Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Cuban runaways mourn sinking of trusty Chevy truck

AFP , HAVANA

A group of 11 Cubans, who tried to flee to the US by sea in a 1951 Chevrolet truck, have expressed a sense of loss that they were returned home while their beloved truck lies at the bottom of the ocean.

The 11, plus a young boy, were intercepted by the US Coast Guard Thursday, 65km off the US coast as they attempted to reach the US and subsequently repatriated to Cuba.

Their aging, but dependable green-colored Chevy, resting on inflated floats and rigged up so its engine could power a propeller, was sunk by the coast guard who considered it a navigation hazard.

"The truck provided a living to the family, we earned a living by it and then they sunk it. They would not let us enter the United States which was our dream. Now, we have no truck, no work, no money, nothing," Eduardo Perez Graz said from his home in the Diezmero neighborhood south of Havana.

The 25-year old Perez Graz was one of the 11 adults who tried to flee to the US onboard the truck.

Perez Graz, his wife, Isora Hernandez, 25, their three-year-old son, Luis, and eight men and one woman, all under 35 years of age, co-owned the now-famous truck.

The friends had calculated the truck could carry 12 people, supplies, 300 liters of gasoline, water, and other necessities in addition to spare fuel tanks.

"We had made three trips by night in the truck to the Brisas del Mar beach, so the police were suspicious and watching us. However, we armed ourselves and in the early hours we took the truck out to sea," Perez Graz explained.

However, they set course for the US and were making good headway until they were intercepted on Thursday morning by the US Coast Guard.

The coast guard initially promised the truck would not be sunk, and began towing the Chevy behind their vessel.

However, within half-an-hour or so, the coast guard strafed the truck with a high calibre machine gun until it caught fire and sank, saying it had become a navigation danger.

The Cuban truckers were then repatriated to Cuba and returned to their homes.

The group are not seeking publicity or fame, they just wanted the opportunity to go to the US.

"Now, it's going to be difficult to find work here. Nobody will want to hire people that tried to flee illegally," one trucker added.

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