While visiting Dry Tortugas National Park we had the unique opportunity to escort some new resdients of the United States back to the mainland. The night before, 18 Cubans had arrived on Dry Tortugas island.
Cuba is only 90 miles away so with favorable winds and five gallons of diesel fuel a boat can make it in three days. The influx of Cubans this year is slightly higher probably due to the instability of the political situation. Fidel's brother has been acting dictator and not doing a favorable job. Fifteen hundred plus have made it to Dry Tortugas in 2007. Eighteen the day we were there, 40 the day before and another 4 after we left.
Of course it is illegal for Cubans to enter the U.S. If the Coast Guard catches them in the water, they promptly escort them back. However, an interesting contradiction in U.S. foreign policy governs Cubans who actually touch American soil. The wet foot, dry foot policy updated in 1995 allows Cubans who reach the U.S. to be welcomed with open arms, permenant residency status and a chance of U.S. citizenship.
Their boat was not one that I would be excited to take on an open ocean voyage. Constructed with a thin sheet of plywood and a single layer of fiberglass, it was barely able to hold its shape as a boat.
The huge diesel engine mounted in the center of the water craft took up most of the useable space and sentenced its passengers to precariously balance on the sides of the boat. If the engine should give out, the architect had wisely bolted boards to the ends of steel fence posts to serve as paddles.
A phrase etched into the side of the boat gives an idea of the attitude of reverence these people feel for our often overlooked freedoms. They also scrawled 'Liberertad' - the hope of freedom.