Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Jesus Salgado, “Chinito”, was fished out of shark infested waters from a frail, sinking boat by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol near the Bahamas, back in 2003.  He had finally made his illegal exit from Cuba after a lot of planning, and even after spending a year in prison when a previous plan to escape was thwarted by the authorities. In those days, just thinking of leaving the country illegally was heavily penalized.

Salgado was not returned to the Republic of Cuba by the Americans as he would have been under today’s legislation. Under the U.S. government’s “wet foot, dry foot policy” in force today, he would have been sent home or to a third country since he was found at sea.

Salgado was returned to Cuban soil, but not in the political sense. He was taken to the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base on the eastern tip, where he remained for 20 months working as a mechanic for wages which he saved.  He was then allowed to leave to Honduras, with the same final goal – to reach the U.S.

He traveled through Honduras and Mexico, and finally reached the U.S. border, but not without trouble. On the way he was imprisoned in Mexico for a week, and given a document stating he must leave Mexican territory in ten days. In that time he made his way to the border with the U.S., where he was assaulted by bandits. Luckily his money earned in Guantanamo was well hidden as travelers checks wrapped in plastic and sewn into the seams of his underwear. The bandits were only able to steal his pocket money. “I had small amounts of money in all my pockets, and the main money was well hidden,” he told me with a broad smile.

“My only aim since I left Cuba was to reach the U.S. and work, work, work, and keep working,” he pointed out. “I want to be reunited with my son and daughter in the U.S. Now, ten years later, I have fulfilled part of my dream, I am in the U.S. with my son Chucho. I still can’t believe it, please pinch me,” Jesus said in Miami.