Balseros in Guantanamo bay, Cuba 1994-1995

Balseros in Guantanamo bay.

On Monday September 5, 1994 I was rescued at sea together with a group of Cubans escaping from the island.  We spent the whole day on a coast guard cutter rescuing other rafters until our boat was full of people.  After the rescue the coast guard took us to a huge ship in the middle of the ocean where we were processed an asked a few medical and basic questions such name and place of origin.

Since I knew English I was able to help the US military in their efforts.  This was known at the time as Operation Sea Signal, Joint Task Force 160. We spend a day aboard this big “mother ship” and after that we were transferred to the USS South Carolina.

The South Carolina was an impressive war ship with nuclear propulsion.  They took us to Guantanamo Bay on this ship, you could feel the raw power of this machine just by standing on its deck.  I found this picture online and I read the ship has been decommissioned.

Also, here is my picture when I arrived in Guantanamo bay, you can compare side-by-side with a picture taken at my old business warehouse in 2006. I was 125 pounds then…

We arrived at Guantanamo Bay on the morning of September 9, 1994, the place looked like nothing you are used to seeing in Cuba.  Guantanamo Bay looked like a well kept and maintained place to me.  The lawns, the buildings and pretty much every thing appeared to be in good condition.

We were further processed and our picture and finger prints were taken.  We were assigned ID numbers and a watch-like device was attached to our wrist, this device had a magnetic strip they used to ID us.  We were assigned to tents and given blankets and other supplies.  At that time we were approximately 35,000 Cuban immigrants on the base.

Read more here

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About Alexis M.

Alexis Martin has more than 12 years of experience in the Guayabera Shirt business. In December 18 2002 Alexis founded an internet store for selling Cuban memorabilia from the pre-Castro era, customers began to inquire about the guayabera shirts and a new business concept was born. became a manufacturer and supplier of guayabera shirts online. Google+

25 Responses to “Balseros in Guantanamo bay, Cuba 1994-1995”

  1. Elisa May 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm # Reply

    Que Dios te bendiga, Alexis! I loved your post and will be thinking of you and your mother this Mother’s Day. Con cariño, Elisa

    • Anonymous May 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm # Reply

      Thank you very much!

  2. Vivian May 3, 2011 at 6:26 pm # Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have a couple of coworkers that have the wrong idea about communist Cuba and this is the kind of story I love to share with them. Take care, Vivian.

    • Anonymous May 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm # Reply


      I know what you mean and it’s a shame. Ask them to go to you tube and search for “mitin de repudio en Cuba” to see what happend to people when they dare to think different.

      Alexis Martin

      • Ytteboop22 November 19, 2011 at 1:27 pm # Reply

        I was also there, only 12, my cousins 8 years old and 6 months old. My family built a boat in a week and off we went. Thankfully, we only spent two days at sea. Guantanamo was not a great place at the very beginning, we were all sick from the dust and barefooted until donations started to arrive. Remember the food? Although, we were better there than in “Cuba”. We decided to leave to Panama and thankfully, conditions were a lot better. We finally arrived to this wonderful country in Jan 1995. My cousins and I worked hard I’m school, went to college and we are all professionals living the true American dream! So grateful to God, all of our experiences and for everyone that in one way or another helped “Los balseros”. Don’t even know how I hound this post but I’m glad. Good luck on all of your future endeavors.

  3. Teresita May 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm # Reply

    Hola Alexis, vivo en Michigan y soy tu cliente y también mamá. Gracias por las felicitaciones. Me alegró conocer tu historia y saber que te va bien. Yo trabaje todo ese tiempo en Guantanamo con World Relief dentro de los campamentos y estoy muy familiarizada con lo que allí pasó. Me alegra mucho que hallas triunfado. Felicidades y que Dios te bendiga

    • Anonymous May 3, 2011 at 6:46 pm # Reply

      Que bien teresita! Yo trabaje con World Relief de voluntario en la escuela, enseñaba Ingles y Computadoras! Tengo hasta un diploma por ese trabajo. Pronto voy a poner un post sobre eso.


  4. Lilia Ramona Crosa Garcia May 3, 2011 at 9:41 pm # Reply


  5. Luis Roman May 4, 2011 at 1:36 am # Reply

    God bless you and all your loved ones. Great story. I am sure that faith carried you through out this period of time in your life. Let that faith continue to live with you each and everyday. By the way I love the Guayaberas , I ordered a dozen 5 years ago for my wedding. Great shirts. Thanks

  6. Productor May 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm # Reply

    Como habras trabajado Brother para tener y lograr todo eso en 17 años, espero que sigas asi on la fuerza del primer dia y con el exito que te conlleva a seguir adelante. Felicitaciones. Muchos saludos desde Argentina!!!!

    • Anonymous May 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm # Reply

      Asi es Amigo Mucho trabajo. Gracias a ti!

  7. Suzette Nelson May 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm # Reply

    Its a great pleasure to see the great success you have accomplished in our shared great United States. Its a great saddness to see our fellow country men in Cuba still in such shameful living conditons. God bless you Alexis. btw I order from your store and I love it. I have my gringo wearing your Guayaberas.

