In the predawn darkness of July 13, 1994, 72 desperate Cubans – old and young, male and female – sneaked aboard a decrepit but seaworthy tugboat in Havana harbor and set off for the U.S. and the prospect of freedom. A few miles into the turbulent sea, 30-year-old Maria Garcia felt someone tugging her sleeve. She looked down and it was her 10-year-old son, Juan. "Mami, look!" and he pointed behind them toward shore. "What's those lights?"
"Looks like a boat following us, son," she stuttered while stroking his hair. "Calm down, mi hijo (my son). Try to sleep. When you wake up, we'll be with our cousins in a free country. Don't worry." In fact, Maria suspected the lights belonged to Castro patrol boats coming out to intercept them.
In seconds the patrol boats were alongside the tug and – WHACK!! – with its steel prow, the closest patrol boat rammed the back of the tug. People were knocked around the deck like bowling pins. But it looked like an accident, right? Rough seas and all. Could happen to anyone, right?
Hey, WATCH IT!" a man yelled as he rubbed the lump on his forehead. "We have women and children aboard!" Women held up their squalling children to get the point across. If they'd only known.
This gave the gallant Castroites nice targets for their water cannon. WHOOSH! The water cannon was zeroed and the trigger yanked. The water blast shot into the tug, swept the deck and mowed the escapees down, slamming some against bulkheads, blowing others off the deck into the five-foot waves.
"MI HIJO! MI HIJO!" Maria screamed as the water jet slammed into her, ripping half the clothes off her body and ripping Juan's arm from her grasp. "JUANITO! JUANITO!" She fumbled frantically around her, still blinded by the water blast. Juan had gone spinning across the deck and now clung desperately to the tug's railing 10 feet behind Maria as huge waves lapped his legs.
WHACK! Another of the steel patrol boats turned sharply and rammed the tug from the other side. Then – CRACK! another from the front! WHACK! The one from behind slammed them again. The tug was surrounded. It was obvious now: The ramming was NO accident. And in Cuba you don't do something like this without strict orders from WAY above.
"We have women and children aboard!" The men yelled. "We'll turn around! OKAY?!!"
WHACK! the Castroites answered the plea by ramming them again. And this time the blow from the steel prow was followed by a sharp snapping sound from the wooden tug. In seconds the tug started coming apart and sinking. Muffled yells and cries came from below. Turns out the women and children who had scrambled into the hold for safety after the first whack had in fact scrambled into a watery tomb.
With the boat coming apart and the water rushed in around them, some got death grips on their children and managed to scramble or swim out. But not all. The roar from the water cannons and the din from the boat engines muffled most of the screams, but all around people were screaming, coughing, gagging and sinking.
Fortunately, a Greek freighter bound for Havana had happened upon the scene of slaughter and sped to the rescue. NOW one of the Castro boats threw out some life preservers on ropes and started hauling people in, pretending they'd been doing it all along.
Maria Garcia lost her son, Juanito, her husband, brother, sister, two uncles and three cousins in the maritime massacre. In all, 43 people drowned, 11 of them children. Carlos Anaya was 3 when he drowned, Yisel Alvarez 4. Helen Martinez was 6 months old.
"I Hate The Sea" is the title of a gut-gripping underground essay by Cuban dissident Rafael Contreras. It's about some young men Rafael met on the beach near Havana. They stared out to sea, cursed it and spit into it. "It incarcerates us," they fumed, "worse than jail bars."
Yet mankind has always been drawn to the sea. For most of us the sea soothes, attracts, infatuates. The most expensive real estate always faces the sea. "Water is everywhere a protection," writes anthropologist Lionel Tiger, trying to explain the lure, "like a moat. As a species we love it."
Yet Cubans now hate it. Che was right. The Cuban Revolution indeed created a "New Man" – but one more psychologically crippled than even Che imagined. In Cuba, Castro and Che's totalitarian dream gave rise to a psychic cripple beyond the imagination of even Orwell or Huxley: the first specimens in the history of the species to actually hate the sea.
So what's the alternative if you can't flee Cuba? Well, in 1986 Cuba's suicide rate reached 24 per thousand – making it double Latin America's average, making it triple Cuba's pre-Castro rate, making Cuban women the most suicidal in the world, and making death by suicide the primary cause of death for Cubans aged 15-48.
At that point the Cuban government ceased publishing the statistics on the self-slaughter. The figures became state secrets. The implications horrified even the government.
Yet all we hear about Cuba is about the horrors at Gitmo, where the criminals and terrorists are behind bars. On the rest of the island these run the country.