From: "Pedro Martori"
Subject: Oldie. but moving
charset = "UTF-8"
Date: Mon, 9 Sep 2002 11:39:38 -0400
NNTP-Posting-Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002 11:38:25 EDT
Organization: Bell Sympatico
De: "Dan Christensen"
Asunto: Oldie. but moving
Fecha: Sunday, September 08, 2002 11:25 PM
Under the cover of night, they head to sea in a small boat.
There's no time
for good-byes, only a final wave. For this desperate group of
is worth the risk of failure, arrest or a lonely death.
USA TODAY foreign correspondent Jack Kelly spent several days
with a group of Cubans as they prepared to leave the island by
boat for the
United States. The night they left, he accompanied them to the
watched them depart. As a result of his reporting, Cuban police
Kelley and his passport was confiscated. He was released several
CARDENAS, Cuba - Guided by the dim light of a crescent moon,
one pregnant and one carrying a young child, crept from a grove
trees bordering a deserted beach and walked quickly toward shore.
carried only their allotted supplies: four boiled eggs, five
apples and six
bottles of water. It would be enough, they had been told, to last
As they left the cover of trees, they grew more afraid. Some
backward toward the shore to see whether anyone was watching. Two
running to the water's edge. One woman, shaking with fright,
her feet and broke her bottles on the rocky shore. Bleeding and
she fell to the ground, only to be slapped in the face and kicked
back by another woman, named Silvia. "Shut up before you give us
b--! Silvia hissed, pointing a finger in the woman's face. "Do
you want the
police to find us? Get up or we'll leave you behind!" The woman
her feet and joined the others now racing to the water. At a
on the shore, they gathered and waited, as they had been
instructed. No one
spoke. No one moved. Crashing waves were the only sounds.
Seconds later, four smugglers appeared from another grove of
on their shoulders a small aluminum boat, two oars and two inner
set the boat down, tied the inner tubes, which could be used as
an emergency, to the rear of the boat and loaded in the oars and
They had no map, no compass, no life jackets - and no motor.
amateurs," said Raul, 29, who was running the operation. He
nodded to the
group and barked, "Get in." Everyone jumped into the boat as the
began pushing it from the shore. They moved so fast that a woman
Sayra, who was 27 and six months pregnant, fell into the water as
to climb in. Two of the smugglers picked her up, threw her into
the boat and
then swam off. Raul and another smuggler jumped in and started to
against the tide. Six minutes had passed since the group emerged
mangroves. The time was 5:16 a.m.
Back on land, family members crouched among the mangroves and
had been no chance for a goodbye hug - only a final wave and a
kisses. A woman named Ayleen, 49, watched tearfully as the boat
26-year old daughter and 15-month-old grandson disappeared into
darkness. "Go find your freedom, Yacqueline," she said. "Go find
you desperately desire."
Every year, thousands of Cubans begin a 90-mile journey in tiny,
boats across the Florida Straits in search of freedom in the
Many leave from this very spot, directly south of Florida, so
they can catch
the strong northerly currents coming off the coast and drift into
Florida Keys five to seven days later. Just 10 weeks earlier,
and her son had left from here and sailed into an international
Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez was found clinging to an inner tube
coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thanksgiving Day after his
mother and 10
others had drowned. Now two nations-the United States and
embroiled in a dispute over whether to return him to his father
in Cuba. On
this shore three months later, the exodus continues. Another
son. A tiny boat, made for six and crowded with 12 is leaving,
hope but facing unknown dangers. Four nights before Yacqueline
was to leave
for new life in America, the small, two-bedroom house that she
and her son,
Ulices, shared with her mother was abuzz. Six girlfriends were
the 8-by-8-foot kitchen; sipping rum and helping Yacqueline wash
she could sell them on the black market. She needed the money,
she said, to
rent a room in Florida when she and her son got there.
