Last week I posted on the 25th anniversary of the Mariel boatlift
and how the refugees adapted to and changed Miami. Today's Miami Herald published a touching personal account
from a "Marielito" by the name of Raúl Hernández. Following is the full account:
A collection of small miracles led me to leave Cuba. About 10 months before Mariel, I had requested a transfer back to Havana from my job as a doctor in Pinar del Rio. They didn't like me there because I was living in the parish church. When I opened the transfer document, which I wasn't supposed to see, I was horrified. It said that I was ''ideologically dangerous'' because I was active in religion and didn't deserve career advancement for lack of revolutionary commitment.
Despite that ''recommendation,'' I found a small hospital near my hometown that hired me. After people broke into the Peruvian embassy and there was talk of people leaving, I decided this might be my only chance. So I told the clinic director that I wanted to leave the country and needed a letter from him.
He said, ''Sure,'' but asked me to cover the ER for a 24-hour shift. I was in the ER with a few patients when suddenly I noticed that all the staff had disappeared. I thought, how odd and started hearing noises. It was a set-up. A group came and pushed me into the street.
They had mobilized an entire high school, 700 people or so, clinic staff and neighbors, and I was in the center of this lynch mob. Time suddenly moved really slowly. I took off my white overcoat, so I wouldn't be identified as the doctor, but there was no escape.
People were throwing punches, pushing and insulting me -- ''You don't belong here'' and ''traitor'' were the mild ones. A bus came by, the driver saw what was happening and kept going.
A police car came by. They ordered me into the back seat, took my stethoscope and coat and pulled me out of the mob. Two blocks away, they simply threw me out of the car. At home I told my mom about the mob. I kissed her, then went to a bus stop and was lucky the bus arrived. The bus driver told me: ''Listen buddy, I'm sorry I couldn't stop for you, but the mob would have killed me.'' It was the same bus driver who hadn't stopped.
After three days hiding in Havana, I returned home, and there was a request for me to appear at the local police station. I was thrown into a cell where there were eight common criminals and three concrete ledges that were ''beds.'' Mid-morning they took me to an interrogation cell. On the table was my overcoat and stethoscope. They accused me of abandoning my workplace and taking government property. I told them that the stethoscope was a gift from a nun. One said, ''A nun?'' I said, ''Yes, one of those nice ladies in black and white who prays all the time.'' They didn't like my sarcasm and sent me back to the cell. And more miracles: A few hours later they let me out, no apologies or explanation. Nothing.
During the next few days, Mariel began. Anyone who could prove they were a criminal, antisocial or undesirable would have a chance to get on a boat. One way to get proof was a letter from the head of your neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.
So I went to the CDR head's husband, who really was a wonderful person. I asked him to write a letter saying horrible things about me. He told me he couldn't lie but that if I wrote the letter, he would sign it. And he did.
So I took that letter to the same police station where I had been in the cell, and there were so many people they didn't recognize me. They took my letter and didn't look at my identity papers, which said that I was a physician. That was another small miracle, because they weren't letting any professionals go.
The letter said I was a homosexual, a really horrible thing in Cuba, a vagrant and antisocial. They wrote another letter that was worse, which I had to take to another place where they were processing the ''scum.'' The woman looked at my ID card, but didn't see my work history -- another miracle. She said I was leaving tomorrow. I said goodbye to my mother, but not to my father, who wasn't home.
They put us in a bus to El Mosquito, a concentration camp by the shore improvised as a holding area. Every morning they called the names of those leaving that day and let loose German shepherds on those who wouldn't stand back.
One morning they called my name. They put 137 of us in a small boat. I had to sit at the tip of the prow. We had a bucket to pee. For the first time I saw a little American flag waving, and I cried . . .
I look back and wonder what if I still were a doctor. I might have had more money. But I consider myself rich. I live in a free country and can determine my future. In Cuba I couldn't have done this. I get scared when I see government control, when I see the federal government interfering in profoundly family matters. But I have faith in the system. The Founding Fathers did a good job.