A thorough and exciting account of the events leading to the daring, massive exodus of more than 125,000 people from Cuba’s Mariel harbor in 1980.
Cuban-American journalist Ojito’s mission here is not only to tell her own family’s story—they were finally allowed to join relatives in South Florida after waiting 15 years—but to probe a question: How could Fidel Castro allow the hemorrhaging of the Cuban population? Ojito’s parents were apolitical and thus undesirable in the communist country, where they were frequently targeted for ridicule and exiles were called gusanos (worms) for abandoning the revolution. Yet by the late 1970s, during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a thaw began to develop between Cuba and the US, which had imposed an economic embargo on the nation for two decades but now hoped to negotiate for the release of native and American prisoners from Cuba’s prisons. Castro trusted Carter’s record on human rights and needed to boost a sagging Cuban economy by courting the exiles in America. A successful Cuban living in Panama, Bernardo Benes, was chosen to mediate the détente, which orchestrated return visits by Cuban-Americans (now called mariposas, butterflies) to spend dollars in Cuba. In the spring of 1980, an unemployed bus driver named Hector Sanyustiz made embarrassingly public the desperation of ordinary citizens seeking a way out of the country when he rammed a bus through the Peruvian embassy in Cuba and 10,000 asylum seekers flooded in. Amid complicated diplomatic wrangling, a plan was devised to bring expatriates in southern Florida on chartered boats to Mariel harbor, from which they would transport thousands of undesirable relatives out of the country. Ojito, a reporter for the New York Times tells a suspenseful story, moving back from May 7, 1980, when police arrived at her family’s Havana doorstep asking if they were willing to “abandon” their country, through the years preceding their triumphant arrival on American soil.
A skillful melding of individual personalities with the grand currents of history.