CubaBrief: The “13 de Marzo” tugboat sinking, the Brothers to the Rescue shoot down, and the Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero killings: The importance of remembering Castroism’s crimes

Wednesday, July 13, 1994 at three in the morning three extended Cuban families set out for a better life aboard the “13 de Marzo” tugboat from Havana, Cuba and were massacred by Cuban government agents.

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The most extensive international report on what took place is by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and is available on-line. Fifteen years later human rights defender Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, national coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, reflected on what had happened:

Behind the Christ of Havana, about seven miles from the coast, “volunteers” of the Communist regime committed one of the most heinous crimes in the history of our city and of Cuba. In the morning, a group of seventy people in all, fled on a tugboat, led by the ship’s own crew; none was kidnapped, or there against their will. They came out of the mouth of the Bay of Havana. They were pursued by other similar ships. When the runaway ship and its occupants stopped to surrender, the ships that had been chasing them started ramming to sink it. Meanwhile, on the deck, women with children in their arms begging for mercy, but the answer of their captors was to project high pressure water cannons against them. Some saw their children fall overboard under the murderous jets of water amid shrieks of horror. They behaved brutally until their perverse mission was fulfilled: Sink the fleeing ship and annihilate many of its occupants.

The man who denounced the “13 de Marzo” tugboat massacre would himself become a martyr of the same dictatorship along with Harold Cepero, a youth leader from the Christian Liberation Movement.

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Nine years ago on July 22, 2012 on a stretch of road in Eastern Cuba, State Security agents rammed the car Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas and Harold Cepero Escalante were traveling in. Both bodies appeared later that same day.

July 13th will mark 27 years since 37 Cubans were killed for wanting to live in freedom. Eleven of them were children, and nine days later we will remember two men killed nine years ago for non-violently advocating for freedom in Cuba.

One year after the massacre on July 13, 1995, Cuban exiles gathered together and set out in a flotilla that peacefully invaded Cuban national territory to travel to the spot where the “13 de Marzo” tugboat sank and where the human remains of the 37 victims still reside never returned to their families to this day to hold religious services for them. Ramón Saúl Sánchez organized and led the flotilla aboard the boat christened “Democracia”. Upon entering Cuban waters the Castro regime sent their patrol boats, helicopters, and MiGs to surround and intimidate the flotilla, but it continued until the lead boat’s hull was crushed by two patrol boats, and people onboard were hurt. Responding to the attack, Brothers to the Rescue planes overflew Havana dropping leaflets that read “Comrades No. Brothers” in Spanish. It was on that day that the Democracy Movement came into existence. It was also on that day that the Castro regime began planning its reprisal against Brothers to the Rescue, enlisting members of the WASP spy network to provide intelligence that led to the deaths of four innocents.

This is how it was outlined in a legal document presented to the United States Department of Justice in Falls Church, Virginia.

On July 13, 1995, two BTTR aircraft over flew Havana. The Cuban government charged that Basulto publicly, openly and patently endeavored to provoke air incidents and violate Cuban territorial sovereignty. On that flight, Hank Tester, a news reporter from Miami, flew aboard Basulto’s plane filming as “fighters were in the area.” Basulto claimed his intrusion was an act of civil disobedience. (App. Exh.60) The purpose of the July 13 over-flight was to create a diversion for Cuban fighters that were at the time threatening a freedom flotilla off the territorial waters of Cuba. The flotilla in turn was lawfully commemorating the sinking of the tugboat “13 de Marzo” and the tragic loss of forty lives caused by Cuban gunboats ramming the defenseless vessel. (App. Exh.8 and 60) On July 14, 1995, the day after the over flight, the Cuban government first declared its intention to shoot down even peaceful intruders. Cuba would not govern itself by international standards of engagement when dealing with non-military intrusions.

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25 years ago on February 24, 1996 a Cuban MiG-29UB Fulcrum and a MiG-23ML intercepted three US civilian registered Cessna 337s (N2456S, N5485S and N2506), operated by the Brothers to the Rescue while they were engaged on a humanitarian search and rescue mission over the Florida Straits for Cuban rafters in international airspace.

At 3:21 pm EST the Brothers to the Rescue Cessna 337 (N2456S) was destroyed by an air-to-air missile fired by the Cuban MiG-29 military aircraft.

At 3:27 pm EST the Brothers to the Rescue Cessna 337 (N5485S) was destroyed by an air-to-air missile fired by a Cuban MiG-29 military aircraft.

Immediately killed were Armando Alejandre Jr.,45 years old, Carlos Alberto Costa, age 29, Mario Manuel de la Peña, age 24, and Pablo Morales, age 29. This was a premeditated act of state terrorism carried out by Havana on the orders of both Fidel and Raul Castro.

