A Cuban Rafter Looks Back, 20 Years Later
This story, as told by Pedro Fournier, is part of an oral history series.
I was born in Guantánamo in 1956. I moved to Havana as a teenager to study and ultimately graduated with a math degree. In 1994, I decided take a raft to the United States.
I had to leave Cuba. I had no future there.
I graduated from the University of Havana believing that if I had a good education and worked hard, I would succeed in life. But because I wasn’t integrated enough with the government, there weren’t opportunities for me. So I resorted to selling produce on the streets with my university degree in my pocket. Later, I cleaned floors at the Hotel Inglaterra.
I also wanted to leave because I valued my freedom and found that I didn’t have the freedom to express myself in Cuba.
I started plotting my escape with a plan to try to get through the border fence at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay. On Aug. 1, 1994 I went to my 1-year-old niece’s birthday party in Guantánamo. That was the last time I saw many of my family members, including my father. I couldn’t even tell most of them that I had plans to leave. But it proved too difficult to try to get past security and onto the base.
On Aug. 5, I returned to Havana to find the streets filled with protesters. Several days later, Fidel Castro announced that whoever wanted to leave could go. So I got in contact with a cousin who also wanted to leave and we started working on a raft.
When it was ready, everyone in the neighborhood helped us get the raft on a truck we had rented. They wished us well, hugged us and gave us blessings. Many of the old women cried.
We drove the truck to the Brisas del Mar beach east of Havana. Even the people at the beach helped us get the raft out on the water. A neighbor of mine, who had planned on going with us, backed out at the last minute. And my cousin, who was just supposed to help us get out, ended up coming along.
The day we left was Aug. 30.
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