14ymedio, Miami Beach, 15 September 2015 – Twelve Cubans from Caibarien, Villa Clara, arrived in Miami Beach on a rustic boat this Tuesday a little before noon, after spending six days on the high sea, two of them in a storm.
The group of 11 men, one woman – all young – and a dog named Chiquita, arrived in a tourist area near the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a few blocks from Lincoln Road. Tourists and residents of the area congregated on the arrival of the boaters in order to offer them clothes, water, food and money. “We hear on the news that things in Cuba are improving, but this really shook me to see Cubans still escape from the country via the sea. There is something wrong in that,” said a European tourist to a 14ymedio contributor who arrived at the scene.
Oscar Alfonso, a lifesaver for the City of Miami Beach, said that on stepping foot on American soil they all “started to hug and kiss the ground.” One of the rafters had spent 56 days in jail in the Bahamas after having been intercepted by that country’s coastguard. A few days ago he returned to Cuba and when he arrived in Caibarien he decided to once again launch himself on the sea with his friends.
Another of the rafters had tried to cross the Straits of Florida 20 times and on this journey he managed to make it. The group spent three days without food and the last two days, adrift, they had given themselves up for lost.
Alfonso, who was working at his post on the beach when the rafters arrived, said that one of them told him it was “the most exciting experience of my entire life,” and added, “there are things that happen to you, it’s incredible the desperation a person has to have to cross the sea.”
They landed singing Willy Chirino’s iconic song Ya viene llegando (Our Day is Coming) and an American gave them an American flag, which they waved.
The boat – with a nylon sail and mast made from a guayaba tree – on which the Cubans arrived was moved by local police from the shore to the sand near the walkway. Betty Ortega, a Cuban resident of this city, was on the scene when the boaters arrived and told the police to leave the raft. “I told them that they could not take it because this is part of our history,” she said to this newspaper.
The police granted her request and gave her four hours to get the boat off the beach. Ortega will take it home; she still does not know what she will do with it, but she wants to make sure that this part of Cuban history “is told to the world.”
Since October 2015, 31,000 migrants have arrived in the United States, 30% more than the year before, according to figures from the Office of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
Translated by Mary Lou Keel