Monday, July 6, 2009

The boat-car czar

Cuban mechanic Rafael Diaz

Rafael Diaz just wouldn't give up.
In 1994, the intrepid mechanic turned a 1947 Buick into a boat and tried crossing the Florida Straits. The Coast Guard caught him, sent him home and sunk his craft.
Diaz tried again in February 2004, retooling a 1959 Buick and steering it toward Florida. But the Coast Guard nabbed him again.
I met him at his home right after that.

Diaz explains how the 1959 Buick worked.
The plans

Diaz told me that 11 people were aboard the Buick car-boat when it left Cuba on Feb. 2, 2004. The Coast Guard intercepted the unusual craft the next day. Diaz told me:
We almost made it, too. We could see the shoreline.
Nivia Valdes Galvez told me she admired her husband's dedication. She said:
He’d spend 12, 14, even 16 hours a day working on that car.
Some Cuban-American leaders in Florida said the vintage Buick belonged in a museum, a reminder of the lengths Cubans go to reach the United States.
But the Coast Guard said the car had to be destroyed because it was a hazard to other vessels. Diaz said:
They tried to sink it, but it wouldn’t sink. It was a strong car. A boat captain called me and ask, ‘What’s inside that car?’
Diaz said he had pumped more than $1,000 in foam into the car’s nooks and crannies, which allowed it to float. Coast Guard officers had to shoot at it and fill it with water to force it below the surface.
If Diaz and the others aboard had reached Florida, they planned to drive to a relative's home in Lake Worth, Fla. The Buick still had its tires and was fully functional on land.

Diaz' beloved 1959 Buick

When I met Diaz in 2004, he said he would try reaching Florida again using another car. And he made good on that promise.
In June 2005, he converted a 1949 Mercury station wagon into a boat and set off through the shark-infested waters.
The Coast Guard caught him for a third time and sank his boat, which had been used as a taxi in Cuba.

Miami NBC video grab showing Coast Guard stopping the 1949 Mercury used in the 2005 attempt.
Source of car-boat photos: Floating Cubans

But the third time was the charm. This time around, Diaz and his wife and their children were taken in for questioning and admitted to the United States.

Cuban officials say migrants risk their lives at sea because of a U.S. law that virtually guarantees residency to Cuban migrants as long as they reach American soil.
A May 2009 Congressional Research Service report says changes in U.S. immigration policies toward Cuba are "not imminent" or "likely to be easily achieved."
But the U.S. and Cuba have have agreed to hold new talks on migration.

Links:
May 2009 CRS report, "Cuban Migration to the United States: Policies and Trends"
Floating Cubans Web site, a tribute to Cuba's truckonauts
March 23, 2009 - $100,000 replica of fabled seafaring Chevy unveiled

1 comment:

MartinUthero said...

what a great and inspiring story about this ordinary person with a good idea and dedication made a boar out of a blue viagra online color car to cross illegally to a country where his future was, unfortunately he did not make it, but still it is a nice story