20 Years After the 1994 Cuban Raft Exodus

Two decades ago, in the midst of rioting and anti-government protests in Cuba, Fidel Castro announced that 'whoever wanted to leave, could go'—indicating that his forces would not prevent refugees from fleeing the country. More than 35,000 took the opportunity to leave, most heading to the United States. Men, women, and children packed into small boats and makeshift rafts and set off for Florida in the largest exodus from Cuba since the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. Reuters photographer Enrique de la Osa recently caught up with some of those 1994 refugees in Miami, photographing them at work and at home in their new country, 20 years later. [20 photos total]

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1
Cubans leave their country in a makeshift wooden boat during a mass exodus of rafters in this August, 1994 photo. In mid-August 1994, after a string of boat hijackings, unprecedented rioting and the killing of a Cuban navy lieutenant prompted President Fidel Castro to suggest that those wanting to leave, could. Over about five weeks, more than 35,000 Cubans took Castro at his word and sailed away on makeshift rafts while authorities stood by. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia) #
2
On September 7, 1994, people on a Havana street throng around a large raft as it is secured on the top of a truck before being transported to the beach to carry more refugees away from the country. (Doug Collier/AFP/Getty Images) #
3
Unidentified Cubans lower a raft into the water in this August 19,1994 photo, preparing to leave the Cuban coast in Cojimar, near Havana, during the 1994 mass exodus. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia,) #
4
People launch a makeshift boat into the Straits of Florida towards the U.S., on the last day of the 1994 Cuban raft exodus in Havana, in this September 13, 1994 photo. (Reuters/Rolando Pujol Rodriguez/Files) #
5
A Cuban man runs desperately to reach one of the last rafts to leave from Brissas Del Mar Beach, Cuba on September 11, 1994. The man was able to board the raft. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) #
6
In this August 24, 1994 photo, Cuban refugees stranded on a makeshift raft float in the open sea about halfway between Key West, Florida, and Cuba, as the exodus from their homeland continued. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk) #
7
Members of the U.S. coast guard scramble to rescue a group of Cuban refugees after their raft capsized some 25 miles off the coast of Cuba on August 31, 1994. (Doug Collier/AFP/Getty Images) #
8
The Coast Guard Cutter "Monhegan" races away carrying 223 Cuban refugees rescued in the Florida Straits August 24, 1994. The 110-foot cutter was taking the refugees to another ship to be dropped off at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantanamo Bay. (Reuters) #
9
In 2014, former Cuban rafter Luis Soler, 53, poses with the two Emmy awards he won as creative director at the Univision TV network, in Miami, on September 23, 2014. Soler said he spent five days adrift with other migrants in 1994 before being picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
10
Former Cuban rafter Yanepsi Santos (right), and her daughter Shirley, pose at the National Medical Institute, a school to train medical personnel that she owns and runs in Miami on September 14, 2014. Santos was a fourth-year medical student and six months pregnant with Shirley when she climbed into a raft in 1994. She spent three days at sea under constant rain before being picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and taken to Guantanamo Base, where her daughter was born. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
11
Former Cuban rafter Pedro Brea, 50, poses while working as a municipal garbage collector in Miami on September 18, 2014. Brea said he spent three days clinging to a sinking raft in the middle of a storm when a U.S. Navy frigate picked him up from the sea in 1994. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
12
Former Cuban rafter Jose Ramon Velazquez, 60, poses in one of his optical stores in Miami on September 22, 2014. Velazquez said he was a radiologist when he decided to climb into a makeshift boat with 22 other migrants in 1994. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
13
Former Cuban rafter Gricel Gonzalez, 37, at the campaign headquarters of Democratic candidate for the governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, where she works as a communications director in Miami on September 14, 2014. Gonzalez was 16 when she boarded a boat in Cuba with her sister, mother and stepfather to try and reach the Guantanamo Base during the 1994 Cuban Exodus. She said that at night they heard a man crying for help for a pregnant woman, but they never saw them. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
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Former Cuban rafter Hanoi Lopez, 39, in the yard where he works as mechanic at a public school bus company in Miami on September 15, 2014. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
15
Former Cuban rafter Moraima Alfonso, 51, in the America TV dressing room where she works as a makeup artist in Miami, on September 17, 2014. Alfonso said she spent ten days at sea and was suffering hallucinations when she was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1994. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
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Former Cuban rafter Faustino Jose, 60, poses in his jewellery store in Miami on September 16, 2014. Faustino, who was an industrial engineer in Cuba, said he studied all of Thor Heyerdahl's books about rafting before building his own and leaving Cuba in 1994. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
17
Former Cuban rafter Tomas Curbelo, 51, in the headquarters of his electrical contracting company in Miami on September 18, 2014. Curbelo said he was jailed in Cuba for being a member of the opposition Democratic Solidarity Party. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
18
Former Cuban rafter Sergio Lastres, 49, at an exhibition of his work based on the 1994 Cuban raft exodus in Miami, on September 19, 2014. Lastres and his wife were among 15 migrants rescued when their raft filled with water in 1994. They were taken to Guantanamo Base where he painted his first work about rafters, he said. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
19
Former Cuban rafter Veronica Cervera, 42, in her office where she works as a sales representative for a major book publisher, in Miami on September 15, 2014. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #
20
Former Cuban rafter Carlos Hernandez, 45, in his workshop in Miami on September 18, 2014. Hernandez said he was a youth baseball star in Cuba when he decided to climb into a catamaran in 1994 and head for the U.S. (Reuters/Enrique de la Osa) #

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