". This is entirely because the manner in which the victims of
the tug tried to leave the country is not an isolated phenomenon, but,
on the contrary, is one that has been repeating itself and intensifying
with every passing year. Indeed,
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its 1994 Annual Report
The sources of information indicate that in 1993 a total of 3,656
people reached the United States on rafts, the rough estimate being that
these were the one in three who set out and actually made it.
This number grew appreciably in the course of 1994, especially
after the beginning of August when the Cuban coastguard and police
allowed the mass departure from the island of all who were prepared to
put to sea in hastily readied craft. The actual figure calculated to the IACHR in the course of
1994 was 30,000.
is clear, then, that the effort to leave the country on the tug "13
de Marzo" was not an isolated phenomenon, and, therefore, it is not
acceptable for the Cuban Head of State to say that "the Coast Guard
had nothing to do with it, they arrived there several minutes after the
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that in the case
sub lite, the first element of international liability is
present, as the acts perpetrated by the four boats that sank the tug
"13 de Marzo" violated two of the rights enshrined in the
American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the right to life
(Article 1) and the right of movement (Article VIII).
the violation of the right of movement, Article VIII of the American
Declaration states that "Every person has the right to fix his
residence within the territory of the state of which he is a national,
to move about freely within such territory, and not to leave it except
by his own will." The
doctrine of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concerning the
right of movement very clearly indicates that "the right of every
person to live in his own homeland, to leave it and to return to it when
he so desires is a basic right recognized by all international
instruments for the protection of human rights."
The foregoing is confirmed by Article 13(2) of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "Every person has
the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his
acts that caused the sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo"
prevented the 72 people on board from freely leaving Cuba.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers the
method used by said individuals irrelevant in the present case, as the
laws in force, the ruling political system and the critical situation of
human rights in that country forced them to take desperate measures to
achieve their main objective: to flee Cuba. Indeed,
in its analysis of Cuban legislation on the right of movement in its
1994 Annual Report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stated
Cuban legislation does not recognize an individual's right to
leave his country and to return to it, since to do so citizens have to
have a permit that is granted by the administrative authorities on a
discretionary basis. Despite
the fact that the Cuban authorities have simplified the procedures,
there are still problems connected with the granting or denial of
permits on political grounds. What
is serious about the matter is that when the Cuban authorities deny an
exit permit, no appeal is allowed.
last rule of current international law violated by the Cuban State is
the right to justice enshrined in Article XVIII of the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Said rule states that "Every person may appeal to the courts
to assert his rights. Moreover,
he is entitled to a simple and brief proceeding whereby the judiciary
protects him against acts of authority that violate, to his detriment,
any of the basic constitutional rights."
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights does not have the information
that would enable it to determine whether the survivors of the disaster
applied to the courts to denounce the events of July 13, 1994; however,
as these are crimes which constitute an attempt on the basic rights of
the individual, they should be officially investigated in fulfillment of
the state's duty to safeguard public order.
According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the
obligation to investigate "must be viewed seriously and not as a
mere formality destined beforehand to be futile.
It must have a direction and be undertaken by the State as its
own legal duty and not as a simple effort on the part of private
interests, which depends on the legal initiative of the victim or his
family or on the private contribution of evidence, without the public
authority effectively seeking the truth."
the case sub lite, the investigations officially carried out by
the Cuban State led to the conclusion that the events that occurred on
the morning of July 13, 1994, in which 41 people perished, resulted from
an accident for which no one was responsible.
The Cuban Head of State, Fidel Castro, in his speech to the press
on August 5, 1994, described how the investigations into the deaths of
the 41 people were carried out: "As
soon as news of the tug accident arrived, a thorough and exhaustive
investigation was immediately carried out, based on information provided
by the survivors, those who had been rescued, what each of them said;
based on the information provided by some of those responsible for the
seizure of the boat; the meticulous, detailed information provided by
each of those who were on the tugs concerning each of the events that
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that the
investigation conducted by the Cuban State may not have been exhaustive
enough if it is borne in mind that the sunken ship-- whose engine room
contained the bodies of many of the individuals who perished in the
wreck--was not rescued, nor were the bodies lying on the ocean floor
is obvious--in the opinion of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights--that the Cuban State did not undertake the investigations in
this case seriously and as its own legal duty.
