US Cuban exiles mark anniversary of 1994 migrant drowning
Key West (US): A flotilla of Cuban exiles left Florida`s Key West on Saturday to commemorate the drowning of 37 migrants -- including 10 children -- who fled their communist homeland two decades ago.
Three boats carrying 25 people headed out to sea in the early afternoon from this picturesque part of the United States bound for waters some 22 kilometers from the Cuban capital Havana.
That`s where those on board plan to set off fireworks and sprinkle the sea with flowers in memory of those who perished on July 13, 1994, when a tugboat headed for American shores sank.
On board were 68 people trying to flee the Cuban communist regime, hoping for a better life in the United States.
The circumstances surrounding the tragedy are up for debate.
Survivors and members of the Cuban exile community refer to the events of that day as a "massacre," contending that several vessels intercepted the tugboat, that it was attacked with powerful jets of water and that it sank after it was rammed.
In total, 37 people lost their lives -- including 10 children.
While relatives who lost loved ones blame the Cuban regime for what happened, Havana maintains it was an accident.
Jorge Garcia lost 14 of 17 relatives on that fateful day, including a son and grandson.
"This has profound meaning for me," the 69-year-old, who is taking part in the emotionally charged trip, told AFP.
Ramon Saul Sanchez, the head of the Miami-based "Movimiento Democracia" (Democracy Movement) exile group that organized the flotilla, said the boats would not enter Cuban waters.
The fireworks will be set off at nightfall in the hopes they will be seen from Havana`s Malecon esplanade, where activists have urged locals to come with candles.
After the ceremony, the boats will make their way back to Florida.
Ahead of its departure, the US Coast Guard inspected the flotilla, which is led by a boat called "Democracy."
Sailing conditions were favorable, with Coast Guard representative Mario Gill telling AFP that waves of between three and four feet were to be expected, along with 15 knot winds.
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