of frustrated Cubans tried, in the last few years and still,
to go on this very dangerous trip, trough the street of Florida
to reach the American coast by handmade rafts.
after 2 weeks at sea, they became lost on their way to to
Found in the Bahama's area.
If they are lucky, some boat will pick them up and bring them
to Florida ...
...Some are found by the US Coast Guard ...and they will bring
them back to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Cuban
rafters are temporarily detained at Guantanamo's
U.S. naval base in Cuba, after being caught in the Florida
Straits by the U.S. Coast Guard, in their attempt to flee
the Castro regime.
Some of them will reach the coast of Key West, after 150 km
rafting. And then the next battle begins ... Getting asylum
or being sent back to Cuba.
Castro opened Mariel Harbor, and said that everybody
who wanted to leave could go. Hundreds of private boats
from Florida went to Cuba to pick up their relatives. 125,000
- Only 47 Balseros reached the coast of Florida.
- A pilot flew back to Cuba, dramatically landed on a highway,
picked up his wife and two sons, and then flew back to the
- Fidel's own daughter, Alina Fernandez Revuelta, escaped
- More then 2,000 people a day tried to escape to the
- U.S. enacted a law, The Cuban Adjustment Act, which said
that every Cuban who might reach the shores of America could
stay forever. Today Even today many Cubans endeavor to escape
to the USA using homemade rafts and makeshift vessels in
their desperate attempts to seek freedom.
partying in Key West, one is reminded that just across the straits
there are those who are much less fortunate. At the same time
in Key West one can find a museum about the Balseros
Hustlers Cubans can sometimes make deals with American 'human
brokers', Cubans get picked up by boat in Cuba, and these hopeful
immigrants are subsequently transported to Florida ... but ...
It sometimes tragically happens that these vessels are overcrowded
and they either founder or sink outright. There is drama on
the high seas daily ... Rafter's Stories ...
Rafter, a real story ...
woke him up. It had been an unusually quiet evening, and for
the first time in many days he had been able to enjoy a restful
sleep. Martin had been at sea four days, but anxiety and worry
had not allowed him to sleep through an entire evening.
had been doing unconsciously from the very first day of his
adventure at sea, Martin began talking to himself. "What
would I give for a cup of coffee right now! What day is today?
I think the 23rd, or maybe the 24th? D. it, four days at sea
and I'm not even sure of the date! Oh, well, had I not left,
I'd already used up this month's rations."
As he did
several times a day, Martin began taking inventory of everything
in the small sailboat: Almost half a gallon of water - a major
concern; six pieces of stale bread, wrapped in nylon to keep
them dry; a recipient containing a coconut dessert he had bought
from old Toño, at premium price, but he was saving it
as a last resort because he knew it would make him thirsty;
a small bag of powder milk, almost empty; half an avocado; six
plums, and two mangoes left of the six he had managed to get
just before leaving.
means that I've been four days at sea, because I've eaten
one a day. Yesterday I ate the last bit of mashed potatoes
and pumpkin I made before leaving. I should have saved it
for today. I have to space my eating or I won't have enough
left to last me until I get there.
the old man, told me that at this time of the year the currents
should take the boat to Key West in four days, or maybe less,
and that the trade winds and all that other stuff that I don't
quite understand would help me get there in this crummy boat.
But it's been longer that that and all I see is water everywhere.
I hope he told me the truth because this small boat is not
worth the $800 dollars I gave him, which cost me a lot of
sweat and blood to get.
I had no other choice. When I made the decision to leave and
the old man offered to sell me the boat, I began selling all
my worldly possessions, for dollars - my Zenith black and
white TV, which still worked better than any Russian TV thanks
to all the tricks of Leovigildo, the technician, every time
a tube went out; my bicycle, "Cucusa", thanks to
which I had transportation; the radio Aunt Clotilda, bought
me last year at the "shopping". I recall how
much I had needed that radio because the Russian radio I had
broke down and there were no parts available anywhere to fix
it - the same Russian radio I had been authorized to buy during
the Annual Assembly for the acquisition of electrical home
equipment. Every time I think of those annual assemblies,
my stomach churns and I can't understand how we were able
to take all that ignominy for so many years. Fortunately,
those assemblies came to an end when the "caballo"
began needing dollars. There was no longer any need to turn
Pedro in to the Assembly for allowing his mother baptize the
boy. This would have eliminated Pedro from the list and I
allow me to buy the radio; or for Casimiro to denounce that
Gregorio had pictures of saints in the back room of his house
in order to get Gregorio's name off the list for the purchase
of the fan. I still remember how much I enjoyed the beating
Ramón gave tattletale Roberto ("Sour Face")
when he mentioned seeing his wife going to church. Well, all
of that was before, now no one has to turn in anyone for things
like that because neither the Union nor the Party, nor anyone
else for that matter, cares about things like that anymore.