The result of this is the impunity in which it is held.
Consequently, the Commission considers that the Cuban State, by
omission, violated the right to justice enshrined in Article XVIII of
the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
THE ILLEGAL ACT MUST BE IMPUTABLE TO THE STATE
determine whether the serious incident that occurred on the morning of
July 13, 1994 are imputable to the Cuban State as a juridical
person, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers it
necessary to analyze and establish the identify of the perpetrators of
the incident. In this
context, it is essential that the information provided by the Cuban
Government be taken into consideration.
we have the Official Statement of the Ministry of the Interior, which
investigations carried out by the competent authorities into the
incident that occurred on the morning of July 13, 1994, in which a
tug belonging to the Maritime Services Enterprise of the Ministry of
Transportation sunk seven miles north of the port of Havana, revealed
that the disaster occurred as a result of a collision between said tug
and another from the same company that was trying to capture it."
Cuban Head of State said in his statements to the press that
"...without finding out what happened, it blamed the Cuban
authorities for sinking the boat. With incredible perfidy, it said: 'Government ships.' In
a socialist state everything belongs to the State: buses, trains, boats, merchant ships, tugs, but they are
operated by civilians, and the authorities were represented there
essentially by the Coast Guard patrols."
Further on, Castro repeated, "But I saw a great deal of
perfidy in the attempt to describe the ships as 'Government' ships,
because what they meant to say is that the Government was responsible
for sinking the boat."
response to the Government's statement, the petitioners stated that
"With this argument, the Cuban Head of State tried to excuse his
Government. However, if we
look at how the State is structured internally, we realize that every
activity is under centralized State control."
They also said, that "according to the Socialist Political
Constitution of 1976, the means of production are state-controlled
(Articles 15, 16 and 17) and the economy is centralized.
Everyone who works for state enterprises is an employee of the
Government. Within each
state enterprise there are two types of controls:
(a) management control, exercised by the director,
and (b) political control, which is the responsibility of the
Secretary of the Communist Party for that enterprise.
The Communist Party is the country's only legal party (Article 5
of the Constitution). A
third important factor in these enterprises is the presence of members
of the security police, who are in the Party's employ."
evaluated the position of both parties, the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights must state that it has been shown that the crews that
operated the four boats that sank the tug "13 de Marzo" were
employees of the Maritime Services Enterprise of the Ministry of
the assertion of the petitioners that all labor activity is centralized
and subordinated to the Government Party is a point that has been
confirmed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In
its 1994 Annual Report, the Commission stated that:
...the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights continued
receiving information about the excessive control the Cuban State
exercised over its citizens, control which, for ideological reasons, is
exercised in the daily life of each person and is manifested specially
in the work centers. What
happens is that "reliability" in the labor field is a
determining factor in defining the "suitability" of each
worker; this reliability includes the political aspects and the worker's
attitude to the defense or requirements of the management of the place
of work, the Government or the Party.
The Commission was also informed that workers--before or after
being hired--are normally subject to checks by the Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution, the Technical Investigation Department or
even the Party, in order to ascertain whether they fall into the
"reliable" category. If
it is determined that a worker is not reliable he will be let go, regardless
of years of experience, service or other qualities.
What is serious about this is that assessments to the effect that
individuals are "not reliable" are not appealable.
has been amply demonstrated then that those who sunk [the tug] and
caused the deaths of 41 people were employees of a Cuban State
enterprise subordinated de facto and de jure to the
requirements of the Governing Party.
As a consequence, the events that occurred in the early morning
hours on July 13, 1994, are attributable to the Cuban State as a
juridical person. Moreover,
the Cuban State was seriously at fault for having failed to establish
the identity of those responsible and punishing them so that such
terrible events might never occur again.
