Cuban Chug Boat

Twelve migrants crossed from Cuba to Key West in this makeshift chug boat in September 2021. They landed near the island’s famous Southernmost Point Buoy and U.S. Border Patrol agents took them into custody.

Tampa Bay History Center Collection

Scan Courtesy of Center for Digital Heritage and Geospatial Information, University of South Florida Libraries

Since 1959, the year Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government took power, over one million Cuban nationals have left the largest island in the Caribbean. Thousands fled on Pan American flights, while others boarded watercraft and attempted to cross the Florida Straits. In the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, thousands of desperate crossers boarded mere balsas (rafts) in an effort to get to Florida.

Three Fast Florida Facts

  1. During the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, roughly 125,000 Cubans immigrated to Florida.
  2. The name “chug boat” is derived from the “chug, chug, chug” sound diesel-powered watercraft make as they motor across the Florida Straits.
  3. COVID-19 and political dissent sparked a new water bound exodus from Cuba to Florida in the early 2020s.