Floating Cubans


Bill Connelly

Some folks'll do anything to get to that Mt. Dora event! If anyone deserves
to get an honorary membership in the Club, it's probably Marciel and Luis.
Let's hope the Coast Guard doesn't scuttle this Buick like it did the
floating Chevy truck of their first attempt (picture at
http://www.wagoneers.com/pages/History/cuban-51chev.jpg ). In fact, maybe
someone with a saltwater-proofed Amphi should go down and escort them in...

Cubans try to reach Florida in floating car
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Feb. 4, 2004 | MIAMI, Fla. (AP) -- Two Cubans who tried to sail to Florida
in a truck converted to a pontoon boat last year are making another attempt,
this time piloting a seagoing 1950s-era Buick with four other adults and
five children, relatives said.

Marciel Basanta Lopez and Luis Grass Rodriguez, who were sent back to Cuba
in July after they failed to reach Florida in a converted 1951 Chevrolet
pickup, were at the helm of the newest vehicle-boat conversion, and had set
out to sea on Monday, relatives said.

"My uncle is very brave; he is not irresponsible," Eduardo Perez Grass, a
nephew of Luis Grass, said in Havana. "There is no danger to the children.
The car is very safe."

The Coast Guard refused on Wednesday to confirm the status of the tailfinned
car or the origin of photos of it in the water that were broadcast on
television Tuesday. U.S. policy prevents the disclosure of information on
such cases until they are resolved, such as by sending the participants back
to their home countries, Petty Officer Sandra Bartlett said.

Under U.S. immigration policy, Cubans who reach U.S. shores are allowed to
stay while those caught at sea are usually returned.

The Miami Herald said the 1959 Buick was nearly halfway to Key West by
Tuesday evening. Key West is 90 miles from Havana, but it was not
immediately clear where on Cuba the group had set out to sea.

The Buick's doors had been sealed to keep water out and it was powered by
its original V-8 motor, said Eduardo Perez Grass, who was among those on the
earlier attempt to reach the United States on the floating truck.

He said the others on board were Luis Grass' wife, Isora Hernandez, and
their son Angel; Marciel Basanta and his wife, Mirlena, along with their two
children; and a family he identified only as Rafael and Nidia and their two

Relatives in Cuba told Basanta's cousin, Kiriat Lopez, who lives in Lake
Worth, that they knew the men were planning a second escape attempt.

"My cousin isn't crazy. He wants to be free," Lopez told the newspaper.
"That's how crazy he is."

In the Havana neighborhood of San Miguel de Padron, Grass' sister said she
was awaiting news.

"They are very brave," Valentina Grass told the Herald. "When you are so
sure of what you have to do you cannot be afraid."

Last summer, the two men were joined by seven other men, two women and one
small child.

The Chevy pickup they used then was kept afloat by empty 55-gallon drums
attached to the bottom as pontoons. A propeller attached to the drive shaft
pushed it along at about 8 mph.

After the Coast Guard intercepted them about 40 miles off Key West, the
pickup was sunk to keep it from becoming a hazard to other vessels.

Everyone who was returned to Cuba after the modified truck voyage had since
applied for permission to immigrate legally to the United States. But Luis
Grass and Ariel Diego were the only two people whose requests were being
considered by American consular officials here.

Luis Grass couldn't wait, his nephew said.

Although he had that alternative, Luis was desperate," Eduardo Perez Grass
said. "They could still tell him 'no' and he didn't want to live in this
country. Or perhaps he wouldn't be able to take his wife."


Here's the latest on our Cuban buddies from the Miami Herald:

It sounds like the Coast Guard grabbed them again. Let's hope they
haven't already machine-gunned the floating Buick to the bottom, like
they did the Chevy.

Now might be a great time to write the Commander-in-Chief and one's
Congresspeople on their behalf:

To email the President: https://sawho14.eop.gov/PERSdata/intro.htm

To contact your U.S. Congressperson: http://www.house.gov/

To contact your U.S. Senator: http://www.senate.gov/

To contact the Coast Guard: http://www.uscg.mil/mailform/dist-