OR HARM MUST HAVE OCCURRED AS A RESULT OF THE ILLEGAL ACT
the opinion of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the
damages caused by the illegal acts committed by the Cuban State are the
following: (a) irreparable
physical harm, consisting of the deaths of the 41 people shipwrecked on
the tug "13 de Marzo"; (b) the emotional and psychological
distress inflicted on the relatives of the victims and survivors,
consisting of emotional suffering due to the loss of loved ones, the
trauma caused by the incident, and the impossibility of recovering the
bodies for proper burial. Added
to this is the knowledge that they did not receive justice, i.e., that
the deaths caused by Cuban State employees remain unpunished; and (c)
physical damage, consisting of the loss of income and indirect damages.
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers that the Cuban
State is under obligation to make reparations for the damages caused and
compensate the families of the victims and survivors of the tug "13
Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life (Article 1 of
the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man) of the 41
people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of
the tug "13 de Marzo", which events occurred seven miles off
the Cuban coast on July 13, 1994.
The persons who died that morning are:
Leonardo Notario Góngora, Marta Tacoronte Vega, Caridad Leyva
Tacoronte, Yausel Eugenio Pérez Tacoronte, Mayulis Méndez Tacoronte,
Odalys Muñoz García, Pilar Almanza Romero, Yaser Perodín Almanza,
Manuel Sánchez Callol, Juliana Enriquez Carrasana, Helen Martínez Enríquez,
Reynaldo Marrero, Joel García Suárez, Juan Mario Gutiérrez García,
Ernesto Alfonso Joureiro, Amado Gonzáles Raices, Lázaro Borges Priel,
Liset Alvarez Guerra, Yisel Borges Alvarez , Guillermo Cruz Martínez,
Fidelio Ramel Prieto-Hernández, Rosa María Alcalde Preig, Yaltamira
Anaya Carrasco, José Carlos Nicole Anaya, María Carrasco Anaya, Julia
Caridad Ruiz Blanco, Angel René Abreu Ruiz, Jorge Arquímides Lebrijio
Flores, Eduardo Suárez Esquivel, Elicer Suárez Plascencia, Omar Rodríguez
Suárez, Miralis Fernández Rodríguez, Cindy Rodríguez Fernández, José
Gregorio Balmaceda Castillo, Rigoberto Feut Gonzáles, Midalis Sanabria
Cabrera, and four other victims who could not be identified.
Cuban State is responsible for violating the personal integrity (Article
1 of the American Declaration) of the 31 persons who survived the
sinking of the tug "13 de Marzo", as a consequence of the
emotional trauma it caused. The
surviving victims are: Mayda
Tacoronte Verga, Milena Labrada Tacoronte, Román Lugo Martínez, Daysi
Martínez Findore, Tacney Estévez Martínez, Susana Rojas Martínez, Raúl
Muñoz García, Janette Hernández Gutiérrez, Modesto Almanza Romero,
Fran Gonzáles Vásquez, Daniel Gonzáles Hernández, Sergio Perodín Pérez,
Sergio Perodín Almanza, Gustavo Guillermo Martínez Gutiérrez, Yandi
Gustavo Martínez Hidalgo, José Fabián Valdés, Eugenio Fuentes Díaz,
Juan Gustavo Bargaza del Pino, Juan Fidel Gonzáles Salinas, Reynaldo
Marrero Canarana, Daniel Prieto Suárez, Iván Prieto Suárez, Jorge
Luis Cuba Suárez, María Victoria García Suárez, Arquímides Venancio
Lebrigio Gamboa, Yaussany Tuero Sierra, Pedro Francisco Garijo Galego,
Julio César Domínguez Alcalde, Armando Morales Piloto, Juan Bernardo
Varela Amaro, and Jorge Alberto Hernández Avila.
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, rights upheld in articles VIII and XVIII of the American
Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
108. It is
recommended that the Cuban State conduct an exhaustive investigation in
order to identify, prosecute and punish those responsible for sinking
the tug "13 de Marzo", which event caused the deaths of 41
109. It is
recommended that the Cuban State recover the sunken boat and the remains
of the victims and hand them over to their relatives.
