In May 1980, Fidel Castro opened the harbour at Mariel, Cuba, with the apparent intention of letting some of his people join their relatives in the United States. Within 72 hours, 3,000 U.S. boats were headed for Cuba. It soon became evident that Castro was forcing the boat-owners to take back with them not only their relatives but the dregs of his jails. Of the 125,000 refugees that landed in Florida, an estimated 25,000 had criminal records.
Castro stood atop the high podium as he delivered his speech. "They are unwilling to adapt to the spirit of our revolution," he was shouting in Spanish. "We don't want them! We don't need them!" The crowd gathered in the square cheered in approval, waving large homemade signs showing their love and dedication for their leader above their heads. Castro surveyed them emotionlessly.
Thousands of Cubans boarded the small boats that were to be their passageway to America. Armed Cuban guards herded the refugees onto the boats with megaphones. Young, old, it did not matter – everyone who wanted to was leaving Cuba for good. When the ships were full to the brim with passengers, all 3,000 of the cramped fishing-boats set sail. The children waved up at the escort of U.S. military helicopters as the fleet crossed the Straits of Florida. A young father spotted the American flag on the horizon and pointed it out to his 1-year-old son. As the boats arrived at the docks, their Cuban occupants cheered with joy. American soldiers directed them off of the boats where they were submitted to a weapons search before being shown into large tents, where small single beds had been set up for each of them. Most of the weary refugees, tired by the journey over but happy that they had finally arrived in America, fell asleep the moment their heads touched the pillows.
South Miami Beach Docks, Government Office
"Okay, so what d'you call yourself?" asked a government agent. His question was aimed at one of the many Cubans who had been brought into the nearby government-owned offices for questioning, a man of average build and height with short black hair and a nasty-looking scar on the left side of his face. He wore a blue and brown Hawaiian t-shirt.
A translator repeated the question in Spanish. "Antonio Montana," the man replied. "And you? What you call yourself?" He grinned widely, and the translator walked over to lean against the wall behind him, marking off something on a clipboard as he did so.
Where'd you learned to speak the English, Tony?" asked a second agent.
"In a school," Tony replied. "And my father, he was from United States." He pointed to the second agent. "Just like you, you know? He was a Yankee." Realising that more was expected of him, he continued. "He used to take me a lot to the movies, you know? I learned. I watched the guys like…Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney." He smiled again. "They teach me to talk. I like those guys. I always know one day I'm coming here, United States."
"So where's your old man now?" asked the second agent.
"He dead. He die. Sometime, somewhere."
"What about your mother?"
"She dead, too."
The second agent marks off something on his own clipboard before he speaks again. "What kinda work you do in Cuba, Tony?"
Tony shifted uneasily in his seat. "Oh, you know, things. I was, uh…this, that. Construction business. I work a lot with my hands. I was in the Army."
"Any family in the States, Tony?" asked the second agent. "Any cousins, brothers-in-law?"
"Nobody," Tony replied. "Everybody's dead."
"Ever been in jail, Tony?"
Tony looked shocked. "Me? Jail? No, man…no."
"Ever been in a mental hospital?"
"Oh, yeah. On the boat coming over." Tony grinned and watched as the agent walked behind him.
"What about homosexuality, Tony? You like men? You like to dress up like a woman?"
The agent circled Tony and walked back to the desk. Tony slowly turned to look over his shoulder questioningly at the translator/agent behind him "What the fuck is wrong with this guy, huh?" He asked, pointing with his thumb at the agent in question. "He kidding me or what?"
"Just answer the questions, Tony," the third agent replied. He walked over to the desk and placed his clipboard on it.
"Okay – no," Tony replied. "Fuck, no."
"Arrested? For vagrancy? Marijuana?" began the second agent.
"Never, man," was Tony's reply.
Tony paused for a moment, and looked the agent in the eyes. Then he shook his head. "No."
The first agent walked around to Tony's left side and used his fingers to indicate his scar. "Where'd you get the beauty scar, tough guy?" he asked. "Eating pussy?"
Tony looked up at him. "How am I going to get a scar like this eating pussy, man?" He smiled again. "This was when I was a kid, you know? You should see the other kid – you can't recognise him."
"And this?" The agent suddenly lunged across Tony and pulled his right hand up so that they could both see it. Tattooed between the thumb and forefinger was a small love heart with a pitchfork through it. Tony looked at it.
