The Salt Lake Tribune
May 07, 2004

'Balseros' shows the perils and progress of ex-Cubans dealing with life in U.S.

By Sean P. Means
The Salt Lake Tribune
   Crossing the waters from Cuba is only half the story in this documentary.
   Not rated, but probably R for language, drug use and some sexual situations; in Spanish with subtitles;
   120 minutes.
   The documentary "Balseros" begins with some of the most compelling footage you may ever see -- that of poor Havana residents in 1994 lashing together inner tubes, sheet metal and planks to build makeshift rafts to float from Cuba to Florida, all unconcerned if Fidel Castro's thugs are watching or not.
    But what is even more compelling about "Balseros" is that directors Carlos Bosch and Jose Maria Domenech didn't stop telling the story when these Cuban refugees arrived in the United States. Instead, they follow several of these immigrants through a journey nearly as perilous as the Caribbean crossing -- the journey toward making a life in America. Film Finder
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    Cuban life was getting particularly desperate in 1994. Castro's communist state was still an oppressive failure, and Cuba's sugar daddy, the Soviet Union, was crumbling. Many Cubans took to the sea in rickety rafts. Some (called "balseros" for the name given to their rafts) were turned back by the ocean, and others drowned. Those who did make it close to Florida were caught by the U.S. Coast Guard and -- under orders from President Clinton -- shipped to the U.S. Navy's base in Cuba, at Guantanamo Bay. Later, Clinton relented and let the Guantanamo refugees into the United States.
    Bosch and Domenech follow several of these refugees, each with an amazing story. Guillermo wants to reunite with his wife and daughter in Miami after five years apart. Oscar is leaving a wife and daughter behind in Havana, but intends on bringing them to the States later. Juan Carlos and Misclaida, a married couple, make the crossing and get set up in Hartford, Conn., while Misclaida's sister Mericys raises money for her raft by turning tricks on Havana's streets. Rafael finds Jesus somewhere along the way to Florida.
    "Balseros" is a vibrant documentary, boldly expressive in the way Cuban singer/composer Lucrecia Perez puts the refugees' words to song. The movie moves from hope to disappointment, showing how some find success (and added body weight) in the United States while others cannot shake the demons they endured back home. This is a movie that shows normal life can be as tough, and as gripping, as rowing across a dangerous ocean.