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.
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.
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.