Disenchantment I could say that before the year 1980, for example, I went to the meetings...I went but I didn't feel like going, understand. And when I was in the meetings I wasn’t at all interested in what they talked about there. And if there was something that interested me, it was so I could go against what they were saying. So, I began to play, this double role, you know. Consciously, I was doing it consciously. You had to survive and try not to make yourself sick, because it’s a neurotic situation, a neurotic situation. So, nothing, I was surrounded. I worked with other young people, and you know when one is young one takes things more lightly. Until things start to bother you, you enjoy them, no? So, it became a party....
But, what happened in 1980, when I tell you it was like that (snaps fingers), a 180 degree turn, because I really made a one hundred eighty degree turn, because it made me really indignant. Besides, eh, I saw myself affected, I saw myself affected because I lost my Youth identification card in 1980. I worked right in front of the Ministry of Justice. It was the first balcony of the Ministry of Justice that was used as a tribunal for the Acts of Repudiation. The window of my office was in front, it was next to that balcony I told you about. In all the work centers, and all around that thing, every day people arrived and put down their things, and you had to go to the Act of Repudiation. And the whole day went by and nobody worked. That lasted for a little more than a month over there, almost two months, the people didn’t work. You had to go to the Act of Repudiation. So, I worked on the second floor. In a little office half, halfway in the back, half hidden like that, and during that time I went to work at seven in the morning so I could leave at four in the afternoon. The Spark The disturbances began on the Malecón [sea wall] with a boat that tried to leave. Everything began there. That day, everything was very calm and pretty soon a fight happened there. We were shut up in our house and our neighbors began to come over and say, “oye, a tremendous fight just happened on the Malecón.”
And it touched the world, you know? And it happened and the thing was supposedly getting tough (laughs hard), but everything was getting really good! It was a chain reaction that had already begun. The people began to make preparations, because everybody thought of a mass exodus like that of Mariel. You know? Everybody thought, “and now it’s going to start, its going to happen like Mariel, you are going to get out like in Mariel,” when family members began to bring boats for their family members who were here and they would take them back there in the boats (laughs)...
Well, you know, the government wanted it to happen. It was provoked by the government, the people didn’t provoke it, so they could come out clean, so that all the counterrevolutionaries would leave, and they would clean house. Because things were bad in Cuba then. Writing was appearing on walls, appearing on the streets, “down with Fidel,” and things like that. It was a charged atmosphere. And Fidel said, “let me get these people out of here”...he knew there were a lot of intellectuals, they weren’t falling for the usual tall tale. And he got afraid of that, and that’s how things were.
President Clinton Speaks This action is a cold blooded attempt to maintain the Castro grip on Cuba and to divert attention from his failed communist policies. He is trying to export to the United States the political and economic crisis he has created in Cuba in defiance of the democratic tide flowing throughout this region. Let me be clear: the Cuban government will not succeed in any attempt to dictate American immigration policy. The United States will do everything within its power to ensure that Cuban lives are saved and that the current outflow of refugees is stopped. Today I have ordered that illegal refugees from Cuba will not be allowed to enter the United States. Refugees rescued at sea will be taken to our naval base at Guantánamo while we explore the possibilities of other safe havens within the region (Doherty 1994; 2472).
Getting ready to leave In the summer of ‘94 there were people who had gone into the Spanish embassy, there were people going into the Belgian embassy. It was full of people. I wanted to get into the Belgian embassy, but then we began to make the raft, so I say, “well, let’s go by raft.” We were going to go in secret, but then it exploded,
Fidel says “alright, whoever wants to go can go.” From all of the streets in Alamar, they were in the streets, in Alamar they went through the streets.
I saw people making rafts in the street...It seemed like a regatta in Cojimar, in what used to be the weeds. Everyone was there, and so… we were already friends, “let’s go, let’s go, I’m going, I’m going.” “No, let’s go, let’s go,” and so forth.
...On August 18th, the dawn of the 19th of August of 1994, about five in the morning (takes a breath, getting emotional), I saw that hour as belonging to the morning, the hour that we launched the raft. The beach was deserted at five in the morning. What happened was that a pursuer arrived. He said (clapping) “hurry up…hurry up. Let’s go fast and get out of here,” the policeman said. The morning of the 19th of August, that was a mix of happiness and sadness. Happiness because I was leaving Cuba, I wanted to leave Cuba.
But, well, sadness because I left a lot of people behind, a woman… children, parents. My father said goodbye to us there [at the beach]. He was there until we left. After that I never saw him again. I said to papi,“take care, take care of mama,” and my father died last year, as you know.