All they are interested in now is getting their hands in dollars.
why I'm here! I'm going to where the dollars are. Miami! I only
hope that those marks Pedro made are correct, because I have
been following his instructions to the letter: When the sun's
up, the stick's shadow has to project on this line here; at
noontime, it has to be here, and when the sun sets, it has to
the makeshift "compass." It consisted of a piece
of wood nailed to the boat's prow, with a small metal rod
to its right side. On the left side, an "A" had
been printed, which really stood for late afternoon; an "N
for noon, and an "M" for morning or sunrise. As
long as the shadow of that small rod stayed on those marks,
the boat was traveling north-northwest. Pedro had tried to
teach him how to stay on course following the Great Bear constellation,
but despite having studied Geography, and as much as Pedro
had tried to teach him, Martin could still not tell the Great
Bear from the Little Bear. So, just to be on the safe side,
Martin was trying to stay on course according to the last
mark of the rod at sunset, and, whenever necessary, he corrected
the course the following morning.
wonder what Julia is doing right this minute? God, I really
loved that woman! Because of her I didn't leave Cuba five
years ago when my cousins left. It was easier then, and cheaper!
We would have been enjoying the dolce vita in Miami. Two years
after leaving, my cousins came visiting, loaded with dollars
she kept saying that she couldn't possibly leave her parents.
Then, when they allowed us Cubans to shop in the dollar-only
stores and then they opened the "shopping" stores,
she came up one day with a new TV, followed by two fans and
then a shaker. She began wearing jeans that drove the men
in the neighborhood crazy. I'm no fool. One day, I saw her
go out with Marisela, who had been something else since high
school, and I followed the bus they'd taken in my bicycle.
They got off at La Rampa and soon thereafter, at the corner
of the Havana Libre Hotel; they began to entice the tourists.
They were prostitutes!
then and there I yelled and screamed at them. I was arrested,
bicycle and all - fortunately. Well, I say fortunately because
of the bicycle, not the arrest. They really let me have it,
but the police understood the situation, and after promising
not to go anywhere near Julia, they let me go. She had made
me waste five years of my life that I could have spent in
Miami enjoying life. And that's when I decided to leave. I
began avoiding being seen around the neighborhood, for I didn't
want to come face to face with her. An to make matters worse,
whenever I visited my Aunt to have a bite to eat, she kept
telling me 'I told you so, I told you she was no good!' I
never went back to see my Aunt.
myself at these recollections, Gosh; I really wasted a lot
of time! Not only with Julia, but also with the Revolution.
I was a Pioneer, in the militia and was also a "volunteer"
sugar cane cutter. From an early age, I proudly wore my red
Pioneer scarf, and used to proudly yell: 'We'll be like Che.'
What a waster of my youth! And I wonder what became of Maite?
That was another one. Maite could have helped me leave the
country. We had an affair not even those Brazilian torrid
novellas could close to! She offered to marry me and take
me to Barcelona, but I had been in love with Julia and with
the Revolution ever since I was a boy. I recall that every
once in a while, on a Sunday, Julia and I would go to the
pizzeria and in our love even enjoyed standing in those long
lines. But when the dollars arrived, she because a prostitute.
Right now, she must be having lunch at La Zaragozana or El
my imagination or something is ahead? Let me lower the sail
in case that's an American Coast Guard ship, because if they
spot me, I'm history. They'll take me to Guantanamo and return me to Cuba. I'd rather starve to death or drown.
May God and my Virgin
of Charity protect me! I'm scared to death of sharks
and believe that drowning is the worst thing in the world.
But no way what happened to the Jimenez brothers is not going
to happen to me. I remember someone telling me how after five
days with their wives and children in the boat and almost
no food or water left, they saw a ship in the distance and
waved at it. The ship went toward them. They tell me it was
an American Coast Guard patrol boat, white with read vertical
lines. The Americans took them to Guantanamo,
very hypocritically treated them well, gave them food, drink
and clothes, including dessert for the children. They interviewed
them, and the questions they were asked led them to believe
that those questions were to grant them asylum. Such as, why
they wanted to go to the U.S., whether they had any family
there, what kind of education they had had, their address
in Cuba, and many other questions. A week later, they delivered
them to the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, along with all
the interview papers including all those questions they had
been asked during the so-called interview. This was a year
ago. They have been officially notified that they may not
be able to hold any state jobs because they tried to leave
the island illegally. Further, that they can't be self-employed,
and that they may not even sell any corn fritters. In fact,
Quico Jimenez's wife sold some fritters to two neighbors and
one of them turned her in to the Committee and she was arrested.
