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The Mariel Boatlift

Have you heard about the Mariel Boatlift? Ivonne Cuesta came to the U.S. when she was 7 years old, traveling during the Mariel Boatlift 30 years ago. Listen to her personal story about the Mariel Boatlift .

The Mariel Boatlift officially began April 15, 1980 and ended October 31, the same year. The event was precipitated by a sharp downturn in the Cuban economy leading to a simmering unrest and internal tension on the island. On April 1, five Cubans were granted political

Cuban Refugee Boat Sailing for America
Cuban Refugee Boat Sailing for America

asylum at the Peruvian Embassy. This opened a floodgate of refugees, and in a few days 10,000 had assembled in the embassy. Two weeks later, Castro proclaimed that the port of Mariel, west of Havana, would be opened to anyone wishing to leave. The exodus was organized by Cuban-Americans who rushed to hire boats in Miami and Key West to rescue their relatives. Before October 31, in all 125,000 Cuban refugees had reached the shores of Florida.

The Cubans fled to U.S. shores in 1,700 different boats. The boats were overloaded, and many of the boats were packed without considering safety, making some of them barely seaworthy. In all, twenty-seven migrants died, including 14 on an overloaded boat that capsized on May 17.

Not long into the exodus, it was discovered that many of the refugees had been released from Cuban mental institutions and jails, and transported to Mariel by the Cuban government. As a result, many were placed in refugee camps as soon as they arrived in Florida, and more than 1,700 were jailed awaiting deportation hearings. In October 1980, the negative political implications of the boatlift resulted in a mutual agreement between the U.S and the Cuban government, ending the exodus.


  1. Listen to BBC The Mariel Boatlift and connect the sentence fragments in the exercise in the link collection.
  2. Based on the text Fleeing Cuba for a Better Life in the USA and any other relevant information you may find about the Mariel Boatlift, write an essay where you discuss the consequences of the Exodus.