110. It is
recommended that the Cuban State pay fair compensation to the surviving
victims and to the families of the dead for physical and nonphysical
damages, including emotional distress.
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
forward the present report to the Cuban State and to the petitioner.
112. To publish the present report in the Annual Report to the General Assembly of the OAS, pursuant to Article 53(3) and (4) of its Regulations, inasmuch as the Cuban State never replied to Confidential Report Nº 16/96 of May 3, 1996.
Jorge Alberto Hernández:
At 4:00 in the morning of July 13, 1994, a group of men,
women and children put out to sea for the purpose of emigrating to
the United States. After
leaving the pier tug [boat] No. 2 rammed them but without causing
any damage. So they
continued until they were out to sea, where they began to be rammed
by tugs No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5.
The tug [boat] they were in was hit on the port and starboard
sides. They attacked
them with jets of water and threw extinguishers at them.
Since they couldn't stop them, they decided to sink the tug.
Then, one of the tugs rammed them in front, despite the fact
that the people--when the spotlights were turned on them--showed
them that they there were children on board.
After the last attack, the boat sank because they had
destroyed the stern. After
sinking them, the tugs kept spraying jets of water on the people who
were swimming and trying to save themselves.
Later, the rescue operation began.
All the while there was a [Cuban] coast guard cutter
observing the situation, without doing anything about it.
The tugs did not help them, they told them to keep swimming
toward the coast guard cutters.
Some climbed aboard [the coast guard ship], but some children
who were in a crate were killed when it ran over them.
Arquímedes Lebrigio: Says that he was pressured by
the Cuban Government to say that the [tug] boat sprang a leak as
soon as it left the shore. When
the boat weighed anchor, the [witness] was below deck and could see
that there was no leak anywhere.
When he went onto the deck of the boat, he saw that the stern
and the bow were smashed. The
ones who were attacking them told them that the tug was sinking, to
which they replied that it was not so and that if they wanted to,
they could go all the way to China.
That before using it, the helm of the tug was repaired, but
not the frame. The tug
they used was good compared to the others.
And that he lost a son, but the body was never returned to
María Victoria García Suarez:
We were leaving the country in a tug at three o'clock in the
morning. We got off all
right, but afterwards they told us women and children to go on deck.
Some of us went, the bigger kids, and that's when we saw that
two firefighting tugs were coming after us.
They hit the sides and then began to shoot water--pressurized
water--at us. Then we
kept going and told them not to harm us, that there were children on
board and we showed them the children and they kept shooting water.
Later we saw two more [tugs] about seven miles out and they
positioned themselves one on each side:
one in front, another in back, and one on each side.
And then, all four started shooting water at us and one of
the boats rammed us and also shot water at the side of the boat;
they were shooting water to make [the boat] capsize, and then they
had to close the cabin to
keep the engine from getting wet... Then the ones on the side
started ramming us and hitting us until they split the right side
and turned it, and that's when the boat sank.
Who was in the boats that were chasing you?
Well, there was the captain, the engineer, friends and
relatives. Who was
in the boat that was chasing you?
Who were they? The
ones who were chasing us were in civilian clothes, many of them
weren't wearing a shirt either.
There were four,
four boats. Did they order you to halt?
What were they trying to do when they sprayed water?
No, they never told us to stop.
Then what they did was to shoot water at us.
Then the time came when we saw that we could not go on
because it was going to be fatal and we stopped because the water
was getting in. Then we
stopped and we told them: "Look,
we're turning back, we have already stopped, and they saw that we
had stopped, and it was then that they split the side and turned the
boat around." When
they turned you around, what happened to you? Those of us on
deck, we all went under and the boat sank immediately, but those of
us in the water tried to get to the surface.
It was very deep. I
was carrying my son, I was holding him, I did not let go of him and
then I pulled him up, but I don't know how to swim, then I came up
but I went under again. Then when I came up there was a woman who had drowned, she
was floating beside me, then I grabbed her and carried my son--the
waves were high--then I
couldn't... I couldn't, he had already drowned...
