A man who gained attention while trying to reach Florida aboard a 1959 Buick converted into a boat was among 20 Cubans held by U.S. authorities who were granted refugee status in Costa Rica, authorities said Wednesday.
A group of twenty Cubans who have been held at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, arrive at the Juan Santamaria International Airport outside San Jose, Costa Rica, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2004. (AP Photo/Kent Gibert)
The Cubans were transferred this week from the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay Cuba to Costa Rica.
Luis Grass Rodriguez first attempted the trip across the Florida Straits in a seagoing Chevrolet pickup in July 2002 and was sent back to Cuba. He tried again the following February, this time in a converted 1959 Buick sedan, and U.S. officials brought him to Guantanamo.
U.S. officials first asked the government to accept the 20 refugees last summer, shortly after they arrived at Guantanamo along with a larger group of rafters, all of whom originally had set out for Florida.
Grass Rodriguez and several others went on a brief hunger strike in September to protest their detention while awaiting the chance for asylum.
Costa Rica chose the 20 arriving Wednesday based on personal interviews with government officials, said Rogelio Ramos, this country’s foreign minister.
The refugees include a medical anesthesiologist, mechanics, and tourism experts among others, Ramos said, adding, “We’re talking about a majority of people with very high education levels.
The United States has agreed to provide financial help to the refugees while they adapt to life in Costa Rica, Ramos said.