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! OK?!"
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 rushing 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.
And all this death and horror to flee from a nation that experienced net immigration throughout the 20th Century, where boats and planes brought in many more people than they took out - except on vacation. (Despite what you saw in The Godfather, actually, in 1950, more Cubans vacationed in the U.S. than Americans in Cuba, as befit a nation with a bigger middle class than Switzerland.)
Thirty one people were finally plucked from the seas and hauled back to Cuba where all were jailed or put under house arrest. They hadn't been through enough, you see. But a few later escaped Cuba on rafts and reached Miami. Hence we have Maria Garcia's gut-wrenching testimony presented to the UN, the OAS and Amnesty International, who all filed "complaints," reports, "protests.”(with the customary results.)
This was obviously a rogue operation by crazed deviants, you say. No government could possibly condone, much less directly order such a thing! Right?
Wrong. Nothing is random in Stalinist Cuba. One of the gallant water-cannon gunners was even decorated (personally) by Castro. Perhaps for expert marksmanship. A three-year old child presents a pretty small target. A six-month old baby an even smaller one. "Magnificent job defending the glorious revolution, companero!"
Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of four books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. For more information and for video clips of his Television and college speaking appearances please visit www.hfontova.com.
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