I never saw him again. My papa helped me make the raft, and he wanted his children to leave. If he couldn’t go himself, he wanted his children to go. So, he said goodbye to us. I remember that I was in the water, all the way in the water. I took off a watch that I had, and I gave it to him. I say, “papi, here, I have a watch.” From there, I turn around, I launch myself into the water…I get into the raft. That was the last memory of my papa.
Crossing the Florida Straits - An Emblematic Story So, we were in the water for only three days. We would have been about some twenty, twenty five, thirty miles…the hills of Havana were still in sight, the tower of the Santa Cruz rum factory was still in sight. So, there are some who want to go back, they were afraid, they got scared, the first night.
First of all, nights on the sea are terrible. It’s terrible because it’s that you can’t see anything…everything is dark. The sea gets as dark as chocolate. Like espresso chocolate. All that you see are those little fish, they reflect the light of the moon. They are shiny, but the sea is dark. That part of the Florida Straits is very deep, the water is very dark…
We were myself, the two brothers…and the other people, we were all adults. Two friends, one older, the other like us, my older brother who is the oldest, two children, one younger girl, like twenty-something years old, two children. The oldest one was about thirteen, and the little one about eight or nine. There were ten of us altogether. The children, I saw them when they got on the raft…and one hit herself in the face, she would have killed herself if the Coast Guard didn’t rescue us, because they got under some cloths. I thought that they were going to die, because they began vomiting… vomiting… vomiting… vomiting…. vomiting. I thought that they were going to die. They didn’t eat for the whole trip, they were vomiting, vomiting, vomiting. And I didn’t see them again until the Coast Guard rescued us. ...I…I was afraid, of what everyone is afraid of [death], and I drummed on the inner tubes, on the deck, I drummed…to make sure they hadn’t gotten lost over there. They had planned what they were going to do…if the raft turned over, or if the inner tube burst or lost air. There is sure death, without escape. They told each other, “well, here we have to die as fast as possible to suffer less,” that was what they thought.
So, the next day, having to row, the rowing, and only that, the burning, and rowing, rowing, rowing, rowing. I saw a huge shark, a damara shark, huge, black and white colored. We saw a lot of movement in the water, it seems that there were sardines…and many seagulls, and in that the hump of a shark like this (gestures), at about ten meters. Then it was as if they had put a motor on the boat, on the raft. We left rowing… fast. Yes…outside of that area there were no more sharks. We saw a flying fish jumping over the water. The second night, at night we saw a lot of rafts that were calling us, so that we would get close to each other, and pass the night with them. Because on the high sea all of the rafts that met tied themselves together…to pass the night together, everybody, no? But we couldn’t get there, the current didn’t let us. The ocean got very rough and there were waves of one or two meters. And that boat, up and down, up and down, up and down, up…the waves were…about two meters…and we couldn’t get over to where they were. And that night passed, we didn’t see more rafts.
The third night arrived, and that was the worst of all. Because we were exhausted and sleepy. We finished the food, we didn’t have any more food. Almost everyone was the most exhausted physically. I began to feel bothered…on the buttocks, because they were…raw flesh already, because of the little stick I was sitting on for the trip …So, my body began to peel, because I urinated on myself in the same seat. And the water came in, the salt, and the urine, and my legs began to peel…and that dampness, ahh.
...Afterwards in Guantánamo, the Marines themselves told us that, yes…that the United States had given the order to the world, you know the United States does that in the world, you know that (jokingly, laughing), that no ship take in any rafter in the Straits of Florida, that that was their problem, and they had named the operation “Sea Signal.” So, that none of them were going to take in any… that that was the United States’ problem, and everybody, all the countries said, well, that’s your problem, take them in, that…and no Italian ship could take us in.
So, we said, “well, gentlemen, what we need to do here is stop rowing, pull in the oars…” The children began to cry, the woman began to cry…and the man who was afraid started to say that the north wasn’t in the north, that the north was in the south, and that he knew, that he had to send us over there, and there almost was a fight, because his, his nerves were so bad. And I had to throw him three or four “pingas” so that he would calm down (interviewer laughs). Yes, because if not, we would have fallen overboard. Three or four of us came together, and he arrived as another one, and the other two together, who I met on the raft. I say that if he didn’t calm down we would have thrown him overboard… because, apart from all of our problems, if we would have had people in a panic, panicked because they couldn’t stand it, that would have been…the women crying. Well, I shut down the situation there, which was the most difficult…I thought we were going to die. I thought that our own people were going to sink us.
