chapter  3
54 Pages

The Mariel Floodtide: Mass Escape

KeyWest,Florida,inmid-Aprilof1980,wasinclamorouschaos,likea latter-daygoldrushtown.Cuban-Americanswarmedthedockswithfists, pockets,briefcases,suitcasescrammedwithcash.Boatownersleapedtothe opportunity,charteringorevensellingtheirboatstothehighestbidders. Storeowners,too,profitedastheirshelveswerebrisklyemptiedofeverythingfromfoodtofuel.InCuba,CastrohadjustopenedtheportofMariel, andAmericansreactedwithakiridoffrontierriotousness.Thesealanes werechokedwithboatsheadingtoCuba.FromWashingtonhadcome threatsthatboatsreturningfromCubawouldbesubjectedtofinesorseizure,butCubanexilesandboatownersalikefreelyignoredthewarnings. TheCoastGuard,whichshouldhaveseizedtheillegalboats,hadallit coulddotorescuedisabledboatstoosmalltomakethetrip.