Concerns for Oswardo

Yoana – Age – Late 20’s; Birthplace – Santa Clara, Cuba; Residence Havana, Cuba (was not permitted to leave the country with Oswardo, her husband); Occupation – Physician; Wife of Oswardo

Dear Franklin:

I’m worried about Oswardo. When he first arrived in Venezuela, he was excited about the newness of it all.  Naturally, he’s never known anything besides Cuba under the current government. So everything is so new to him.  And I know he misses us, but he seems to get more morose everyday.

I fear that he’s feeling some pressure to get a job and follow the working life that he’s never known. I’m not sure what he expected. He always talked negatively about there being no future in Cuba.  Here, there is never anything on the shelves in the stores. One gets a job, and performs it for life, making a basic sum for a meager subsistence. It takes all day to do anything --- to buy food, to find a piece to repair a broken appliance, to find a telephone card, to access the Internet.

It must be amazing to enter a supermarket, a clothing store, or any other retail establishment.  I’ve seen things like that in movies, on the Internet, and rarely on television. It’s funny that in Cuba we can get bootleg movie disks on the street long before they are available outside of movie theaters in the U.S.  We only have a black and white television with rabbit ears, spewing out propaganda of Fidel walking among the people in the countryside. But Oswardo has a computer that his family sent him last year, and we watch movies on it.

But I can picture Oswardo walking through the aisles of a store, wide-eyed.  The only problem is it takes money to buy things, and he does not yet have a means of making money. I’m just worried that it’s more than he expected --- more different than he expected. And I’m not sure he’s coping that well.

I’m sorry to write a sad, concerned note about what everybody thought of as positive – the first step in freeing us from Cuba.  And I’m not saying more, Franklin, since this is for your blog.  But I’m just concerned.

Besos, Yoana

Exchanging Cargo for Precious Human Refugees in Havana

Report from George   Aboard the Shirley Lykes – 

George – Age 70’s. Birthplace – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S.; Residence –– Daytona Beach, FL; Occupation – Merchant Seaman for the Lykes Company, now retired.

Franklin, you asked me to write about the trip to Havana and back on the Shirley Lykes in January of 1963.  I was a merchant seaman in the U.S. for many years.  I began working for the Lykes Company in the late fifties. The ship transported its products, as well as others around the U.S. and the world. We regularly traveled to and from Louisiana, the northeast, including Canada, Panama and the far east  All the ships were named after Lykes family members.  I was assigned to the Shirley Lykes in 1962.  In January, 1963, we began an interesting trip, which we were told little about beforehand. 

I took video of the entire trip, and all the people, and I still find it very moving.

We docked at Port Everglades, and took on a great number of crates and flats of supplies. Our orders were to deliver them to Havana, Cuba.  We also learned that we were bringing back passengers.  We had a medical flag flying, but otherwise, we were the Shirley Lykes, a cargo ship.

As always, the men enjoyed watching and videoing the shore as we arrived near Havana.  I knew nothing about it at the time, but I learned that the Capitolio, which is their congressional building, and looks uncannily like the U.S. Capitol, stood prominently a mile or so inland, but its dome towered above everything in front of it.  We saw other landmarks, like the Hotel Deauville, Hotel Nacional, and other tall hotel/casinos that were off the waterfront.

As we entered the inlet and harbor, we passed the majestic Morro castle, a fort guarding the harbor on the port side, and the other forts and buildings of Old Havana on the starboard.  As we arrived at our dock, a large number of military personnel and government officials stood waiting. Our cargo was unloaded and moved into buildings by forklift.  This took many hours.

We went out into town two days in a row, and I took videos of everything. 

Once the cargo was off and put away, cots and portable toilets were set up in the open cargo hold, shielded from the elements by walls, but with no cover over the middle area.  The toilets were the kind one would put over a real toilet, but in this case, we, the mates on the ship, and medical personnel, attached plastic bags to the bases of the toilets, and placed them in the open area among the neatly aligned cots.

Then people began arriving.  We learned later that they were mostly family of political prisoners, who would be arriving later directly from prison.  Most of the men, and even the boys, wore suits and ties. The women were dressed in beautiful dresses. They carried one or two large suitcases.  Guards stopped and searched them before they got on board, confiscating jewelry and items of value, and usually keeping the suitcases themselves. Prior to their arrival, as part of obtaining a visa to exit, the people were also required to sign over their homes, cars and everything they had. Then a caravan of police cars and prison buses arrived, bringing the prisoners. Some of the people on board, both prisoners an non-prisoners were aged, ill, or injured, and there was medical personnel to assist them.  Some boarded on stretchers. 

The people were happy during the crossing. They applauded leaving and arriving. They allowed me and others to take photographs and videos.  Children played with toys on the cots during the crossing.

