In all of 1993, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 3,656 Cubans at sea. By July 1994, over 4,700 Cubans had risked their lives to escape the island. Between June 4 and August 4 of that same year, Cubans trying to flee the island had made seven attempts to hijack ferries and other vessels in the Bay of Havana. On Friday, August 5, 1994, thousands of Cubans gathered along Havana’s Malecon after rumors raged through the city that a fleet of boats was coming from Miami to pick up any Cuban who wanted to leave the island. By the end of the month, over 21,000 Cubans of all ages had set out to sea in rafts and boats headed for the United States in what became the largest exodus from Cuba since the Mariel boatlift of 1980. During the Cuban rafter crisis, over 32,000 Cubans left from all parts of the island. The impact of the exodus can be seen in everything from the United States’ “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban migrants, to the Elian Gonzalez affair, to the changing social and cultural fabric of the Cuban community in South Florida.
This August marks twenty years since the Cuban rafter crisis. The Cuban Heritage Collection is commemorating this anniversary with several programs and collaborations between August and October 2014, including:
- Debut of the online exhibition, “Between Despair and Hope: Cuban Rafters at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, 1994-1996”
- Re-launch of the website “The Cuban Rafter Phenomenon: A Unique Sea Exodus” (you can currently still view the original version here)
- Presentation of the Guantanamo Public Memory Project exhibition at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences Gallery in partnership with the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, September to October 2014
- Collaboration on “Exodus: Alternate Documents” exhibition by Aluna Curatorial Collective at the Centro Cultural Español de Miami, September 11 to October 30, 2014
We will be sharing additional information about these programs and related events in the coming weeks. For research materials on the Cuban rafter crisis or to schedule a class visit to the Cuban Heritage Collection focusing on this topic, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.