The Mariel Exodus

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jul 03, 2010

"We on this continent should never forget that men first crossed the Atlantic not to find soil for their ploughs but to secure liberty for their souls."
Robert J. McCracken

For those of us who were born in the United States, we can have a tendency to take our freedom for granted. We travel with ease between states. The only documents we need are a driver's license and perhaps proof of car registration and insurance. Unless we are doing something illegal, we really have very little to fear from law enforcement officials. 

Life is not like that in many other places. I will always remember the military check points in Nigeria where they checked all of our papers every 20 miles or so. The stern manner of the soldiers with their automatic rifles put everyone on edge. I never knew if they were there to help us or harm us. 

I also remember Checkpoint Charlie, that famous border crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin before the wall came down. The way the East German soldiers walked on the bus taking our passports and checking every nook and cranny for possible stowaways was enough to freeze the blood of any American traveling abroad. We could only imagine what would happen if even the smallest thing would go wrong. 

But we just don't live like that here. And for those of us who grew up in "the land of the free and the home of the brave" we don't always appreciate what some people go through to experience our freedom. 

Rodolfo Licea was only 19 years old when he was arrested and imprisoned as a political prisoner for speaking up against Castro and his leadership of the Cuban people. He spent the next few years incarcerated and after getting out of prison, his life was hard. 

Mark-Anthony, Rodolfo Licea's son, says his father couldn't find or maintain a job. As soon as he found work, the authorities discovered his criminal record. He was harassed constantly and law enforcement followed him everywhere. 

This terrorization eventually caused him on Christmas Eve after his incarceration to try to take his life by driving a long cooking knife into his belly and pulling it upward like the "honorable suicide" that the Japanese were known for during times of war. 

Yet, in spite of these adversities, Rodolfo Licea survived. In the spring of 1980 he qualified to depart Cuba through the Mariel Boat-Lift. With the hope of freedom and a better life he made the most difficult decision to leave his family behind and go to America. 

On May 10, 1980, a day after his 27th birthday, he trekked from eastern Cuba to Havana on the western part of the island. Four days later in a boat with a capacity of seven, he and thirteen others set sail for the land of opportunity. The over-packed motor boat experienced complications fighting the wind and waves of the Caribbean Sea. The motor broke at night fall and with every wave the risk of capsizing was imminent. 

After a very long and life-threatening night, at daybreak the U.S. Coastguard rescued them and brought them safely to America. From that humble beginning, Rodolfo Licea went on to become a U.S. citizen, earn a college degree and work for nearly two decades as a Federal Government Auditor. When he stepped on American soil he knew no one; he had nothing; and he knew not one word of English. 

The story of the Mariel Exodus can be found in the Miami-Herald (April 17, 2010) where it describes the harrowing story of more than 125,000 Cubans who left from Mariel, Cuba, over a six month period. Those Mariel refugees went on to be perhaps the fastest immigrants to integrate economically of any immigrant group in U.S. history. 

In 2009, Rodolfo Licea's son, Chris, and in 2010, Mark-Anthony, his other son, graduated from Valley Forge Christian College. Their entire family gives God the credit for bringing them to the U.S. and for blessing them beyond measure. 

When I shook the hands of these two outstanding sons of Rodolfo Licea, I realized again why Moshe Dayan said, "Freedom is the oxygen of the soul." 

God bless America. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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