  8. Suzie May 5, 2011 at 9:55 pm # Reply

    It is a pleasure to see a fellow Cuban with great success in our shared United States of America as it is a great sadness to see the filth and horrendous living conditions in which our fellow countrymen continue to live in. Btw, I am a continuing customer of Guayabera Store . As a matter of fact, I have my girngo wearing them and he loves them

    • Anonymous May 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm # Reply

      Thank you very much!

  9. Dmcmartin1 May 7, 2011 at 11:08 pm # Reply

    I was in the US Army and on Gitmo when you were sir! I met people just like me, families, and individuals wanting a better life. I have a picture drawn for me by a Balsero called “rafty”. He drew pictures of the riots and day to day life in the camps. He was a talented artist. I even met one man who had family that lived on the same street as my in-laws in Kendal. I remember around Christmas groups could no loner take the separation from family back in Cuba. They jumped from the cliffs and swam back to Cuba. They would yell there DMPTS (watch like devices) numbers back to us as they left as so to ease our duties of recounting the people still in the camps.
    God bless you and all the who made it to the US. May he keep those who were less fortunate!!!

    Former Soldier

  10. May 26, 2011 at 7:23 am # Reply

    My wife, Sonia Hernandez, got out in early 94. She was the only pregnant women to escape and survive the horrible escape. She was brought to guantonimo bay where she had her son, now 16, fernando has been her entire life. There was one lady Ann or Annie don’t remember which that she had a special connection with. I wish I could surprise her with an old friend…. We have plans on moving back as soon as we can…. I’m sure she would like to here from another escapee….

    • Alexis M. May 26, 2011 at 7:22 am # Reply

      Thank you for sharing this with me. Maybe you can find out for waht organization Annie work for and that way you can start searching for her.

    • May 26, 2011 at 4:15 pm # Reply

      Wrong I was… She got out with u in sept… If anyone nows the whereabouts of this special lady would you please get in contact with me….

  11. Lazarooscarcorrea June 7, 2011 at 10:51 pm # Reply


    • Alexis M. June 8, 2011 at 1:42 pm # Reply

      Thank you! You are right this is the greatest nation of all! I’m very thankfull to this country too.

  12. Lucho July 21, 2012 at 6:42 am # Reply

    I arrived to Guantanamo Bay on 5th september 1994, by then I was 5.6′ feet and 98 pounds. I lost the picture I was taken when I arrived Guantanamo,, Is there a way that I can get my picture fron INS?Could anybody tell me , please?

  13. Azany Nieves September 7, 2013 at 1:05 am # Reply

    I was just a little girl about 7 1/2 years old when i arrived at guantanamo after leaving Cuba in a suitcase or duffle bag AKA as a gusano my mother kept me in until we were far from the coast of Cuba since it was punishable to leave especially with children. We where picked up that same night by a cruiseline that then transfer us to a huge ship that sailed a few days rescuing other Cubans that were left at sea.

    I have been extreamely blessed in my new country and im extreamely in debt to the men and woman that gave me and my family freedom.

    While in guantanamo i met people that would touch my life forever. In our new journey to the states my mother lost the soldiers contacts from a telephone agenda. Since then i have made it my mission to find 3 special soldiers that i must find because i missed them so much and i must tell them how especial they were and continue to be. I wouldnt change that experience of 10 months for anything in the world, in fact i give anything to be able to go back and find them. Find that agenda. I am now 27 years old and continue to search often for them but my memory only takes me so far. I do have pictures and some names and can get the names of the 2 camps i lived those 10 months.

    As soon as i had acccess to the internet i search, i called the red cross as a teen but i got no where. Ive tried the internet and each time i cried but i have never lost hope, and i will never stop searching and tonight my prayers have been aswer to find just one, one soldier that knows another soldier and others that might guide me and help me with litterally one of my lifes buquet list.
    I will post more info as soon as i can get it from my mother and other things that can help make this possible. Im on facebook and my name is Azany Nieves. Im looking for last name Sanchez he was puerto rican soldier and im guessing at the time was 45-55. Also last name Gardner 18-25 he was american redhead,skinny and freckels and had a brother who also served there with him. The 3rd was a young lady at the very begging of the macala camps but i need to think really hard for her name as i was to young and barly remember. I ask for help, if anyone knows any soldiers or remember sanchez and Gartner please let me know, for i must find them to thank them for giving the best memory, lessons anf friendship a child can hope for that would follow me through the person i have been able to become.

    Thank you,

    God bless


    Azany Nieves

  14. Anne June 7, 2014 at 2:55 pm # Reply

    My name is Anne, I was in the USAF and was in Cuba during this time, I was a medic and worked in the camps and the tent hospital. I loved my time in Gitmo and met people who changed my life forever. I have pictures from there with many of the people I met. That is one thing I remember so vividly is they loved to take pictures! I should dig some out and email you. I was lucky enough to have a friend I made while in the camps, he was a Cuban architect before leaving on a raft to find his freedom, he came to my wedding in Florida a couple of years later after he made it to Miami. I want everyone to know how much this experience changed my life forever. It was a tre blessing.

    • Alexis M. June 9, 2014 at 11:15 am # Reply

      Hello Anne,

      Thanks for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts on this matter, Gitmo changed all our lives and we will never forget. I want to thank you for your service, dedication and kindness.

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