Cuban Refugee Breaks Down Upon his Arrival at Key West, Florida from Mariel, Cuba During the Mariel Boatlift


The Mariel Boatlift was a mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel Port on the island of Cuba to Florida between April and November 1980. Departure by boat was permitted by the Castro government after several years of improving relations between Cuba and the United States under President Jimmy Carter, a period that coincided with a severe downturn in the Cuban economy. Perhaps as many as 125,000 Cubans made the journey to Florida on overcrowded craft of varying size and seaworthiness. Political opinion in the United States began to turn against Carter after media reports revealed that recently released convicted criminals and mental patients were among those seeking asylum. This image, by photographer and firefighter Dale M. McDonald, shows the overwhelming emotions of a refugee at arriving safely in Key West from Cuba.

Last updated: March 22, 2016