...When I woke up, without eating, we now had no food, water yes, but food no. I woke up there, everybody now exhausted. That sun, three days. It rose. We didn’t even have a watch, just an old compass. I woke up. It was seven or eight in the morning, we see a white point coming toward us…fast. It’s a ship that’s coming, from the north, a white point. When, well, we continued rowing, the point gets bigger and bigger, until we see that it was a ship. When the ship…it had seen us supposedly… when we see the ship, which pulls up next to us, is an American Coast Guard cutter. I say, “wow, an American Coast Guard ship.” Nothing less than a movie. I say, “wow,” it was imposing, that Coast Guard ship. The red stripes, and the big letters from one side to the other say “Coast Guard,” and the American flag…in an official American thing, nothing more than… So, I say, “that is the American Coast Guard.” The Coast Guard sees us, and pulls up next to us… and it speeds up its motor and leaves. The women began crying again, the men screaming (laughs). Everybody upset, and that they weren’t going to rescue us, the women say (high voice), “they aren’t going to rescue us,” now crying. I say, “shit.” For me, for me inside I say “shit, to hell, we’re going to die like this” (laughs). So, after it runs about two or three hundred meters, it turns around shweeu. It seems that it was looking for a way to get us on board. En Route to the Base In our boat, well, we were 31 people, our boat was the first boat. I say it was ours, there wasn’t anybody [else aboard] when we got on the ship, I tell you. But afterwards there were three hundred of us, or something like that. That day, I tell you, and it was there, our first interaction with the Americans. Nothing, you know, and later, I don’t know, but it was in a way dazzling, right, seeing all of those things. Like how respectful they were. When they got us out of the boat, they asked who the boat’s captain was, and we said, “no, he’s the captain,” and they asked him if they had his permission to burn the boat and sink it. Things like that. Vaya, if we had been somewhere else they wouldn’t have even asked, understand? The captain said, “yes, do it already! We saw all of that. After they set it on fire, the little boat began to turn over, until the ship sank. Well, it was very emotional. And also, I don’t know, other things...there was one. When they began to pick up people, after the rain storm, it was like bad weather. They took out a little tiny launch, and they put it in the water, but it went almost hugging the Cuban coast, right there, entering the coast. And to them, nothing, it was like nothing.
Damn, man, it was like wooo, everybody, ahhh. And the guy jumped in and the guy still had his glasses and his cap and everything on and he dove in, and nothing, and she fell out of his arms, and he looked like Indiana Jones, that movie Indiana Jones, that movie, and his hat didn’t even fall off, like that. And we were ahhhhh, and in the end, the girl almost drowned the guy, what happened was that the people also are prepared, understand? And things got rough for him in there, he put the lifesaver on her and all, and then they finally got her up. But, besides that, eh, everything at sea was normal.
There were like a thousand people on the ship in the end, I don’t know, like a thousand. Oh man. That was a disaster. Look, we went up in the front section, that’s the upper level, the part in front of the boat. And that part, there was bad weather and the boat went like this.....and the ocean like this chufffff, and all that water got us wet. And we were wet on the whole trip. Wet, wet, from the water.
Arriving at the Base A military woman stood there in front of everybody on the boat and then she read us a piece of paper...they gave us a paper by the leaders of the United States, and the things that the President said to us, that by order of the President, we wouldn’t travel to the United States and we are going to a secure place, which was the Naval base at Guantánamo. So, imagine, when I saw that, I thought that I was going to die there, I said “ay, mi madre, please, back to Cuba again, it’s not easy.” Everybody began to feel bad, because the people didn’t want to go back to Cuba again. You know about Cuba, that they would send you back isn’t easy. Of course, everybody began to get desperate and worried because of that. Because they were afraid that they would send us back, understand?
And the people there...an old man died, on the ship...there. So, when we arrived, we were....at least, he came with....because I was very in love when I left, right? And I left there but it was already three days that I hadn’t been there, without her there and I was, I arrived here like, I don’t know, halfway in shock, right? Because I was, well ... because I really missed her so much, you know, three days had gone by and so you know that there wasn’t any going back already, I was already, I was already changing my life completely, understand?
Yes. I was already in shock there really. Throughout the whole trip, then, everything was really uncertain. Well, if I get there, if I don’t get there, the worst thing is that I have to go back, to Cuba again, things like that. But not toward Guantánamo anymore, one knew that there wasn’t any going back.