Cuban Chugs – Escape to the USA

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?

  • Very well said!

  • Excellent points from John Hopkins. Moses and other propagandists tout the Cuban Adjustment Act but fail to mention how that and a plethora of other U.S. laws favor Cubans at the expense of everyone else. The leaders of the 33 Caribbean and Latin American nations that met in Costa Rica last week cringe at that undemocratic favoritism, laws designed to hurt Cuba more than to help encourage Cubans to defect. NBC-TV recently profiled a 7-year-old girl that had reached the U. S. border miraculously after surviving a treacherous journey from Ecuador, including rides atop the infamous death train and managing not to get raped or killed. Mr. Potter, the NBC reporter, interviewed her and asked in Spanish where she was going. She didn’t know but the gorgeous little girl searched into her tiny plastic bag that contained her things. Then she looked up at Potter, embarrassed, and said, “Oh, I forgot.” She then reached into the back-pocket of her jeans and handed him a note. Her destination was to join her aunt in North Carolina. Potter explained that, because the child was not a Cuban who had touched U. S. soil, she was eligible to be deported, as many like her were being deported. Mr. Potter explained to his NBC audience, after asking others in the group about the little girl, that the mother had saved several thousand pay a coyote to get the girl to the U. S. because the mother believed the drug-and-poverty-fueled crime in her country would consume or kill the girl. But the child was eligible to be deported because she was not a Cuban. Any Cuban, questionable adult or not, is home free merely by touching U. S. soil. Every nation in the Caribbean and Latin America suffers from such discriminatory practices related only to Cubans. And no one, including Moses, can justify it or other aspects of the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Torricelli Bill, the Helms-Burton Act, etc. As a democracy loving American, I regret the image the U.S. Cuban policy continues to present to the world, especially to our neighbors in the Caribbean and Latin American. The fact that propagandists feel they do not have to address such undemocratic aspects is appalling. Laws that help and encourage Tony Montana-types and discriminate against innocents such as the 7-year-old girl from Ecuador leave a lot to be desired.

  • It is criminal that Cubans get to stay in the U S while those in countries which are much worse than Cuba like Hondurus , Haiti and El Salvador are sent back. This is hypocrisy at its worse and needs to be stopped soon What the hell makes Cubans so special?

  • “The embargo succeeded in impoverishing the island but NOT in causing a return to FE capitalism.” Capitalism was taken from the Cuban people through armed revolution. “A return” could only be achieved through the same. Unfortunately, Castro disarmed Cuba’s citizens. Many liberal liars claim this to be untrue, but before you embarrass yourself, here is an excerpt from a 1959 Castro speech…”All the arms that were found by the rebel army are stored and locked in barracks, where they belong. What are these arms for? Against whom are they going to be used? Against the revolutionary government that has the support of all the people? Do we have a dictatorship here? Are we going to take up arms against a free government that respects the rights of the people? We have a free country here. … There is no tormenting of political prisoners, no murders, no terror. When all the rights of the citizens have been restored … why do we need arms? …

    We are never going to use force, because we belong to the people. Moreover, the day that the people do not want us we shall leave. As soon as possible I will take the rifles off the streets. There are no more enemies, there is no longer anything to fight against, and if some day any foreigner or any movement comes up against the revolution, all the people will fight. The weapons belong in the barracks. No one has the right to have private armies here.”

    Furthermore, the rest of the world has been free to trade with Cuba, and still they are impoverished. “Normalized Relations”, btwn the US and Cuba will not lift the Cuban people from their oppression without forced, human rights concessions. Look to Africa for historic proof. Oh, I forgot, liberals deny and revise history.

  • The US has immigrants, legal and illegal, from each country on the “State sponsors of Terrorism” list, as does Canada. More arrive here, through Canada, rather than the beaches of Florida. What’s your point?

  • I believe Cuba is on a terrorist list in the United States yet, they allow Cubans to land on their beach and welcome them with open arms. Why doesn’t the US let all terrorist groups into their country in the same way?

  • Is communism and Castro also to also blame for all the mass migration of people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia etc etc…every part of Latin America to the United States?, not sure how being democratic solve any of those problems. China is a totalitarian state and its people are doing better than Cubans. Look at Saudi Arabia, one of the highest standards of living in the World, and its as politically backwards as you can get, women cannot even drive.

    How absolutely stupid of you to think that a system of government (democratic or communist or dictatorships) have any influence on the economic success of a people. It has to do with resources, military might. If you are totally lacking on the military and resource fronts, then your next best bet is to try to run a system that tries to avoid massive inequality. From that sense Cuba and Cubans have done as best as they could with the cards they have been dealt.

  • These people deserve so much better. Why should they be so desperate to feel the need to leave their own country? The revolutionaries who rescued them all those years ago with promises of a better future have not delivered on their promises and far from rescuing the people of Cuba have themselves turned into their jailers. Freedom for the people of Cuba!

  • The Cuban Adjustment Act facilitates the legal immigration of Cuban refugees. However, it is the failure of the Castro revolution and the tyranny of the Castro regime that creates the circumstances that makes taking this risk worth considering. If Castros Cuba offered the kinds of opportunities common to free societies and if the freedoms normal to democracies were available in Cuba, this kind of illegal immigration would be unnecessary.

  • A nicely written, travelogue-style piece of half-truths that requires historical illiteracy, amnesia or getting one’s views only from the anti-Cuban corporate media centered in the U.S..
    The elephant in the room missing from this bit of whitewash is the fact that the now 54 year old U.S. embargo was set into place specifically to impoverish the entire island to the point that the suffering would cause the population to rise up and reinstall free-enterprise capitalism: the 100 year mandate for U.S. foreign policy. capitalism.
    The embargo succeeded in impoverishing the island but NOT in causing a return to FE capitalism .
    At the same time legal emigration to the U.S. was bottlenecked at the USIS where an application to legally emigrate to the U.S. costs half a years pay for a Cuban and entailed an 18 month wait.
    Then came the Cuban Adjustment Act and its “wet foot-dry foot ” policy that allowed admission to any CUBAN floating onto a Florida beach.
    This served to embarrass the Cuban revolution as the many deaths from making the attempt in flimsy craft were widely the counter-revolutionary press which of course refused to acknowledge that were the “wet foot-dry foot” clause of the CAA applied to all nations in the Caribbean and Latin America , you would be able to WALK across all the balseros trying for admission to the U.S. right into Miami.
    The U.S. impoverished and harassed the Cubans , made it hard to emigrate legally, easy but dangerous to emigrate illegally through the CAA and THAT is the real story of the rafters .
    The Klipp article is a lie of omission for whatever reason; a misrepresentation of the reality of the rafters and the underlying causes for their existence.
    Yes, it’s factual as far as it goes but in the end, it is a disservice to the truth .

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