—by taxi—after attempts at floating truck, car fails
By Madeline Baro Diaz
Posted March 22 2005
MIAMI—After trying to first float to the United States in a 1951 Chevy truck and then in a 1959 Buick, a Cuban family has finally made it, this time by taxi.
Luis Grass Rodríguez, 36, his wife, Isora Hernández Hernández, 27, and their son, Angel Luis, 5, arrived in Miami on Sunday, more than a year after their second unsuccessful attempt.
“I had a desire to leave Cuba, to live in a place where I wouldn’t be bothered, where my children could have a better future and, above all else, freedom,” said Grass, who made it to Texas in a cab from Mexico this month. “Unfortunately, that does not exist in Cuba.”
The Grass family was among the Cubans who made headlines in July 2003 by using a vintage vehicle as a makeshift boat. After their second unsuccessful attempt in February of last year, the U.S. Coast Guard took them to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
After 10 months, U.S. officials relocated the Grass family to Costa Rica in December, and from there the three made their way to Mexico, where on March 12 they took a taxi across the U.S. border at Brownsville, Texas. They asked for political asylum, and federal immigration officials admitted them into the country.
Grass, a mechanic, recounted how he and his friends made his Chevy amphibious, assembled it on a beach and launched it in the middle of the night. Cuban Coast Guard officers saw them, but could not believe their eyes, Grass said.
The Chevy, tied to 55-gallon drums, was 40 miles from South Florida when the U.S. Coast Guard stopped them and sank the Chevy as a hazard to navigation. The Coast Guard later did the same with the Buick. Losing the Chevy, Grass’ means of support on the island, broke his heart as well.
“It’s criminal that they sank it,” Grass said. “I see my truck ... as a symbol of freedom, a way of allowing the world to understand why people in Cuba are desperate enough to invent a floating truck.”
After they were repatriated, Grass said, Cuban authorities accused him and childhood friend Marcial Basanta, who went with him on the first trip, of being agitators, he said.
Basanta, Grass, Rafael Diaz Rey, and their wives and children then tried to flee in Rey’s Buick.
After they were intercepted, again, lawyers in South Florida asked a federal judge to review screening procedures for Cuban immigrants caught at sea. The judge ultimately determined he had no authority to admit the Cubans into the United States. By then, the Basanta and Rey families had been repatriated and the Grass family was on the way to Guantánamo Bay.
Under the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, Cubans who make it to U.S. soil are allowed to stay. Those intercepted at sea can be repatriated unless immigration officers determine they have a credible fear of persecution if returned.
Immigration officers determined the Grass family had such a fear and sent them to Guantánamo Bay to wait for another country to accept them.
They went to Costa Rica in December, but knew it was not their final destination.
Wilfredo Allen, attorney for the Grass family, said the family would seek permanent residency through the Cuban Adjustment Act.
Once he settles into his new life, Grass hopes to build a replica of his floating truck and donate it to a rafter museum. He hopes the 11 other people who helped build the Chevy boat will be there with him to help. Two of them have made it to the United States, but the rest are still trying to leave the island.
“Just like we did it in Cuba, to be able to do it together,” he said.
“Once we are about to donate it to the museum, I would like to test it by floating it out to sea.”