The third Brothers to the Rescue Cessna 337 (N2506) was able to escape and the survivors Jose Basulto, Arnaldo Iglesias, Silvia Iriondo and Andres Iriondo were able to set the record straight on the propaganda offensive already underway from Havana to misrepresent what had happened.
On Sunday, July 11th at 7:00pm free Cubans, and friends of freedom, will gather outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington DC [ 2630 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009] for a silent vigil to remember the victims of the “13 de marzo” tugboat massacre, those murdered outside of Cuba for peacefully protesting this crime, and the martyred leader who denounced the crime inside Cuba.

Embassy of the Castro dictatorship

Embassy of the Castro dictatorship

On Tuesday, July 13th at 5:00pm at the Cuban Memorial located at Tamiami Park in Miami, FL [11201 SW 24 Street, Miami, FL] the community is invited to remember the “13 de marzo” tugboat sinking with survivors, relatives of the victims, and with Ramón Saúl Sánchez of the Democracy Movement. This gathering will be presided over by Kiele Alessandra, the young woman whose protest in the baseball game between Cuba and Venezuela in West Palm Beach drew international attention.

The Cuban Memorial

The Cuban Memorial

The Castro regime has spent much in the way of resources on misinformation campaigns to cover up this history. The facts, when known, have led some who had a hard left upbringing to break with the regime.

German-born Anna Veltfort spent her formative years in Cuba and was traumatized by the “treatment of gay people, especially starting in 1965 when [her] university was bombarded with antigay rhetoric by the government and by the UJC (the Young Communist Union).” However it was what came later that she says led to her horror with the Castro regime. “In subsequent years, her disillusionment grew as she saw ‘the ever increasing militarization of daily life and of the life of the country; the Cuban government’s rejection of Glasnost (the political liberalization policies of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union); the show trial and execution of General Ochoa; and the deliberate sinking of the Tugboat “13 de marzo” in July 1994, with 70 people aboard who had hijacked the boat in their attempt to flee Cuba—37 men, women, and children drowned,’ she said, in an interview with the University of Miami’s UNews@TheU last month.

Truth and memory are necessary elements to change hearts, and minds to achieve positive change, but this is not the most important reason to remember. Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel in his important work Night explained the importance of remembering: “To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

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Six years ago on July 22, 2015 Javier El-Hage, and Roberto González of the Human Rights Foundation released a 147 page report titled The Case of Oswaldo Payá that examined the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero and found that they had been killed under circumstances “actively obscured” by the Castro regime.

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El-Hage, and González concluded in their extensive report that “the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident”, despite the claims made by regime officials.

“Information that emerged in the months that followed and that was not at all considered by the Cuban court that convicted Carromero – consisting of witness statements, physical evidence and expert reports – suggest direct government responsibility in the deaths of Payá and Cepero. Specifically, the evidence deliberately ignored by the Cuban State strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident – as was quickly claimed by authorities in the state-owned media monopoly and later rubber – stamped by Cuba’s totalitarian court system – but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and the passengers in the vehicle he was riding, (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them, or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of the most prominent Cuban activist in the last twenty-five years and the passengers riding with him in the car.”

The full report by the Human Rights Foundation is available online here:

[ Full report ]

IACHR, September 29, 1999

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REPORT Nº 86/99
CASE 11.589
September 29, 1999

I.          SUMMARY

          1.          On 25 February 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Commission” or “the Inter-American Commission”) received several complaints brought against the Republic of Cuba (hereinafter “the State,” “the Cuban State,” or “Cuba”) according to which a MiG-29 military aircraft belonging to the Cuban Air Force (FAC) downed two unarmed civilian light airplanes belonging to the organization “Brothers to the Rescue.”[1] According to a report issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the incidents occurred on 24 February 1996 at 3:21 p.m. and 3:27 p.m., respectively, in international airspace. The air-to-air missiles fired by the MiG-29 destroyed the civilian light aircraft, immediately killing Armando Alejandre Jr. (45 years old), Carlos Alberto Costa (29), Mario Manuel de la Peña (24), and Pablo Morales (29). The complaint concludes with the Commission being requested to begin proceedings in accordance with Articles 32 et seq. of its Regulations and to declare Cuba responsible for failing to comply with its international obligations contained in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (hereinafter “the Declaration” or “the American Declaration”) for violating the right to life and the right to a fair trial as set forth in Articles I and XVIII of said international instrument.

          2.          After receiving several complaints regarding the same incident and persons, the Commission combined them, as provided for in Article 40(2) of its Regulations, as file Nº 11.589.[2] Thus, the petitioners in the case at hand are the direct relatives of the victims (Marlene Alejandre, Marlene Victoria Alejandre, Mirta Costa, Osvaldo Costa, Miriam de la Peña, Mario de la Peña, and Eva Barbas), Dr. Haydeé Marín (Institute of Human and Labor Rights at Florida International University), Dr. Claudio Benedí (Cuban Patriotic Council), and Mr. José J. Basulto (Brothers to the Rescue).

