Cuban Chugs at Marquesas Keys
Cuban Chugs at Marquesas Keys

Photo Feature by Bill Klipp

HAVANA TIMES — Under the cloak of darkness along the northern coast of Cuba small groups of men, women and children climb into their makeshift homemade boat, called Cuban Chugs as friends and family wish them luck and shove them off to sea. Their journey will be dangerous and unpredictable as their crude vessel chugs along trying to make the 90 mile trip across the treacherous Florida Straits.

Cuban Chug
Cuban Chug

Their hope is first to survive and second to make land in Florida Keys, for if they are intercepted on the waters (“Wet Foot”) between the two countries they will be deported back to Cuba. But if they are lucky enough to make it ashore (“Dry Foot”) in the Keys the US Policy called “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” will provide them with asylum and qualify them for expedited legal permanent resident status and eventually US Citizenship. This treatment is unique to Cuban Refugees and not available to any other migrants.

The Chugs come in all shapes and sizes and are truly makeshift vessels using car engines, small diesel motors even lawnmower engines. Some are made from scrap wooden pallets wrapped with tarps, duct tape and injected with foam, others may be made from metal or may even utilize automobile bodies. They are a testament to Cuban ingenuity and creativity, but reflect great desperation as the journey comes with great risk to life.

Cuban Chugs on Marquesas Keys
Cuban Chugs on Marquesas Keys

They are primitive and crude at best and far from seaworthy. Stuffed between the desperate bodies are small bags or backpacks containing their only possessions, sacks of water bottles, small amounts of food, fuel and some spare parts. When they land they will be picked up by the US Coast Guard or US Customs and transported for processing and a new life in Miami. While the numbers are not readily available there are easily several thousand Cubans who have attempted this trip.

Traveling with little to no navigation skills the Chugs take wildly various journeys some landing on the tourist beaches of Key West while many others end up on one of the many uninhabited remote mangrove islands that dot the Florida Keys. When they are picked up by US Authorities they are required to leave all possessions behind, sometimes the Coast Guard burns the boats but in any case the result is piles of liter and garbage on these pristine remote islands.

My Cuban Chug photo gallery has images of all types of Chugs as well as some of the contents abandoned by these brave desperate travelers trying to escape what had to feel like a hopeless situation. Hopefully the US relations with Cuba will be normalized and its people treated like our other Caribbean neighbors until then it seems more and more Cuban migrants are heading out to sea.

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.


11 thoughts on “Cuban Chugs – Escape to the USA

  • Durante el año fiscal 2014 se registró el mayor número de cubanos que arribaron o intentaron llegar a los Estados Unidos en la última década.

    Según consigna El Nuevo Herald, el total de ciudadanos de la isla que llegó al país del norte fue de 20.300. En esa cifra están incluidos aquellos que alcanzaron las costas de la Florida, quienes ingresaron a través de México (17.459), así como los que fueron interceptados

    Ese número de salidas es similar a la cantidad de visas que el Gobierno de los Estados Unidos otorgaanualmente a los cubanos en virtud de un acuerdo migratorio que se encuentra en vigor.

    If you can believe the Herald 20,300 Cubans arrived on the coast of Florida in 2014 and in 2007 18,200 entered the US the same way.
    Could you please provide numbers of illegal immigrants arriving in US thru Canada?

    My point is the US makes it easy for Cubans to enter the US on one hand and on the other says they are a bunch of terrorists. I realize the reason for this is to undermine the government of Cuba.

    I know someone who is Canadian who got a job working for the pro hockey and pro basketball teams in Atlanta Georgia in the marketing department but after one year her green card was revoked because the government said there should be someone in the US who could do the job so she had to leave. The US government treats illegal Cubans better than legal Canadians..And we’re not on your terrorist list, or are we?

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