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(The text below was written by Dr. Raúl Hernández, the Executive Director of the USCC in Miami, who was responsible for resettling the rafter children of Guantánamo. Dr. Hernández is no stranger to dangerous exit from Cuba having arrived via the Mariel sea exodus in 1980. He also experienced camp life at the U.S. Army base at Indiantown Gap, PA.)

 

In the lingo of the US Navy “Gitmo” is the nickname used to identify the US Naval Base in Guantánamo.   The facility, located at the entrance of Guantánamo Bay in southeastern Cuba, is completely surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire, land mines and armed Cuban border guards.       

During the summer of 1994 more than 30,000 Cuban “rafters”, including hundreds of children were interdicted by the US Coast Guard and taken to hastily constructed “camps” at the naval base. These camps were nothing but small parcels of bare land devoid of trees, or even grass, surrounded by rows and rows of barbed wire.   The Cubans were placed in tents within the camps and told they would not be allowed to enter the US…ever.

They had risked their lives in search of freedom but instead found barbed wire, indefinite detention and no hope.   The emotional reaction to this hopeless geographic and moral environment is precisely what is graphically reflected in the children’s drawings:

A boy’s dashed hopes of freedom, crying behind a barbed wire fence and thinking of the word “freedom” crossed by a line; “why do I have to be here if there is freedom and sunshine just the other side of this dreadful fence?” … a rainbow growing out of flowers towards the sky like a giant multi-colored Christmas tree, but stuck within a barbed wire collar; “do rainbows breathe? Can they still fly across the sky with sharp barbed wire blades pulling it down? Could I ever fly out of here?” …a plane flying to freedom over the base’s fence while a tiny child looks from behind more barbed wire; “and why can’t I be in that very plane?   Where is that freedom I was promised when we floated out of Cuba?   If they had only let me out of this fence I could have reached that plane on time!”… Another rainbow over the Statue of Liberty (hope springs eternal)…a boat goes away and escapes over clean clouds…yes, hope springs eternal…

Eventually, all the children and their relatives were paroled into the US but their detention was long, and psychologically harsh in their “official” hopelessness.   However, the price of the eventual freedom given to some was even higher for the many who would try afterward because – to this day – most of them are repatriated and delivered to the hands of the same dictatorship they had tried to escape.