          3.          Since the start of proceedings in this case on 7 March 1996, the Cuban State has not replied to the Commission’s repeated requests for information regarding the admissibility and merits of the matter. Therefore, based on an exhaustive analysis of the legal and factual grounds and in accordance with Article 42 of its Regulations,[3] the Commission believes that the complaint meets the formal requirements for admissibility as set forth in the Regulations and concludes that the Cuban State is responsible for violating the rights enshrined in the American Declaration as reported by the petitioners in their complaint of 25 February 1996.[4]. Based on the analysis and conclusions of this report, the Commission recommends that the Cuban State conduct an exhaustive investigation into the incidents in question, prosecute and punish the individuals responsible for the different violations described herein, and make adequate and timely amends to the victims’ direct relatives, including the payment of fair compensatory indemnification.

[Full report]

IACHR, October 16, 1996

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   REPORT Nº 47/96

 CASE 11.436


 October 16, 1996

           I.          BACKGROUND


          1.       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.


          2.       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 its Regulations.

Full Report ]

UNews@TheU, June 8, 2021

Artist’s archive sheds light on ’60s, ’70s Cuba

A photograph from Anna Veltfort's "archivo de Connie," courtesy of the Cuban Heritage Collection.

A photograph from Anna Veltfort’s “archivo de Connie,” courtesy of the Cuban Heritage Collection.

By Barbara Gutierrez


German-born Anna Veltfort spent her formative years on the island, and her unique blog and historical material now have a special place in the University of Miami Libraries’ Cuban Heritage Collection.

Anna Veltfort’s life has a unique place in Cuban history.

Born in Germany, Veltfort—whose nickname is Connie—was brought to the United States as a child and then to Cuba in 1962.

At a time during which many were fleeing the island because of the rise of Castro’s Communist regime, Veltfort’s stepfather, enamored with the promises of the Socialist Revolution, decided to immigrate to the island. He was a Communist and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War.    

Veltfort attended the Instituto del Vedado and later studied art history at the University of Havana, graduating in 1972. She currently lives in New York where she works as an illustrator.

“We went filled with idealism and great enthusiasm for what my stepfather imagined as a new utopia become reality,” recalled Veltfort. “I identified with the idealized goals of racial equality, of justice and access to education and housing for all but saw and felt the injustices suffered by anyone who did not conform to the norms demanded of every citizen. The conflicts between my ideals and my experiences became more and more difficult to navigate.”

Veltfort had begun a same-sex relationship during her high school years and soon realized that the government did not consider gay people acceptable members of a revolutionary society. The government’s campaign to stigmatize gay people and equate them with political “counterrevolutionaries” was painful and frightening during her years at the University of Havana.

The artist said that even though she navigated a complicated daily life, it was one that she valued. “I enjoyed the exhilarating camaraderie of my classmates in our trips to do agricultural work and carry out research projects in the countryside,” she noted. “I loved my friends. I fell in love with Cuban culture, Havana nightlife, the music of the famous cabarets, the beauty of the city, the ocean breeze, and the waves by the seaside promenade, the Malecón.

Her disillusionment did not come in a day.

“The treatment of gay people, especially starting in 1965 when my university was bombarded with antigay rhetoric by the government and by the UJC (the Young Communist Union) was certainly the most obvious and painful cause for questioning the Revolution and its trajectory while I lived there during those 10 years,” she explained.

Veltfort returned to the U.S. in 1972.

“I had come from Cuba back to the U.S. with a large number of Cuban materials, including magazines, clippings, cartoons, and government screeds that declared war on gay people in the university and all over Cuba during the 1960s,” she pointed out. In 2007, the Cuban government presented the three worst government officials—who had carried out the purges and the witch hunts against students, theater people, artists, writers, and all cultural workers in the 1960s—as heroes and as distinguished, respected representatives of Cuban Cultural leadership, according to Veltfort.

She wanted to counter the government’s attempt to erase the repression of the 1960s.

Veltfort started a blog called “El Archivo de Connie,” which circulated widely among Cuban scholars and people interested in Cuba. The blog included her reflections on topics as wide as Cuban theater, the arts, architecture, political discourse, and student life. Her blog included magazines, newspaper clippings, and photos.

The artist recently donated her  archive to the University of Miami Libraries Cuban Heritage Collection.

“Anna Veltfort’s collection includes a variety of materials. Vintage posters, LPs, publications, and other ephemera and their respective content intersect with a wide range of research areas such as the visual arts, identity, Queer studies, cultural politics, theater, creative writing, etc. that serve as important resources to students, faculty, and scholars interested in learning more about early Revolutionary culture,” said Elizabeth Cerejido, director and Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection. “Veltfort’s archive, which is rich in content and material, sheds light on the visual culture of the late 1960s and 1970s Cuba,” she added.

On Thursday, June 10, at 4 p.m., Veltfort discussed her work and her contributions to understanding life in Cuba in the ’60s and ’70s during the virtual event “El Archivo de Connie and Other Stories—A Conversation with Anna Veltfort.” Cerejido offered opening remarks during the event, which was presented in partnership with the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Other moderators included Lillian Manzor, associate professor, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures; Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, professor and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures; and Martin Tsang, Cuban Heritage Collection librarian and curator of Latin American Collections.,-70s-cuba.html