A look back…

Through the eyes of a Mariel refugee:

Argelio del Valle had no plan. All his best ideas had failed him. A 29-year-old mechanic, he had dreamed up several elaborate plots to leave Cuba. But something always went wrong. In the worst instance, he and his friends were caught and put under house arrest.

So when he took a 40-minute bus ride from his town of El Cotorro to Havana in the spring of 1980, he had no plan. He was only curious.

He had heard there was a ruckus at the Peruvian Embassy in the upscale Miramar neighborhood. Days earlier, a bus loaded with 12 asylum-seeking Cubans crashed a bus through the embassy gates, setting off a frenzy that left one guard dead. That morning, in retaliation, Fidel Castro withdrew police protection. Cubans from all over were heading inside. Del Valle wanted to scope out the scene.

But when his bus got to Havana, del Valle realized he had reached a point of no return. He saw swarms of Cubans in the streets. When the driver stopped the bus two blocks from the embassy, everybody bolted – even the bus driver.

For del Valle, it was the chance he dreamed of. He had felt marginalized for too many years in his homeland because he refused to be a Communist true believer. He says the government blocked his educational opportunities and his aspirations of becoming an engineer and routinely harassed him.

So that day, del Valle and his best friend, Antonio, joined the throngs rushing toward the embassy gates.

“I realized that if I didn’t go in at that very minute, I would lose the chance to escape Cuba,” recalls del Valle, now 58, a West Palm Beach auto mechanic. “I knew we were risking getting shot or arrested. But in times like that, when you see people marching so heroically, courage is contagious.”

It was a day like today, 27 years ago this month. Little did he imagine that he would come to take part in a massive, chaotic exodus that would bring 125,000 Cuban refugees from Port Mariel to South Florida shores. And he could not imagine all the dramatic ways his life would change. But he was a chess player, and he knew he had to make his move.

Read the rest of this terrific article here.