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Exile Flotilla Boat Crashes With Cuban Gunship

July 14, 1995

MIAMI (AP) _ Cuban exiles who sailed into Cuban waters claimed a moral victory over Fidel Castro after the lead boat of their flotilla was rammed by a gunship from their former homeland.

``We proved that he’s a criminal and the people that work for him are a bunch of criminals,″ said Ramon Diaz, a passenger on the Democracia, the 30-foot pleasure craft that was broadsided Thursday. ``We won. Even though they rammed us all the way in, we won. And that’s what we were looking for.″

Three people were injured, two of them seriously, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Steve Aitkins. Metro-Dade Commissioner Pedro Reboredo’s foot was injured when it slipped between the two boats.

``It’s a very tiny price to pay for freedom, and for recognition of the suffering of the Cuban people,″ Reboredo told WSVN-TV as he was being moved Thursday to a Miami hospital.

The 15-boat flotilla had planned to come within six miles of the Cuban coast to the site where 41 Cubans drowned a year ago as they fled the island on a tugboat that sank.

The demonstrators were stopped about 11 miles offshore by six Cuban gunboats, said Jorge Lares of Brothers to the Rescue, an exile search-and-rescue group.

The fiberglass Democracia raced between two of the ironclad gunboats in a failed attempt to get to the memorial site to drop flowers, witnesses said. The gunboats gave chase and the Democracia became sandwiched between two of them.

A State Department official in Washington said the United States had asked the Cuban government for an explanation, and the White House issued a statement regretting the incident.

Jose Ponce, a Cuban government spokesman in Washington, said he had no information on what happened.

Flotilla organizer Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Cuban National Commission, said the purpose was not to cause a confrontation.

``We are going unarmed except that we have a very powerful weapon with us: It’s our human dignity, which is the weapon that we’re going to be using against the government in Cuba,″ he said.

As part of the protest, two planes from Brothers to the Rescue flew undisturbed over Havana and dropped 3,000 pamphlets with a message of solidarity: ``No companeros, hermanos,″ which means ``Not just friends, brothers.″

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