Twenty years after Cuban raft exodus, they keep coming

Fri Sep 12, 2014 3:56pm EDT
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By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - Alicia Garcia vividly recalls her rescue at sea 20 years ago during a mass exodus from Cuba, a dramatic event that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and reshaped relations between the communist-run island and the United States.

"We didn't think we'd make it. We prayed, and put ourselves in God's hands," she said of her six-day ordeal clinging with five others to a raft made of truck inner tubes and rope.

Illegal departures by sea from Cuba are on the rise again, U.S. officials say, with more than 2,000 migrants picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard over the last 12 months. That is the highest rate in six years.

Many more are passing undetected, mostly headed west aboard flimsy home-made vessels in a risky bid to cross the Caribbean to Honduras, in hopes of getting across the Mexico-U.S. border.

Late last month 17 Cubans were rescued by the Mexican navy after almost a month at sea, 20 days without food. Details are unclear, but more than a dozen others may have died from dehydration - the survivors forced to throw their bodies overboard.

The town of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba, where most of the victims are from, planned a church Mass on Friday night.

"My wife, she can't bring herself to tell me what really happened. It's too terrible," said Jose Caballero, husband of one of the survivors, who left Cuba via a similar route in December and now lives in Texas.


A makeshift boat is lowered from a roof where it was constructed by would-be emigrants, as they take it to launch into the Straits of Florida towards the U.S., on the last day of the 1994 Cuban Exodus in Havana, September 13, 1994.  REUTERS/Rolando Pujol Rodriguez