Challenging the Future Mounted on a Raft
Cuba: Challenging the Future Mounted on a Raft / Ivan Garcia
Posted on May 8, 2014
It’s like playing Russian Roulette. Although the numbers are terrifying–
one in three rafters is a snack for the sharks — many people in Cuba
take the issue with a lightness that causes chills.
Probably the Straits of Florida is the largest marine cemetery in the
world. There are no hard figures of the children, young people, adults,
and elderly who lie under its turbulent waters.
It’s a human drama with obvious political overtones. The regime wants to
tell the story their way. People leave the island, they say, encouraged
by the Cuban Adjustment Act that awards automatic residence to Cubans
who step on United States soil.
It’s true. The frivolity of the U.S. wet foot/dry foot policy, seems
like a macabre game. If the gringo coast guard catches you at sea,
you’re returned to Cuba. If you manage to touch land, you won the lottery.
Although absurd, the share of moral responsibility remains with the
olive green autocracy. Only the despair, the lack of a future, and the
economic burden could drive a person to plan this dangerous journey
across the sea.
People leave Cuba because things are going badly. Those who don’t have
relatives in the United States, or who put off the family reunification
paperwork, risk their future on a raft.
Let me tell you a story of rafters that happened in my neighborhood.
Since Christmas 2013 Gregorio (name changes) was persuading relatives
and friends disposed to change their fate with a marine adventure.
After 1994 when the Fidel Castro regime decriminalized illegal
departures to the North, the future rafters plan their projects without
too much discretion.
Gregorio was obsessed with the idea of leaving the country. Part of his
family lives in Miami. He spent years doing the legal paperwork: “I
don’t want to get to Florida when I’m 60.”
Finding allies for such an undertaking is not hard in Cuba. Young people
without a future swarm every corner of the island. A priority: people
with nautical knowledge.
Guys with experience who failed in other attempts. People with money to
build the safest craft possible. Human traffic from Cuba to the United
States is a buoyant industry.
But not everyone can afford the $10,000 for a ticket. There are
different kinds of immigrants. There are those who choose to cross land
borders, jumping from one nation to another in long and dangerous
journeys from Ecuador, or paying cash to a Mexican coyote to put them
across the border.
Then there are the rafters. According to José,”We are the most
desperate. I have friends who have tried dozens of times. If they’re
caught by the Cuban or U.S. coast guard, they always intend to try
again. Many have become old salts.”
Gregorio had never tried. After recruiting twelve partners (everyone
brought something, one sold a Moskovich car, another, two HP computers),
they contacts an expert in designing marine craft.
The job isn’t cheap. A powerful and reliable engine is no less than four
or five thousand dollars on the black market. They got three GPS for a
possible localization, among other goods.
Friends were being added to the adventure. In April 2014 they were 22
people. Gregorio alerted family and friends who have yachts in Miami, so
at any given moment, if they washed up on a key, they could be towed to
The GPA is essential. The artisanal craft designer had to be top of the
line. They chose an ex-mechanic of a merchant boat who boasted he knew
remote river passages in the Florida keys.
Before departing, at 2:30 in the morning on Wednesday, April 23, they
said goodbye to their loved ones with a couple quarts of cheap whiskey.
They were carrying food and water for two weeks in case of shipwreck. A
chessboard, Spanish cards and a game of dominoes. As if instead of a
risky sea journey they were going on a peaceful safari.
Family in Havana tracked them through an illegal antenna on the cable
news updates on Miami TV. Apparently, on Friday at lunchtime good news
The mother of one of the rafters called his family to say that Channel
23 had aired a story about the supposed boat with a child traveling. The
rumor spread like wildfire. The Miami family of the rafters called Krome
and other immigration detention centers in Florida. They could not
confirm the event. They toured hospitals and coast guard offices. Nobody
knew anything of the rafters. They began to panic.
The family members in Cuba called the rafters cellphones insistently.
For now, the only signal is a laconic request from a recorded voice
saying, “The number you are calling is turned off or outside the
Neighbors and friends try to encourage the rafters’ relatives. “An uncle
was twelve days at sea until landfall in Key West.” Or, “You have to
wait, they’ve only been at sea for 6 days.” Family members on both sides
of of the Strait sleep poorly, eat little and suffer from nerves. They
pray to their saints and pray for the lives of their own. Each day that
passes without news is synonymous with bad omens. And the death of a
rafter, usually, no one can confirm it.
Photo: One of the many rickety boats that came from the Havana coast
towards the coast of Florida during the so-called “Rafter Crisis” in
August 1994. In these twenty years, despite an increase in the chances
of emigrating by legal means , Cubans continue to jump into the sea to
try to reach the United States. Taken from Latin American Studies Group.
6 May 2014
Source: “Cuba: Challenging the Future Mounted on a Raft / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba” –