How old was the boy?
He was ten, he would have been eleven on August 2.
He had already drowned, then I stayed with him,
when I saw that he had drowned I kept holding him, because I
saw that he no longer had the strength to resist, then I had to get
him out because he might be saved.
How did you get out of the water?
At that point I lost the boy, I couldn't with him, it was
very dark. Then afterwards we held onto the red wood, and then I saw
when the GRIFI was coming... What is the GRIFI? The GRIFI is the Coast Guard, the boarder guard, and then
before the GRIFI came there were the four tugs--the ones that were
sinking us--and we asked them to save us, to take us on board, that
there were children, and what they did was laugh and told us that if
we wanted to save ourselves, to ask the GRIFI for help, that they
were going to save us. That's when the GRIFI came and the GRIFI threw us ropes with
lifesavers and then we were pulled out.
Hernández Gutierrez: When
we boarded everything was fine; there was no one, nothing
to frighten us, no obstacle.
When we were leaving the Bay we saw two tugs that were shut
down, at the mouth of the Bay.
They let us leave, but afterwards came the streams from the
water hoses, they were constant, the streams, they wouldn't stop,
knowing that there were children.
When we left we realized that... there were people on the
jetty, it seemed that there was activity--you understand--on the
wall of the jetty, it seemed that there was activity.
I suppose they saw everything, at least the beginning of what
happened. When we were
seven miles out, they kept far away from us, but with the water
hoses, under pressure, which is a terrible force, we were holding
the children for fear that they would fall, the men behind us to
keep us from falling, but so that they would see that there were
children and women we had to go up, so that they would realize this
and not commit any murder or anything.
When we were seven miles out, we saw them speed up and they
came alongside, and since the Cuban coast was no longer
visible--because nothing could be seen now, not the lights on the
jetty, not the beacon, nothing was visible--it must have been seven
or ten miles more or less, as they say.
They began bumping us. We
were afraid for the children, not for ourselves because if we were
lost it would not matter to us, but there were children, and
children from five months and older.
We held the children up and they saw them and we began to
shout to them please... please don't do this, and they paid no
attention. A guy who
was with us, Román--he's a prisoner now--even called out to one of
the ones operating the tugs and the water hose:
Hey buddy, calm down, don't do this.
Look, there are kids here... and he showed him his
stepdaughter who is three years old, and if someone hadn't taken the
girl from him--if he hadn't put her down--they would have killed
her, with the jets of water. They
never fired a shot, but they never spoke to us over the loud speaker
to tell us to stop or anything.
They just let us leave the bay and attacked us seven miles
out, where there were no witnesses--for, as you know, out in the
open sea there are no witnesses.
When they saw that, that they were bumping us and all that,
they put a tug behind us, the biggest one... the biggest of the
tugs, it was green with a red stripe---a red stripe--they went up
over our stern and split the back part of the boat in half.
Then, right about then, two men fell in the water, one of
them my husband, and Román, the guy who called out to them not to
shoot because there were children.
When that happened... the boat was adrift because the
captain, whose name was Fidencio Ramel, they knocked him down with
the jets of water--they knocked him into the sea.
He disappeared, all of a sudden, and when Raúl, he's the one
they put in charge, saw that we were adrift, he got up and went
running up there. He
had some idea about how to steer.
Then, doing his best, he tried to help us---no---to save us,
because the boat now had so much water because of the jets of water,
because they were shooting it straight into the hold---right in
there---, in the faces of the children.
The children even had to keep their head down, because it's
not easy to breathe or swallow it, at least not for children, no.
We were already... we knew that we were going to sink because
there was something I had a feeling about, that they were going to
kill us, because if they weren't they would have stopped.
Raúl stopped the engine, our engine, and when they saw that
it stopped, it infuriated them and it didn't matter that Raúl had
done this. This is how
they sunk us: the tug
that split our stern moved to the front, came up over the bow and
split it. That is, now
there was no way of keeping that tug afloat; it sank because it was
full of water. Everyone
who was in the hold, there were about 72 of us.
