WORLD Despite failures, brothers keep trying to escape Cuba
Between them, the twins have tried to get to the United States six times.
SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL
COJIMAR, Cuba -- On a white wall above his bedside table, Dennis Perez Lorente has sketched out a rough nautical map he hopes will one day lead to a new life across the Florida Straits. Penciled, swirling lines indicate currents, which loop up from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico before washing out into the straits above Cuba.
Arrows show the degrees that separate his coastal hometown of Cojimar from Miami, which is written large on the map across Florida, as though any other destination were beside the point.
Guided either by a secondhand compass or by the sun and stars, Perez Lorente and his identical twin brother, Jimi, have tried and failed to cross the Florida Straits together on homemade boats four times since April 2003. Jimi Perez Lorente has attempted two additional trips without his brother, but with the same result: repatriation.
Thin and tanned, with sinewy arms and angular faces, the 24-year-old brothers are friendly and disarming. But when they describe their frustrated plans to leave Cuba, showing careful drawings of homemade boats and a model raft made from strips of foam and paper, they grow serious and resolute.
Four X's scattered across the map mark the spots where their trips have come to an end.
Both the U.S. and Cuban coast guards have intercepted the brothers. They have been stranded by their boat's battered engine six miles out at sea. Last August a passing American oil tanker picked them up so close to Miami they could see the city's lights. On the brothers' wall map, the crossing seems short, but the 90 miles to U.S. shores are fraught with obstacles.
"You have to evade the Cuban coast guard, the helicopters, fishermen who inform on you and also the American coast guard," Jimi Perez Lorente said. "You really have to want to make it."
And he does.
"After going to so much trouble I can't just sit at home and say I'm not trying anymore," he said.
A quote, borrowed from a song and written large on the wall across the map, puts it another way: "Only those who one day fight for freedom are worthy of it."
The brothers were only 14 during the rafter exodus that sent more than 35,000 Cubans to the seas in the summer of 1994 after President Fidel Castro announced his government would no longer stop boats or rafts leaving Cuba. Thousands left from Cojimar, a small fishing village of modest concrete and wooden homes perched on a hill overlooking a small bay five miles east of Havana. Like many residents, the brothers remember the tide of rafters, or balseros, who descended on the craggy beaches with carnivallike euphoria, hammering together boats from sheets of zinc, inner tubes and scraps of wood, barely stopping for food or sleep.