Scrubbing the clothes in buckets of water, the women worked by
the light of
a single bulb hanging from a frayed wire. The power went out
forcing them to work most of the night by candlelight. "It's
these when I'm reminded that I, and many other Cubans, live like
Yacqueline said. "We have no hope for the future." We only look
day we can leave." She shone the candle on a small calendar taped
refrigerator. The preceeding days were marked with large X's. The
day -Feb.4 - was circled in red. One of her friends urged her to
down. "We'll be jailed," Alina 28, whispered. "You're not in
Yacqueline knew that too well. In 1994, her father, a Communist
official, was jailed for three weeks after being falsely accused
a 50-pound sack of sugar from a factory. She paid a police
official $500 to
release her father, whom authorities had beaten with a tire iron,
This bribe wiped out the family's savings. It forced them to live
food for more than a year. Determined to support her family,
with a local Communist Party official who had helped her friends
get jobs as
housekeepers in nearby tourist hotels. The official said he would
help her -
"for a price." He wanted me to sleep with him," she whispered.
Her mother, who had been helping wash the clothes, walked
silently out of
the kitchen. The six friends, who had been talking quietly among
looked down at the floor. "It was the worst 20 minutes of my
Yacqueline said, also staring at the floor. He was 51 years old
and a father
of six. She was 21 and a virgin. Four of the six other women said
had gotten jobs by doing "special favors" for party officials.
"That night, I decided I no longer wanted to live in this damned
Yacqueline continued. "I wanted to be free." Since then,
saved "almost every penny." Her monthly salary was 350 Cuban
$17.50, and she made an average of $45 a month in hard-currency
foreigners. By December, she had nearly $2,450. All she needed
courage. On Christmas eve, she made a pilgrimage to the shrine of
Cuba's patron saint, in the city of Rincon de Guanabo outside of
prayed for an answer. Should I leave Cuba? Three days later, her
suffered from colon cancer, died. She said she got her answer in
words: "Go find your freedom," he told her. "If not for you, for
The next day, she paid a Cuban smuggler $1,000 - half the cost of
'Suicide out there'
Eight hours after the boat left carrying Yacqueline, Ulices, a
widow named Guadalupe, the pregnant Sayra, two other women, four
passengers and the two smugglers, Ayleen was still on the shore,
they make it safely, I will do whatever you ask," she told God.
of the two smugglers who had stayed behind, came up behind her.
reason to worry." he said. He had called friends in Miami on his
They had assured him the weather was good.
Blanco had made three successful smuggling trips to Florida. He
said he had
loaned Raul $4,000 to buy the 16 foot aluminum boat. He had faith
in Raul, a
former construction worker, even though this was his first
operation. "He's strong and has a cool head. There's little that
him," Blanco told Ayleen. "Besides, there are not whitecaps
today." But less
than 24 hours later, the clear skies started to turn dark.
flying inland, and fishermen were returning to shore. Something
they said, pointing toward the sky. Then the local marina issued
bulleting: An unexpected storm was moving into the Florida
By early afternoon, gusts of 33 mph were recorded at a Cuban
station. Officials ordered boats back to port. "Where did this
Blanco yelled into his cell phone from the shore to a friend in
Three-foot-high waves started crashing against a nearby seawall.
branches snapped like twigs, and residents along the shore began
down their shutters. The winds proved too much for one rafter who
off alone to Florida. After two days at sea, a 41-year-old Cuban
Joaquin was forced to return to shore. His skin was parched from
his mouth swollen from dehydration and his hands covered with
rowing his six-by-six-foot raft. He collapsed on the rocky shore.
winds had broken his raft -a wooden shipping pallet - and ripped
sails he had sewn together from a white bedsheet and a small
sugar sack." "I
tempted fate too much," he said. It's suicide out there."
'The end was near'
Twelve miles out at sea, the passengers in Yacqueline's boat were
for their lives. "Raul kept yelling, 'Hold on! Hold on!'" Silvia,
recalled. "We knew we were in trouble. We knew the end was near."
Six-foot-high waves were washing over the boat and tossing it
"like a toy,"
she said. Some of the passengers cupped their hands to try to
water. But it was useless, more kept pouring in. We just held
onto the sides
and to each other," one of the passengers Roberto, 26, said. "The
rocking. We were tipping."