"What, that?" he said. "That's nothing. It's from my sweetheart."
"Sweetheart, my ass!" the first agent said viciously. "We've been seeing more and more of these. Some kind of code these guys used in the can. Pitchfork means an assassin, or something." The agent let the hand drop and squatted down beside Tony. "You wanna tell us about it, Montana, or d'you wanna take a trip to the detention centre?"
Tony looked around at the three agents gathered in the room, and lied through his teeth. "Okay, you got me." he said. "I was in the can one time." He leant backwards. "For buying dollars. No big deal."
"That's pretty funny, Tony," said the first agent, standing back up.
"It's true," Tony replied, raising his eyebrows. "It was a Canadian tourist."
"Hmm – what'd you do, mug him first?" The agent looked up at the two men standing in front of him. "Get him out of here!" he shouted.
Tony realised what was happening just as the second and third agents yanked him to his feet. "So I fuck up!" he yelled, fighting to free himself from his captor's hold. "Let me talk to this guy." He said. "Please! Let me talk to him a minute." He succeeded in freeing himself and began talking to the first agent. The others stood on either side of him, ready to grab him if he tried to run.
"You a communist? Huh?" Tony asked the first agent, who he realised was the commanding officer because of the ID badge slung around his neck. The officer stared at him.
"How'd you like it?" Tony continued. "They tell you all the time what to do, what to think, what to feel. D'you wanna be like a sheep? Like all those other people?" He began imitating a sheep – "Baaah! Baaaah!"
"I don't have to listen to this bullshit!" exclaimed the commander, sitting down at his desk.
"You wanna work 8, 10 fucking hours?" Tony shouted, "You own nothing, you got nothing? D'you want a chivato on every corner, looking after you, watching everything you do? Everything you say, man?" He paused for a moment. "Do you know I eat octopus 3 times a day? I got fucking octopus coming out of my fucking ears!" He slapped his hand against his ear a couple of times to elaborate on this point. I got fucking Russian shoes, my feet's coming through! How'd you like that?" Tony lowered his voice. "What d'you want me to do, to stay there and do nothing? I'm no fucking criminal, man. I'm no puta or thief. I'm Tony Montana, a political prisoner from Cuba. And I want my fucking human rights – now." He thumped his hand on the desk. "Just like the president Jimmy Carter says. Okay?"
The third agent walked over to talk to his commander. They both kept their eyes fixed on Tony. "Carter should see this human right. He's really good." He looked at the man beside him. "What d'you say, Harry?" he asked.
"I don't believe a word of this shit!" the commander replied. "They all sound alike to me. That son of a bitch Castro is shitting all over us. Send this bastard to Freedom Town. Let them take a look at him. Get him out of here."
Tony smiled as the agent came back to help the other one get him out. "Wait a minute, you know something?" he said to the commander. "You can send me anywhere. Here, there, this, that – it don't matter. There's nothing you can do to me that Castro has not already done -"
"Get him out of here!" the commander yelled again, and Tony was dragged from the room before he could finish.
Government Bus #1157, Interstate 95
The bus had no air-conditioning. Tony had realised that as soon as he had stepped inside. Even with the windows rolled down as far as possible, the temperature stayed at around 60 degrees Celsius. Amongst the scorched Cubans sat Tony and his friend Manny. Manny wore a burgundy jumper with the sleeves rolled up and as always had his hair slicked back.
"So?" asked Tony.
"So?" replied Manny.
"What'd you tell them?"
"I told them what you told me to tell them. I told them that we – I was in sanitation. They didn't go for it."
Tony looked at him blankly for a few seconds. "Sanitation?" he repeated.
"Yeah," Manny assured him.
"I told you to tell them that you was in a sanatorium, not sanitation." Tony acknowledged the bewilderment in his friends face. "Sanitation. Yeah."
"Wait a minute, you didn't tell me that," Manny said in confusion.
"No," replied Tony, "I told you to tell them that you had TB and you was in a sanatorium. You was cured."
Manny thought back for a minute. "When did you tell me that?"
Tony put his head back against the seat. "You should've kept your mouth shut," he said. "They would have thought you were a horse and let you out."
The bus drove on, drawing ever closer to Freedom town.