Escape from Cuba.
By Sergio Perodin Jr.*
`Our only luggage was hope'
As a child I had an experience that taught me the price that individuals
are willing to pay for freedom.
I was only 7 years old and living in communist Cuba. My parents yearned
for freedom and dreamt of coming to America. They secretly planned to
escape, along with 72 others who shared their dream. We embarked on a
wooden tugboat. Our only luggage was hope, but in that attempt, 41 lives
were lost. Among them, my mother and brother. My father refused to give
up hope, and a short time later, we risked our lives in a second
attempt, but on this occasion, aboard a raft.
It began on the fateful day of July 13, 1994, as we embarked on the 13
de Marzo tugboat at about 2 a.m. About 13 miles off the coast of Cuba,
we were suddenly attacked by three Cuban tugboats. They rammed us.
Pressure hoses, normally used to put out fires at sea, were used against
us. Their impact was so powerful that children were swept to sea from
their parents' protective embrace.
Those on the tugboats shouted insults over loudspeakers. In a frenzy,
they crashed into the ship, damaging the hull, which caused the tugboat
to take in water rapidly. Within minutes, the ship sank. People were
screaming and begging to be rescued, but those on the tugboats showed no
pity. They circled us and made whirlpools in the water, causing men,
women and children to be lost forever in a black sea of despair.
After what seemed an eternity of brutal abuse, the tugboats finally
stopped and began picking up survivors. My mother and brother were not
among them. Those of us who survived, more dead than alive from the
ordeal, were not taken to receive medical assistance. Instead, we were
taken to prison, where my father remained. I was later sent home in a
small van and handed over to my aunt, to take care of me.
A month later, my dad was released from prison, and we were more
determined than ever to attempt our search for liberty once more. It
took about two weeks to build a raft. One night we embarked on the raft
along with seven others and began navigating the seas with wooden
paddles. We paddled for a whole day and suddenly we got caught in a
storm. We tied ourselves to the raft with ropes and fell asleep from
exhaustion. When we woke up, we noticed that we were being taken back to
the coast of Cuba by the rough currents of the storm.
At that instant, it seemed as if all our hopes had been lost, but again
with all the strength within us, we continued paddling assured that
freedom awaited us. We were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and
eventually taken to the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba.
On Jan. 21, 1995, we finally arrived in the United States. At that
moment we felt happier than ever, but there was sadness and anger and
disappointment that in our search for a new life, my father and I had
lost our most valued treasures -- my mother and brother. Yet the first
thing my father and relatives did was fly to Washington and testify
before the U.S. Congress on what has come to be known as the Massacre of
the Tugboat 13th of March, perpetrated by the Castro regime.
Two months after our arrival, life showed us how generous it can be. My
father met an incredibly loving woman who has been a mother to me. A
month later we moved to her apartment and started our new life in the
United States, supported by her unconditional love and guidance.
I will be graduating from high school today. Another dream has been
achieved. To this day, I remember that awful tragedy and I still
struggle with the memories. But I know I have another dream to
accomplish for myself and the memory of my mother and brother. I will go
to college. I will do it in the land where everything is possible -- in
the land where I found something so valuable that people are willing to
risk their lives to obtain it.
It is called freedom.
*Sergio Perodín Jr., a survivor of the 13 de Marzo tugboat massacre, is
graduating from Coral Gables Senior High today.
Cortesy: Francisco Diaz