As soon as Quico arrived she was released, but the Party representative,
who had been notified of all of this, told Quico that both
him and his brother had to ask their relatives to send them
dollars, and that this was the ONLY choice repatriated Cubans
choice. two days later this guy from State Security came to
see him, talking very cautiously. Quico told me that he only
knew him casually, but the guy told him that he had known
him since they were both members of the Communist Youth body
and had always liked him; that he knew he was an honest man,
was well aware that times were rough for a family man and
that he understood his predicament. All of this and a lot
of other soft-soaping, to end up telling him, while threatening
him to have him "disappear" if he breathed a word
of this to anyone, that he knew how for $20,000 dollars he
could get him to Miami, without incurring any risk whatsoever,
as well as his wife, his brother and the three kids from the
two couples. I don't know where the hell Quico and his brother
got the $20,000 dollars, but two months ago his cousin showed
me a photo of the seven of them in Miami. Where was I going
to get $5,000 when I sold everything I owned to get the $800
to buy the boat and the crummy food I brought along? Let me
lay down on the floor of the boat because even though that
ship is far away, they might see me through binoculars. Humm,
that ship is white, just like the Coast Guards, but from here
I can't detect any of the red lines the Jimenez told me about.
There, it's gone. Let me raise the little sail again. Pedro
didn't lie; it's weird how this small sail pulls the boat.
have arrived by now. Could I be off course? It's a shame the
old man could not come! We wouldn't have had any problems. But
he didn't want to leave the grandkids and he doesn't stand a
chance because, as he told me, his son-in-law is a member of
the Party and since the Party gave him a scooter he thinks he's
king of the world. Unreal how little it takes for the Party
to own people. I remember Jorge Milanes. Well, the Party didn't
give him anything, but he was responsible for security at the
factory and turned out to be more repressive than the Head of
lucky. When the old man took me out to teach me how to handle
the sail, no one suspected anything. True, he would say out
loud enough for anyone standing around to hear that we were
going out for just a little while, and always tried to get
someone to give us a push into the water so that they could
see that we didn't have anything inside the boat, not even
fishing equipment, because they would have confiscated the
boat if we went out to fish. That's why the old man sold me
the boat. Since last year no one can go out fishing, not even
in an inner tube, because fishing is prohibited. You can only
fish from the Malecon. And rather than watching
it decay little by little, or having it confiscated, he decided
to sell it. And a good sale it was for him. Eight hundred
dollars! The equivalent of more than $16,000 pesos. More than
three years salary for this old boat! Sorry, my Queen, I didn't
mean to offend you. My destiny is in your hands. Maybe out
there on the beach you were an old boat, but here you are
my luxury yacht taking me to freedom. You are young and beautiful.
Please don't get offended and sink to the bottom of the sea!
Well, I hope it stays on course, and with the help of Cachita,
my beloved virgin, I'll get there. By the way, my Virgin,
I hope you've forgiven me for having rejected you all those
years, but you know it wasn't our fault. Today I can see more
clearly and I promise you that as soon as I get there, with
your help, I will make it up to you for having rejected you
all those years."
been a few hours since Martin had seen that ship disappear
in the horizon, so he went on philosophizing: "Here I'm
on my way to the unruly and brutal U.S., as Jose
Marti used to say. But I don't believe that the
U.S. is that unruly and brutal. In a way, I'm glad my folks
died long before the Special Period. The Special Period brought
a lot of poverty, but it served to open our eyes and see the
lies we were told and the way they have forced us to live.
Poor dad, how proud he was of his Machetero Diploma, and mom,
with a photo of her standing next to Fidel in 1961. They would
have died of a stroke upon learning that the beaches that
Fidel said in 1961 "are for the people and not for any
private little clubs," today the Commander in Chief has
ruled are exclusively for tourists. And if they had not died
from this shock, they would have died of shame for having
sacrificed their youth and their entire lives for a revolution
that after 40 years pays the people in pesos but only accepts
the "hated" American dollar in its stores. Yes,
I believe it's better that they died a long time ago and that
they did not have to find out how they were used and betrayed!
already. It must be around 10:00 p.m. because the sun set
a while ago. I shouldn't have sold my old Ultramar winding
watch, which I inherited from my old man, but I had to convert
everything I had in dollars for this trip.
what's up with Maite. She really used to get mad whenever
I called her Galician! And that's because, and I don't know
why, in Cuba we call all Spaniards Galicians. My love affair
with Mate, who was a member of the Catalonian Communist Party,
and my relationship with other youngsters I met during the
Conferences and in the Youth and Student Festivals years ago,
was what prompted me to start asking myself some questions:
How come those comrades who lived in capitalistic countries
had all the freedom in the world and were able to visit Cuba
whenever they wanted and we, who lived in the "first
free country in America" could not get permission to
leave the island and visit them? And when the Special Period
arrived because the Soviets came into some hard times, they
sold us to the American dollar. We can't buy anything in Cuba
with our Cuban pesos bearing the faces of our patriots, only
the dollars with the American patriot faces on them can cut
it now. And for this we sacrificed ourselves for so many years,
to finally having to accept the American dollar! No, my parents
would not have been able to see how "their revolution"
now caters to all foreigners, especially the Americans, who
visit the island, and provides them with all kinds of luxuries
and the most delicious victuals while denying us, the people
of Cuba, the most elementary commodities for our Daily sustenance.
a light ahead. D. it! Could it be Miami? Or perhaps I've been
going around in circles and that's Havana.
