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ALLIGATOR-MARIEL BOAT LIFT

Free from Cuba

— kim kulish

An elderly woman shed tears of joy and relief when her Miami-based relatives were in Key West to greet her after the harrowing pilgrimage.

Los Refugiados
Cubans welcome new-found freedom

by Kyle Kulish

KEY WEST — Wearing tattered clothes still wet from the weekend storm, Jorge broke into a smile and cheered as his boat approached the dock.

The 110-mile trip from Mariel Cuba had shaken him and his fellow passengers. Many refused to let go of their life preservers until the safety of American land was felt underfoot.

“Refugee”
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Damn The Torpedoes
1979
((( song )))

— photographs by barbara hansen and kim kulish

The Cuban refugees were aboard one of hundreds of vessels of the “Freedom Flotilla,” which has carried thousands of refugees to the tip of Florida since Fidel Castro opened the doors of economically troubled Cuba almost a month ago. As of Monday evening, the boats numbered 560, and they had brought some 15,508 refugees to the United States.

 

 

 

As the boat moored to the dock, semi-English cries of “Yeah, Jimmy Carter” and “America, America — viva America!” were shouted to those waiting ashore.

The media had been up since dawn, waiting for the boatloads of Cubans.  Having been informed that boats wouldn’t arrive until the afternoon, one photographer ahd set up a lounge chair in the back of his Volkswagen pick-up truck to get a tan and drink a beer. But at the sights and sounds of the first boats, press members grabbed cameras and pads and raced from their shaded resting places to the dock.

Armed customs officials quickly ushered the weather beaten Cubans into the care of volunteer doctors and nurses awaiting them in a heavily patrolled dockside processing center.

As each boatload of immigrants walked to the next processing point — a naval administration building turned cafeteria for the starving refugees — crowds of family and friends behind a chain link fence craned their necks in hopes of glimpsing loved ones among the new arrivals. Some well-wishing spectators provided rousing welcomes. (See ‘Los Refuglados’ page eight)

 

 

(Clockwise) Families look out to sea searching for the first sign of boats; Refugees happily arrive ot the Key West port; A customs officer directs refugees to processing center; Carlos Morales displays his identification card out of bus window; A Cuban refugee gets a boost to freedom; Relatives have an emotional reunion.

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