Arriving in Port Everglades, family members and officials lined a waiting area.  I managed to get off the ship before embarkation, and videoed everybody arriving on free soil.  Many of the women removed their high heels before climbing down the stairs, so they first touched U.S. soil barefoot.  It took a long time for all to disembark. But it was a joyous occasion, especially for those who had family waiting for them, whom they obviously were not sure they would ever see again. Again nurses and medical personnel had to help the infirm.

I have created some shorter videos of Cuban people arriving at the ship in Havana and disembarking in Port Everglades, Florida. I have pulled out some still shots of the people, and attach a few of them.  Anybody who recognizes themselves or their families, write to the publisher of this blog We will be happy to share more., and would love to hear stories from those who were there.

Editor's Note:

On January 24, 1963, the Associated Press issued the following story regarding the Shirley Lykes trip:

"Hundreds of Cubans Due for Trip to Miami:

Havana (AP) Hundreds of Cubans leaving for the United States aboard the American freighter Shirely Lykes hurried to comply today with the Castro regime's departure requirements.

Under recent regulations they were required to forfeit their homes and automobiles to the state and to pay all utility bills before leaving. they were allowed to take no jewelry and were permitted only three changes of closing.

No sailing time was announced for the Shirley Lykes, originally expected to leave Wednesday night with 900 to 1,000 relatives of the recently released Bay of Pigs invaders aboard.  The Red Cross in Miami said it hoped to announce a sailing date today.

The 400 foot freighter is expected to take the Cubans to Port Everglades, Florida.

The ship reached Havana Friday with more than 7,000 tons of food and medicines as an installment on the ransom for the 1,113 Cuban invasion prisoners freed last month.

The American Red Cross, which sponsored the voyage, flew in a medical team Wednesday equipped with cots and blankets to aid the refugees on the 12 to 14-hour return trip.

Red Cross officials said the delay in departure was due to necessary clearances and internal transportation problems. A Red Cross spokeswoman said many prospective passengers had to travel to Havana from distant points.

The Pan American Airways plane which flew in the cots and blankets returned to Miami Wednesday, as expected, with 100 passengers. ...."

All the photos are of people arriving at the ship, or on the ship preparing to depart.

Report from Franklin Marquez about a Trip to Cuba by Non-Cuban Friends

Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog

Some friends who have never been to Cuba, do not live in Miami, and have no connection or past history with the country recently traveled to Havana as part of a museum trip. The trip was actually organized through a religious group.

I wanted to learn about their impressions, so I went and met with them. As I expected, they visited only tourist areas and did not see the parts of Havana that I did. But their impressions are interesting.

I saw all their photographs, which were much like those I took in the tourist areas. They had photos of El Morro, el Castillo de la Real Fuerza, La Floridita restaurant, Hemingway’s room in the Hotel Ambos Mundo, Plaza de Armas, where people sell books, magazines and propaganda, and there are posters of and books about Ché Guevara, Fidel, and Russian communists. My friends stayed at the Hotel Nacional, which I had only seen from the outside. It was elegant. I saw gardens, views of the ocean from their room, and a lot of sites more beautiful than I saw in my hotel.

They also went to La Playa, where the tourist hotels apparently line the beach, and saw Hemingway’s house. Why didn’t I go to Hemingway’s house when I was in Havana? Because my guide was my cousin, who grew up in Havana under the current regime, and Cubans have always been forbidden, and are now at least discouraged, from going there. The beaches are across the inlet from Havana VIeja, via a tunnel. You have to go there to visit El Morro Castle.

Oswardo had shown me that Cubans swim in the rocky beach near there. But he did not feel comfortable going beyond this area on the road to the beach hotels. Maybe next time I go, I will visit the area, but I imagine it’s not much like Cuba. It could be a resort beach anywhere.

They told me about eating in a beautiful paladar (private home that serves meals under a license), overlooking the ocean. They said the meal was delicious, and they had steak. Although I did have one decent meal in a small paladar in Havana, it certainly was not gourmet food and did not have a view.

They also told me when they were leaving the country they learned that it is illegal for a Cuban to eat beef, and they were surprised about the meal they had eaten. I confirmed that it was true. There is no beef for Cubans, and if they get their hands on some, they’d better be careful having it in their possession. And the aroma of meat cooking would certainly arouse the attention of the neighborhood spies of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. I was told that possessing beef could bring three years in prison.

Report from Oswardo About his Arrival in Venezuela

Oswardo – Age – Late 20’s; Birthplace – Havana, Cuba; Residence In July, 2011 – Havana, Cuba; New Residence as of October, 2011 –Venezuela; Occupation – Student, Computer Science; Husband of Yoana

Hola Franklin,

I am writing from Caracas, Venezuela. As I mentioned a last month, after depositing money I was given, and allowing it to sit for 6 months, I submitted an application for an exit visa, and, after many visits to the government offices, I received an exit visa to leave Cuba. So I am now with family in Caracas, but, sadly, I had to depart without my wife and child. I hope to make a new home for them, and I hope I can get them here soon, but I know it will be years.
Arriving here, I felt like I was in a new world. My relatives picked me up at the airport. I’d never seen anything like the new and spacious Caracas’ international airport. Outside, we got into a newer model mid-sized car, unlike anything in Cuba. We drove on a highway with street signs and few holes, and entered Caracas, which is a huge, modern city with buildings unlike anything I had ever seen.