Mostly children and women.
The smallest number who died were men; but they did all they
could to save these people too.
Many of the people who went up on deck, when this disaster
happened that sank us, were floating in the water, but the tugs
backed away, they moved back a few meters, but they did not throw us
lifesavers--nothing; they did not give us any kind of help.
Only one tug threw lifesavers, but far away from us so that
we could not get them. Then,
when that boat split our stern, a box fell into the water, a wooden
box, a few meters away, only a few meters... eh, now that I'm
out--you see--because when we were in the water the box looked very
far away and many people could not get to it; and the swirl from the
boat pulled it under. And
there was my sister-in-law, Pilar Amanza Romero, her son Yasel Perudín
Amanza--the boy--, and her uncle Cayol was in the hold, Manuel Cayol.
Those are three of my relatives I lost.
Then my husband, seeing this--imagine--he went crazy, and my
brother-in-law, too, with the other child.
Then we went looking for the other boy, but when we were
going out, I felt when they were pulling me from the boat that the
boy, the other boy who died, was hugging my foot... eh!... holding
my foot and when they pulled me out and I was trying to get hold of
him my tennis shoe came off and he and it were both lost, I could
not get hold of him; it was terrible.
Then when I saw my brother-in-law
who was coming out with Sergito, the youngest, the tiniest
one, I felt relieved because at least one was left to me.
Then I grabbed him and we stayed with him.
I saw the GRIFI, it was the only one that helped us, that
threw us lifesavers; but the tugs stayed there without doing
anything. But later, a
speedboat arrived and picked up six or seven people, there was even
one girl who looked like a little toad blown up with so much water,
but her mama tried to save her and she recovered, she was three
years old. After seeing
that, we stayed there until dawn on the GRIFI and when I got on
board the GRIFI I started insulting them, I told them that they were
murderers, that they did not take pity on children, that here (in
this country) they say that children, old people have a lot of
privileges, but they even let old people die, and many
children--almost twenty-three children died--.
This is something, the people were outraged, people were
desperate to get news--something--to know about those bodies
trapped there in the hold. Roberto Robaina said that we knew that the boat was damaged
when we left the port. Do
you think that we would risk the lives of women and children with a
damaged boat, knowing that there was such a long way to go?
Then they say that the boat was one of the port's relics,
that it was from the Second World War.
It's true, it was very old, it was made of wood, but it had
just been repaired; even when I went to Villa Marista, to take clean
clothes to my husband and my brother-in-law, while I was there I
asked them why did the newspaper say that the boat capsized, sank,
that it was negligence on our parts? I told them it wasn't so.
They got angry and they all called me a counterrevolutionary,
and I accepted it... But
I asked them in Villa Marista, what about the people who sunk us,
the ones who murdered us, our sons, our relatives?
Because there are children who lost their mothers, my nephew,
 Manual de Derecho Internacional Público
(International Public Law Manual), Max Sorensen, Economic Culture
Fund, Mexico City, 1985, p. 508.
Said elements of international liability are also formulated
by Eduardo Jiménez de Aréchaga in his work, Derecho
Internacional Público (International Public Law), Volume IV, p.
34, University Culture Foundation, 1991.
Aguiar, La Responsabilidad Internacional del Estado por Violación
de Derechos Humanos (The International Liability of the State for
the Violation of Human Rights),
in Estudios Básicos de Derechos Humanos (Basic Human Rights
Studies), IIDH, Volume I, p. 127, paragraph 25, San José, Costa
 See Sir Ian
Sinclair, The Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties,
Manchester University Press, 1973, p. 208.
The concept of jus cogens is enshrined in Article 53
of the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties, which states
that "A Treaty shall be null and void if, when it is signed, it
is in conflict with a peremptory rule of general international law.
For the purposes of this Convention, a peremptory rule of
international law is a rule accepted and recognized by the entire
community of nations as a rule that cannot be repealed and that can
be changed only by another rule of general international law
subsequent to the first, but general in nature."