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Chapter 1
Socio-Political Situation

 In the spring of 1980, the youth in Havana were involved in the turmoil of rebellion and discontent and I was a part of it. We were the communist generation, the ones who had grown up after the revolution, free from the influences of capitalistic ideas and ways of the past. We were the ones trained to hate the American way of life. We were accustomed to having everything rationed, freedom, food, clothing, and much more. We were a debilitated brainwashed youth, but there was a limit to this conditioning. In the end, a deep weariness manifested itself, caused by false promises and hopes of over twenty years of study, hard work, and sacrifice with no positive outcome.

 Young people rarely hear the advice of the elderly and we were no different. Our parents told us many times about the false promises made by our government. Only after seeing for ourselves that these promises were lies did we begin to listen. Unhappiness brought about by deception, frustration and anxiety were the fuel that caused the embers to burst into flames. A new time had been born after twenty years of incubation. We had, finally started to see clearly; it was better to die a second time than to continue a living death. In Cuba, there is merely sustenance, not life. The idea of overthrowing the government had been extinguished. Too many had died in the attempt, especially after the failure of the invasion of Bay of Pigs. The only option left to us was escape. The obsession to escape from the island burned in us like a fever. At work, at school, and in the streets everyone was talking about the same thing and asking the same question. How do we escape from the island?

 Of course, we had to be careful about talking around others because government agents could be anywhere. The consequences of being discovered did not dampen the desire to achieve our goal. Throughout the years, we had grown accustomed to living in fear. We spoke in whispers for fear of being overheard. We were used to mistrusting our neighbors, fellow workers and in some cases, our own family members. The fear of the police was ingrained in us, and reinforced every time they stopped us for no apparent reason. Always checking our identifications and many times I saw young and old alike taken to jail just for looking suspicious.

 There are more than a few reasons for leaving Cuba. There are many very important ones like the three year mandatory military draft which, when completed is followed by active reserve duty every year. It was common knowledge that the military men were ordered to work in the sugar canes fields for no pay. Then there is the fear of being sent to fight in Angola, Ethiopia, or some other distant country. It was no secret that thousands of Cuba’s young men had died in these distant lands.

 After I finished my studies at a military College/Technical School, I had intended to study engineering. However, I was denied this opportunity since I did not have proof of being involved in communist activities. When I saw the sacrifice of all those years of hard work and study laid to waste, I decided to look for a better future outside of my country.

 The U.S. was the country that I had in mind because the opportunity to continue my studies were greater there, but the only way to reach my goal was escaping. I started talking to a few friends about my ideas and discovered they felt the same frustration about their future as I did. I knew escaping from Cuba was very dangerous, many Cubans went to jail for several years trying to do it, others have been eaten by sharks or are resting in the bottom of the ocean. There were different ways, but the most successful was by navigating to the U.S. through the Florida canal. The chances of escaping on a raft were slim, the shores were closely watched and so was the sea. There are many factors that go into a successful escape such as the weather. We knew storms at sea were dangerous, even for well-equipped vessels. It would be necessary for us to wait for the right moment, when the sea was calm and the wind was blowing to the north.

 First we need a boat. Where could we get one? The most encouraging idea was to steal a speedboat, a daring feat that would produce concrete results if achieved. We began the task of surveying ports and lakes where there were many boats and yachts in good enough shape to navigate the sea between Cuba and Florida.

 The “Voice of America” often broadcasted news about some stolen boat that had been able to escape. Of course, not much was said about the ones who failed. If they did not lose their lives in the process, they faced imprisonment for five years or longer. Most of those who accomplished their escape had some previous experience with the ocean. They were familiar with the movements of the coastal patrol, and were well acquainted with navigation. Although we could count on none of these advantages, we were still determined to try.

 Pedro Alberto and the Cruz brothers, David and Jose Cruz, organized the first plan I became involved with in my home town of El Cotorro, located 30 minutes from Havana. Everyone called them the Cruz brothers because they were together most of time, though they were not related. We had known each other since we were children and had gone to school together. We trusted each other completely. The idea was to rent a small fishing boat for a day and then when we were far enough out to sea, we would kidnap the crew and force them to take us to the United States. We met in David’s house to discuss the plan.

 “Don’t you think that this plan could be considered a terrorist act?” I asked.

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