Suddenly, one wave propelled the back of the boat into the air,
Ulices out of Yacqueline's arms and into the water. Yacqueline
rose to jump in after him. Ignacio, another passenger, pushed her
He reached overboard, grabbed the child's arm and yanked him into
"Tie him to the tube! Tie him to the tube!" Raul yelled from
behind them. He
then pointed to another passenger, the widow Guadalupe. She had
face with her hands. She was crying. They couldn't hear what Raul
saying. The winds sounded like a tornado and the waves crashed
thunder, drowning out his words, Silvia said. A wave hit the
right side of
the boat, throwing Guadalupe and another woman out the other
said. It was the last anyone saw of them.
Seconds later, another wave hit the boat, knocking Ignacio,
Ulices into the Water. Ignacio struggled to stay afloat and to
child's heat above water, Silvia said. Yacqueline, who didn't
know how to
swim, brought her arms as if trying to climb out of the water.
her mouth to scream but swallowed seawater instead. She never saw
the water behind her. Then, "they all disappeared," Silvia said.
wave came barreling down on the boat, breaking it in half and
seven remaining passengers overboard. Several tried desperately
themselves onto the inner tubes or hold onto the oars. Sayra, the
was six months pregnant, was panicking. Raul tried to grab her,
but she "was
swallowed by a wave," Roberto said. "She went down screaming."
The six survivors -Silvia, three male passengers and the two
onto the inner tubes for nearly five hours. Finally, a Cuban
cutter spotted the five men and one woman stranded in the raging
were brought aboard and handcuffed. It had been at least 36 hours
set out from shore. One guard laughed when he told them they had
it out of Cuba's territorial waters.
Stripped and beaten
In a suburb south of Havana stands Villa Marista, the
headquarters of Cuba's
State Security. A 30-foot-tall metal sculpture of an AK-47
greets visitors at the main gate. Behind it are several buildings
cinder blocks and painted blue. They are surrounded by guard
razor wire. This is the place, local residents say, where the
takes people it wants to "disappear." The five male
passengers and the two smugglers-were brought here after dark.
survivor, Silvia, was detained at a police station in Cardenas
Cuban officials do not usually arrest people trying to leave the
boat. But because of the international publicity given the Elaine
case, the Cuban government appears to be taking a harder line.
Officials, eager to show that the island's 11 million people are
behind Castro, have also been organizing daily demonstrations to
virtues of communism and demand Elian's return." One boy has
policy," Roberto said. "Because of him and his supporters in
Miami, we all
Four of the five men taken to Villa Marista were released after
48 hours. In
separate interviews, they all said they had been stripped,
by their ankles and interrogated by Cuban officials for up to
Their ankles were swollen, scarred and bruised."They wanted to
know why we
wanted to embarrass Cuba by leaving," Roberto said.
Raul was kept behind, and his whereabouts are still unknown."We
screams coming from his cell all night long. We heard the sounds
bats," another survivor, Juan Carlos, 28, said. "We knew what was
Villa Marista officials interviewed the next day said they had no
the five men being arrested. They also denied that any prisoners
Four days after the boat took off and just hours after the men
from detention, all the survivors except Raul reunited on the
sunrise for a clandestine memorial service. They read verses from
and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for their drowned
Then, one by one, they said they were more determined than ever
Cuba. "We will pursue our freedom as long as it takes," Silvia
said. "We owe
it to our friends."
Yacqueline's mother, Ayleen, lad a small wreath decorated with
the dead on the water. There were handkerchiefs, plastic crosses
and a baby
pacifier that had belonged to Ulices.As they watched the wreath
drift out to
sea, Ayleen told the small group how her daughter had dreamed of
only days before the trip. Yacqueline had said that if that
mother could take solace in the fact that she'd be "out of
"Sleep peacefully, my child," Ayleen said tearfully as the wreath
disappeared from sight. "You're finally free."