By Joe Granda
Last week I was traveling with my wife Maria and my 10 year old grandson Will on the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship doing the Western Caribbean route to celebrate our grandson’s birthday. On the last day of the trip after having lunch at his favorite place, Johnny Rockets Restaurant, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool.
About 2PM, people sitting nearby told us to look at the horizon where they saw what appeared to be a raft floating on the water. I quickly realized what was going on and went to my cabin to retrieve my camera. I knew this was going to be a very special moment and wanted to capture it to show my family and friends.
We went directly to the top deck forward and from that vantage we could see several people on the raft. As the tiny vessel drifted closer to our massive “floating city” we realized there were six men and one woman aboard. In the back of the raft there were 2 men steering the vessel which had a very small 10HP engine. Sitting on both sides of the barge were 4 men bailing water from inside the raft while the lady sitting inside the barge appeared to be praying.
It seems like all six thousand plus passengers were out on the top 3 decks on the starboard side watching and commenting about what was happening. I was happy and sad at the same time. I was happy because the ship had rescued 7 human beings who could had been dead if they had not been spotted.
The last few days in the Gulf the winds were 40-50MPH from the East, and their small engine could not remain on course to Florida where they had hoped to land. They were already west of Key West heading toward the middle of the Gulf where they would had been lost for days.
So many others, just like these 7 desperate people, have perished trying to make it to freedom in flimsy boats with no navigation equipment, little food and water. What they share is a determination to get away from their Communist country controlled by the Castro brothers.
I was sad because I knew the final outcome. I knew our Captain had to contactthe US authorities and the Coast Guard would respond by sending out a vessel to rescue the 7 and take them back to Cuba immediately. The US policy with regard to Cuban refugees has changed; today we have what is called “the wet foot, dry foot doctrine.” If you are found on land you are given asylum as long you are not a criminal. However, if you don’t make it to our shores, you are returned to Cuba immediately regardless of the consequences.
As predicted, about 2 hours later the Coast Guard cutter rendezvoused with our ship and took all 7 into custody. They took them immediately to a port in the Province of Pinar del Rio close to Havana were Castro allows the US ships to return “the balseros,” the boat people trying to flee Cuba.
Unfortunately it is not a happy ending for the balseros. They will all end up in jail, with no trial, just a minimum sentence of 3 to 5 years. Usually, they are accused of other crimes, such as taking gasoline from the people of Cuba, to add additional years to their jail time.
There were many Cubans as well as Americans watching what was going on when they took them away, I will tell you there was not a dry eye on board. The passengers had been told the 7 boat people were going back to Cuba where there are no freedoms, no food, no hope and here we were on a great vacation, free to do what we want when we want.
I left the Castro world behind fifty-one years ago when I took a Spanish ship on the way to Spain which later brought me to the US. I was seeking freedom, just as these Cubans were trying to do now, and have been able to enjoy the land of the free for all these years. These 7 brave, unfortunate human beings trying to reach freedom may never be able to experience it.
As I stood by the railings and watched the Coast Guard vessel pull away tears rolled down my face. My grandson said to me: “you and Grandma are Cubans, my daddy is Cuban, and I am part Cuban and we have freedom. Why can’t all Cubans have freedom, also?” Very profound statement coming from a 10 year old. My answer was; “one day they will, one day they will!!!”