EspañolCuba’s Coast Guard are facing accusations of ramming and sinking a boat that was transporting 32 Cubans, as they sought to flee to Florida on Tuesday, December 16. A woman whose husband, Diosbel Díaz Bioto, remains missing after falling into the sea has spoken out about the incident.
A press conference was convened in Miami on Friday, December 19 by the Democracy Movement (MD), a Cuban human-rights organization, to disseminate information about the fate of the boat and the disappearance of Díaz Bioto.
The 31 people rescued from the sea were detained by state security forces in Versailles, in the northern city of Matanzas. The detained women and children were freed on December 18, while the the men continue to be imprisoned, according to MD president Ramón Sánchez.
During the press conference, Sánchez told reporters that the boat which left Bacunayagua, 20km west of Matanzas, at 4:00 a.m. on Monday, December 15, “wasn’t in good shape.” Among the craft’s passengers were two children of five and eight years old, and seven women.
“The Boat Was Sinking, but They Didn’t Care”
Masiel González Castellano, whose husband Díaz Bioto disappeared, was also present during the ramming by the coastguard, and spoke to the press conference via telephone from Cuba. She confirmed that Díaz Bioto went missing after falling into the sea.
“We were shouting out for help because the boat was flooding. But they didn’t care. They carried on ramming our boat. Some people dived into the water, while the rest of us stayed on board the boat while it sank.”
“They knew there were children on board, but they carried on hitting us. They didn’t care,” González added.
She reported that the driver of their vessel was “from Miami,” although Sánchez stated that there were several contradicting versions about his origin, including the possibility that he was a people trafficker. Nevertheless, Sánchez argued that this wouldn’t “justify the savage aggression of the state against citizens.”
“Apparently, the boat was manned by a trafficker, or a person who had taken people from Cuba before. This is an evil deed and should be punished. But the rest of the people on board included women and children. They were visible from the government vessels,” he added.
During the conference, the MD quoted other witnesses as saying that the incident took place 22 miles off Cuba in international waters. However, the US Coast Guard told Sánchez that the events occurred in Cuban waters.
“Please let us know if you see someone floating in the water on a piece of wreckage. Or if you find a body,” Sánchez asked them.
The MD president mentioned the grim irony that the attack on the boat and the imprisonment of its passengers took place during the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
“What they haven’t spoken about are human rights, and [this incident] indicates that nothing has changed,” he said.
Wet Foot, Dry Blood in Cuba
This isn’t the first time that the Cuban Coast Guard has rammed boats fleeing Cuban shores, Sánchez explained in conversation with the PanAm Post, recalling the sinking of the 13 de Marzo in 1994, for which Cuba was condemned by the United Nations. Cuban authorities on the Polargo rammed the boat with 72 people on board, and used water cannons to flood the craft. 41 people died as a result, 10 of them children.
According to Sánchez, during the Coast Guard attack last week, a woman on board the escaping vessel begged the authorities to stop. When they refused to do so, she jumped on board the government craft and turned off the motor from the operating console.
“Even then, the regime vessel continued attacking the boat and managed to turn it over, and the people on board fell into the water,” Sánchez said.
Despite the release of the women on Thursday past, the Miami-based Cuban activist believes that the surviving men on board are still under arrest. “What sometimes happens is that the government cuts them off from contact with the outside world, so they don’t hear things that they can later tell other people.”
“There are two very serious issues with what the Coast Guard did,” explained Sánchez. “First, in committing such a savage act by the state against civilians, children and women. The other issue is that if they were located 22 miles off Cuba when they rammed the boat, they did so in international waters.”
According to the pro-democracy activist, there’s no way of knowing how many Cubans have died at sea trying to reach US shores since the beginning of the revolution. “Before this regime of 56 years of dictatorship in Cuba, we didn’t know about the figure of the balseros [boat people]. Less than 1 percent of the population lived abroad. Disgracefully, this figure has massively extended over the years: less than 20 percent are based overseas. Many have left via the sea, risking drowning themselves and their families, and braving sharks, among other dangers.”