View Full Version : Cubans Try to Reach Fla. in Floating Car

lucky wilbury
02-04-2004, 01:30 PM

Cubans Try to Reach Fla. in Floating Car

Feb 4, 12:04 PM (ET)


The U.S. Coast Guard is seen intercepting a group of Cuban migrants sailing towards the Florida Straits on a modified 1959 Buick Tuesday February 3, 2004. The pilots were the same two men who tried to sail a converter 1951 Chevy flatbed truck to the U.S. last year. Nine other migrants, including wives and children. (AP Photo/photo released by CBS4 )

MIAMI (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 nine other people, including five children, relatives said.

Marciel Basanta Lopez and Luis Gras Rodriguez, who were sent back to Cuba in July after they failed to reach Florida in a converted 1951 Chevy pickup, were allegedly at the helm of the newest vehicle-boat conversion.

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.

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."

He said the group left Cuba on Monday night. "They've been waiting the past two weeks for good weather," he said.

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

"They are very brave," Valentina Gras 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.