We arrived at a new condominium building, with grass in the front, gated parking underneath the building, and walls surrounding the complex. It takes a great number of color-coded keys to enter the building. There is a gate to enter the complex from the parking area. Then, there is a gate to enter the elevator area. Then there is a glass door. Then there is the elevator. One needs a different key for all of those doors. Upstairs, one needs a key to open the gate outside the door, and then one for the door itself. The apartment is open and spacious, with new furniture. Everything is new to me. In Cuba, we have one gate, with a padlock, and it doesn’t really matter because the side wall fell down long ago. The Venezuelans laugh at the need for all the security. They talk about the extremely high crime rate. But they have luxury, and something to lose. In Cuba, we have nothing to steal, so there is little crime.
As you will recall, last year when you and I traveled to Santiago de Cuba, I was enamored with bacon and MTV, because I had never seen either. Since I arrived in Venezuela last week, I have eaten bacon, steak, vegetables, and so much more. I have only eaten beef a few times in my life. I love milk too. In Cuba, we can only buy a small amount of milk, because we have a young child. So I could not drink it.

Each night, I have sat on comfortable furniture, in an air-conditioned room, and talked about the past and the future. I miss my wife and child incredibly. But I am looking forward to the future. I’m not sure what kind of work I will be able to do here, but there is hope for the future. I am in a free, or relatively free country, where you can buy what you need, without a ration book, and without finding empty shelves. Well, Venezuela is not perfect, and there are some products that are difficult to find sometimes, but it’s nothing like the way it is in Cuba.

Nos Vemos un día, Un abrazo. Oswardo

Report from Franklin Marquez Regarding a Ship Named Shirley Lykes, and its exchange of goods in Cuba for Refugees

Franklin Marquez – Age –50’s; Birthplace – Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Residence – Miami, Florida, U.S.; Lives with Wife and Children; Occupation – Attorney, Writer, Moderator of the Blog

As you know if you read this blog, I am the moderator of the blog, an attorney who practices in Miami, and a refugee from Cuba, although I departed my country in an unusual way.  Recently, I gave a talk about Cuba at a local library, and one of my law office clients was in attendance. Afterwards, he told me he had a video I’d be interested to see.  I asked him what it was. He said, he wasn’t really sure what the trip was about, but I should just watch it.

He gave me a vhs cassette, which had a soundless video of a ship called the Shirley Lykes loading giant boxes of goods.  Then it showed the ship at open sea, passing buildings that were familiar to me on the Malecón in Havana, and turning into the harbor.  It showed a lot of Cuban military activity around the ship --- many officers, men in suits, nurses, etc. coming into and leaving the ship.  Then the video shows sites from Havana.  Then it shows a number of Cuban people, all dressed up, carrying suitcases, walking towards and entering the ship.  Finally, it shows a number of Cubans disembarking in Port Everglades.

I called my client and asked who these people were. Again, he said he was not sure how they were chosen or what the connection was between what the ship delivered and why it brought back people. I thought of the incredible stories that could be told by them.

I did some Internet research, and found out all about it.  I learned that the Lykes company, so well known in meat production and sales, named all its ships after family members. I found a news reel video.  It shows a lot of the same people who are on the vhs tape, but not all of them.  I searched a little further and did find one Facebook entry from last year written by the husband of a woman and then the woman herself, who was one of the refugees on the ship.

I am working on editing the video, and now my client has told me he has several more.  If anybody reading this blog was on this ship or has anything to post on our site about this exchange and the trip, I would be happy to post it.  Just write to

Here are some links:

The following article explains all about the Lykes company ships.

The following article has a photo of the ship. I also learned from the above article that there were two Shirley Lykes, and the second one was built in 1962.  One photo I found did not appear to be the same ship.  I think the following is.

The following is a video of a news reel:

The web site is interesting --- It has all kinds of videos about historic matters. One can buy the videos.  The video’s opening states that the video was made in January of 1963.  Its explanation states:

“… Supplies unloaded by workers from cargo ship, 'Shirley Lykes'. Supplies as ransom for Fidel Castro's war prisoners. Refugees who are mostly relatives of prisoners boarding the ship. Wounded refugees are carried on litters. View of large number of wounded refugees. Refugees disembarking from 'Shirley Lykes' at USA.”

The following is a Facebook entry by Ralph de la Vega (who it turns out is also a Cuba refugee, CEO at AT&T, who wrote a book called Obstacles Welcome), with an entry by his wife, Maria: 

I learned a lot about Mr. and Mrs. De la Vega from Facebook too. Her post says:

 Maria De la Vega --- Today is the 47th anniversary of myself and many others arriving to freedom in the U.S. on the Shirley Lykes!
January 25, 2010 …”