On July 13, 1994, the Cuban dictatorship committed one of its most horrendous crimes: the sinking of the “13 de Marzo” tugboat.
In the early hours of that day, the boat was taken by 72 people who, desperate due to the economic situation that Cuba was going through, wanted to leave the island and reach the shores of Florida, to ask for asylum.
The boat set sail at approximately 3:00 AM that fateful morning, hoping to reach U.S. shores to begin a new life in a free society. Just as the “13 de Marzo” cleared the harbor, two tugboats, piloted under orders from the Cuban regime, “Polargo 2,” and “Polargo 3,” chased down and sprayed high-pressure water at the “13 de Marzo.” After about 45 minutes, these two tugboats rammed the “13 de Marzo” from either side, leaving it practically immobilized. It was at this point, the third tugboat, “Polargo 5” captained by Jesus Martinez Machin, rammed the “13 de Marzo” from behind, and broke the stern. The “13 de Marzo” immediately began to sink. A group of passengers trapped below deck were the first to drown.
In the end, of the 72 passengers onboard, 41 were drowned, of which 10 were minors, while 31 were ultimately rescued, mainly by foreign ships.
The official media gave their version of the events: The accident had been caused by the irresponsibility of those who tried to take the boat, also described as “antisocial”.
Years later, one of the survivors, María Victoria García, recounted: “We stopped and told them: ‘We are going to turn back. We are already stopped. And we told him not to hurt us, that we had children there.”
This woman, who lost her 10-year-old son that day, her brother and her husband, denounced that they showed the children to the attackers, “but they kept throwing water.”
According to Sergio Perodin Perez, a survivor of the massacre, “we were all screaming for them to stop the attack; that we would give ourselves in, but it was futile; the force of the water cannons ripped the children from their mothers’ arms…others were dragged along the rail into the ocean.”
Perodín, also a survivor, assured: “The women and children went up on deck so that the crew of the other boat would realize that they were going to commit a murder. They didn’t stop. In the midst of several maneuvers, the tugboat collided with the Polargo, and in the incident we managed to put the bow out. Coming out of the bay into the open sea, however, there were two other Polargo boats waiting for us, hidden behind El Morro.”
Those responsible for the sinking were never brought to trial, and 28 years later the crime remains unpunished.