Boat Found in 2012 Becomes Part of Florida Keys Restaurant Decor

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 by Matthew Diaz

A small boat that carried nine Cubans from Cárdenas, Matanzas to the shores of Florida in 2012 has become a special part of the decor at a restaurant in Marathon Key, according to Univision journalist Javier Díaz.

Images shared by the journalist show the interior of the wooden boat—now displayed at Paradise Cuban Restaurant—still containing the engine, compass, and other basic survival items found inside the vessel.

"What has become of their lives in the United States more than a decade after making this dangerous journey?" the journalist wonders, raising a question that perhaps the protagonists themselves might answer. It appears they are not connected with the restaurant owners.

In the past few decades, hundreds of vessels of all kinds have been found on Florida's shores, each carrying its own story: some with happy endings, others as silent witnesses to profound pain and desolation.

Although these vessels are museum pieces and hold significant emotional value for the Cuban community, Florida law defines them as hazardous boats that cannot remain in the water. They must be destroyed, preferably on land, which incurs public budget costs.

It is prescribed that in the case of boats with a useful life, those who find them can claim ownership, though this involves an administrative process that can take up to four months, with fees reaching around $600.

In 2021, it was news that Matthew Sexton, a Florida entrepreneur, decided to start collecting all types of vessels used by Cuban rafters to reach the state's shores, with the aim of putting them on display.

"I want to do something to tell the story of these men," he declared in a special report published by Telemundo 51.

Sexton even claimed to have met the last 12 Cuban rafters who landed in the Keys before the end of the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy in 2017, saying that one of the vessels he owns was among those.

Cuban Rafters: A Testimony of Crisis

Despite recent years' insistence by the U.S. government that anyone attempting or arriving illegally by sea will not be allowed to stay in the country and will be returned to their country of origin or departure, Cuban rafters persist in their efforts. However, the numbers are much lower than before January 2023, when the humanitarian parole program opened a new escape route from the island.

Migrants who arrive by sea and are detained by the Border Patrol after reaching U.S. soil are processed for return to their country of origin by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), with a five-year ban on re-entering the country legally.

In its latest monthly report, CBP revealed that 19,571 Cubans arrived in the U.S. through irregular means last March. Of these, 5,323 arrived through South Florida (Miami Sector and Miami Field Office), and another 631 through the Tampa sector.

Cuban Rafters and Migration Policies

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding Cuban rafters and U.S. migration policies:

What happened to the Cuban rafters who arrived in Florida in 2012?

The fate of the Cuban rafters who arrived in Florida in 2012 remains unknown. The boat they used is now part of the decor at Paradise Cuban Restaurant in Marathon Key.

What is the Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy?

The Wet Foot, Dry Foot Policy allowed Cuban migrants who reached U.S. soil to stay and apply for residency, while those intercepted at sea were returned to Cuba. This policy ended in 2017.

What are the current U.S. policies for Cuban migrants arriving by sea?

Currently, Cuban migrants arriving by sea and detained after reaching U.S. soil are processed for deportation by ICE and ERO, with a five-year ban on re-entering the country legally.

What is the humanitarian parole program?

The humanitarian parole program, initiated in January 2023, provides a new legal pathway for Cuban migrants to escape the island and seek refuge in the United States.

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