All of the balseros fell short of their goal, either from hunger and thirst, faulty construction, or, most often, interception by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Americans took them to the Guantanamo base in Cuba, where they were held virtually as prisoners for eight months. The day Clinton and Castro reached their accords, Bosch gained access at Guantanamo to the same people he had interviewed on the same island a few months before, but under entirely different circumstances.
Bosch began shooting in August ’94, when the crisis began. In September ’95, several of the prisoners were allowed to go to the U.S., and by December, the rest followed. Some are taken in by relatives, some helped by local church groups, others left to their own devices. None of the new immigrants has more than a menial job, and even with more material goods, they are as much
second-class citizens in the U.S. as they were in Cuba.
Filmmaker succeeds in presenting their plight from humanist perspective rather than that of an agenda-driven social commentator. He does not, however, shy away from showing horrible conditions in Cuba, or pointing out that
America’s late-in-the-game embrace of the balseros was motivated less by a humanistic impulse than by the balseros’ usefulness as anti-Castro propaganda.
A highlight of the movie is the perky Latino music, written and performed by Cuban singer Lucrezia. The film’s structure — titles introduce characters at various stages of their “journeys” and depict shifts in time — is clever up to
a point, but occasionally becomes confusing. One controversial continuity device is the repetition in song of poignant words from the mouths of the struggling
refugees themselves, like “working, working day and night.” Tech credits are, considering the conditions of the multiple-shoot crew, satisfactory.