No, it can't be, it has to be Miami. Well, the time has arrived
and I must now row really hard so that I can get there while
it's still dark and prevent them from spotting me in the daylight
and arresting me. These are the things we talk about in Cuba:
Before, the Americans were friendly to all "worms"
and all "traitors" who dared leave the island. The
American Coast Guard would rescue the drafters from really
close to Cuba and would take them to Miami. Now, they have
an arrangement with Fidel and even when they pick us up on their beaches, they return
us to Cuba where we have to become beggars to implore dollars
tired. Well, whatever is ahead, there's no turning back now.
If it's Miami, I've arrived; if it's Cuba, I'll see if I can
hide somewhere, rest a little and start all over again in
two or three days. It has to be soon because Pedro told me
that the weather is bound to change in a few days and the
seas will get rough. I'm going to save a little bit of powder
milk and the dessert, just in case. But I'd better eat the
mangoes because they are really ripe. I'll rest a little,
and then I'll continue rowing.
blisters on my hands, but have to keep on rowing. I had to
lower the sail because the wind shifted. That's definitely
not Havana because at this hour there are not so many lights
on in Havana due to the usual blackouts. But I always thought
Miami would be a lot bigger and with many more lights. A little
longer and I'm there. Gee, this area is not well lighted,
but there are about six fishing boats and. Hot d.! I've arrived!
No siree, this is not Cuba!"
pushes the boat toward the sand, fearfully looking right and
left and over his shoulders. He is so moved that his knees
distance from the sand he sees a street and some people walking
around, despite the late hour. Trembling, he starts walking
on the sidewalk. There are some houses across the street and
in the distance he sees some neon signs which he can't read.
a couple and another one several feet behind coming the opposite
direction. They are all dressed in shorts and summer clothing.
"Let me play dumb and see who they are. These people
are talking in English. I have definitely arrived. Thank you,
my Lady of Charity! In spite of the fact that I behaved badly
toward you, you didn't forsake me. Here comes another couple.
They are talking in Spanish! Let me try my luck.
evening," says Martin.
evening," answers the man.
me, but can you tell me the name of this place?"
A RAFTER!, screams happily the man when hearing the question
and noticing Martin's demeanor.
I'm not a rafter," exclaims Martin, still afraid.
my man, don't worry," said the man while hugging Martin
effusively. "You are in Key West. Come with us. Look,
this is my wife Clotilde; she is also Cuban, from Caibarien.
My name if Julio and I'm from Havana. Tonight you are going to eat
like never before and rest in my house, and tomorrow I'll
take you to another Cuban. He is a lawyer and he'll take care
of your problem. D. it! Cheer up! You look gloomier than a
dead man's relative."
smiles from ear to ear, and thinks: "Well. I'm definitely
here, and it looks just like I thought -- that the U.S. is
neither unruly nor unkind.
lot of them died, and still
are brave people. Here's a poem that I found on the internet.:
Alejándose de su tierra (Away from their land)
Dejando seres queridos (leaving their loved ones)
Dejando madres e hijos (leaving their mother and sons)
Se lanzó el balsero a la mar (the Balseros went on the Ocean)
Para alcanzar la paz (to reach peace)
Llorando a lágrimas vivas (Crying live tears)
con el dolor en el alma (with all their soul's pain)
prefirió buscar otras tierras (they decided to find other land)
tristes o desoladas (even if sad and lonely)
pero que le dieran libertad (that will set them free)
Piensa el balsero en su madre (The balsero thinks in his mother)
Piensa el hombre en sus hijos (the man thinks in his children)
Sueñan poder un dia abrazarlos (they dream to hug them again some day)
Decirles sin nada por dentro (just to tell them)
"perdóname madre, perdóname hijo" (forgive me mom, forgive me son)
nunca abandoné sus cariños (I never stopped loving you)
solo quise ser libre (I just wanted to be free)
para luchar por el verdadero camino (to fight for the real things)
Es el sentimiento del balsero (This is the balsero's feeling)
Ese que lleva por dentro (the feeling he has inside)
Que lo hace gritar y llorar (that makes him cry and screem)
Pero que lo hace crecer por dentro (but also makes him grow inside)
Es el sentimiento del balsero (This is the balsero's feeling)
que lo hace triunfar en la vida (that makes him success in life)
que lo hace conquistar la victoria (that makes him reach victory)
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