We are going to Cuba. It's taken weeks of preparation. A trip to Cuba involves first getting permission from the government and that involves lots of paperwork. But now our team is in place. There's me. I grew up in South Florida- home to many Cuban exiles. Daniela Royes is our producer.
But it’s our photographer, Gus Alonso, who has the most unique story among us. He was born in Cuba and left when he was just 2 years old. His mother has told him the story of the family’s exodus many times. His grandfather left Cuba in 1961 soon after the revolution. But his mother and father remained. They decided to leave when his older brother turned 14 and was forced to enter Cuban military service. The family knew it was time to leave. His grandfather paid $28,000 for their passage on a boat from Cuba to Florida.
Those of us who grew up in South Florida know it well. It was called the Mariel Boat Lift. It was 1980 and the economy in Cuba was at rock bottom and frustrations on the island were escalating. Thousands left Cuba via Mariel Harbor for Miami or the Florida Keys. The Carter Administration allowed it, until many grew concerned that Fidel Castro was using the boat lift to rid Cuba of its prisoners and mentally ill.
Gus’s mother still vividly recalls the knock at the door on the night they were supposed to leave. She didn't know if it was the government ready to arrest them, or someone taking them to the docks. They had a single suitcase filled mostly with determination. Even though Cuba is just 90 miles south of Florida, the journey took 12 hours and young Gus was sick almost the entire time.
He spent a few months in Miami, then the family moved to Washington Heights and eventually settled in West New York.
Gus has never been back to his homeland and still has two uncles there. We hope for a family reunion. Of course, Gus is fluent in Spanish- Cuban Spanish- and will be a great asset on this trip.
So back to the preparations. We are doing interviews this week with those who know far more about Cuba than I. I am a willing student and would love to hear from you.
Please post a comment below or visit our Eyewitness News Facebook page and let us know your thoughts or questions regarding Cuba. (Just don’t ask me for cigars) And stay tuned, this week we will be posting more blogs as Eyewitness News gets ready to go to Cuba.