A Small Cuban Town Lives With The Anguish Of The Disappearance Of 13 Rafters
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 April 2017 — Juana Chiroles will never
forget December 26, 2015. It was the last day she saw her son and her
two nephews. As night fell the young men told her they were going to
kill some pigs and had a rope and several implements. They never
Some days later she heard the news from people in the town: her
relatives were among the 13 young people who left on a raft that night
for the United States. Since then, the mothers of the small town of
Modesto Serrano with 1,300 inhabitants in Artemisa province, “don’t
sleep, don’t eat,” thinking about the fate of their family members.
The official silence and the absence of news suggests the worst, but
Juana maintains the hope that her son is alive and will return home.
I’m a guajira with dirt on my feet and a little rough. I’ve never seen
the internet and I don’t know anything about computers,” she says
modestly on a static-filled call from a cellphone.
The woman, 54, explains that “you have to walk around to find cell
Since the disappearance of her son, Alien Quintana Chiroles, 32, and her
two nephews, Julián and Ronaldo Chiroles, 26 and 36 years respectively,
they have done their best to find out about any rafters intercepted by
the US Coast Guard United States, she says.
However, they have not been successful. Their relatives sailed when the
well-known wet foot/dry foot policy was in place that allowed Cubans who
touched American territory to be accepted as refugees.
President Barack Obama ended this policy last January, during his last
days in office, and since then the US Coast Guard has only intercepted
about 100 Cubans who were trying to cross the Florida Straits. A figure
very far from the almost 10,000 who tried to escape the island by sea in
“A week after the people left, we started to hear they had arrived in
Florida. Since then we learned it was a lie,” she says sadly.
Besides the Juana Chiroles’s son, those on the precarious boat included
Ronaldo Chiroles Évora, 26; Orlando Santos Lazo, 45; Alberto Rodriguez
Beltrán, 27; Yariel Alzola Cid, 27; Leandro Évora Salazar, 41; Ailetis
Llanes Padrón, 33; Eduardo Cano González, 40; Wilson González Piloto,
26; Yordan Ramos Hernández, 27; Dariel Mesa Arteaga and Luis Arrastria.
“A month before they left, a similar boat with people from the same town
arrived in Miami. That was what twisted their heads and they went away
hoping that they would also experience the same fate,” says Juana.
The US Coast Guard, for its part, said in a letter addressed to this
newspaper that they also have no records on these rafters
A spokesman for the US Customs and Border Protection Office told
14ymedio that they do not have any information in their records that
matches the names of the disappeared.
“What the families of the rafters experience is very dramatic. We have
hundreds of reports of unresolved disappearances,” explains Ramón Saúl
Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement, an organization of the
Cuban exile that assists its compatriots.
“We have asked the United States government to establish a protocol to
identify the bodies. So far, it does not exist and the bodies remain
unidentified in the morgues until they are buried in mass graves,” says
Sanchez recognizes that after the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy
the number of cases in which his organization helps has decreased
substantially. However, he is concerned that what causes Cubans to try
to escape from their country remains.
“President Obama (by ending the asylum policy for undocumented arrivals)
created the figure of the undocumented Cuban rafter, who won’t show his
face because he is afraid of being deported. We know that there is a
dictatorship in Cuba, that is why Cubans escape and it has not been
solved,” he says.
Last summer half of the crew of a raft handmade on the island
disappeared in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and only the mummified
remains of one of the rafters was found. The body carried the identity
cards of two brothers who were among the crew of the boat.
Between 2015 and 2016 there was a significant increase in the number of
rafters. “In the village of La Máquina, [a nearby area], several boats
left until the police took action on the matter,” says Juana.
Her son tried four times to reach the United States. In one of his
attempts he was picked up by a ship that delivered him back to the Cuban
authorities. After paying a fine of 3,000 Cuban pesos, he continued to
plan his next trip.
Juana studied engineering with a specialization in sugar chemistry, but
was unable to exercise her profession following the collapse of the
island’s sugar industry. She lives with her husband and cares for her
younger brother, Felipe, affected by Down syndrome.
“I have a daughter and a seven-year-old granddaughter, my son Alien’s
daughter. Her name is Alice Flor Quintana. Every day I tell her about
her dad and I show her his photo so she will not forget him,” she says.
Convinced that “the love of mother can do anything,” Juana called on the
Cuban authorities to confirm that the rafters had not been arrested for
illegal exit from the country. They told her no and they also did not
know of any shipwreck in the days after the disappearance of her relatives.
“My hope is that at least they are at the Guantanamo Naval Base,” says
the mother, knowing that rafters picked up by the US Coast Guard are
often taken there. But 14ymedio has been able to corroborate that they
are not there.
“My son is very beautiful and a great person, he is always happy,
please, if anyone has seen him or knows where he is, help me find him,”
she says, her voice breaking.
“The agony is immense. It has been a year since he left, but the pain is
like the first day he left,” she concluded.
Source: A Small Cuban Town Lives With The Anguish Of The Disappearance
Of 13 Rafters – Translating Cuba –