"LOG OF THE PRIM MERMAID"
(A True Cuban Adventure)
By Ron Carter
Evening of Saturday March 24, l990
At dinner, all the detainees sat together at tables for six and ate a
very good meal. While we were eating, a young officer in uniform
came in and spoke to one of the men sitting across from me. His
friend, who spoke French, said something to anger the officer who
then turned on this fellow, getting up close to his face, shaking
his finger, shouting and making terribly evil faces at him. The
problem seemed to have something to do with the woman cook, who got
between the two men, preventing them from literally fighting it out.
This confrontation definitely made me very uneasy.
I returned to my room and turned on the radio. I could only find
two baseball games in English, the same sports talk-show at
three spots on the dial, and Spanish programs. So I listened to some
classical music on a Cuban station.
It was nine P.M. and too late to take the plane to Miami. I thought
if I got the chance, I'd ask to go to Mexico or Jamaica where I could
probably get into the U.S. without a passport.
I listened to a soap opera in Spanish but could only understand a
One of the other detainees, who seemed to be a trustee, came to my
door and offered me a pitcher of ice water. I said, "Muchos gracias",
and in English, he responded, "Thank you".
There were no windows in my room, but there was an air conditioner,
which I set to blow in fresh air. I went to the bathroom down the
hall where there was a window, but with bars on the outside.
Castro was talking politics on all of the TV channels. I didn't
understand him, so I returned to my room where "Fidel", as everyone
there called him, was on the radio, also. The TV was on loudly so I
heard him in "stereo".
I then discovered, behind a curtin in my room, scrawled in red
letters, the following:
Even though his spelling and syntax were poor, it was obvious that
some previous occupant of this room had been given a difficult time.
It added to my feeling of unease, and getting to sleep, was tough.
Saturday March 24, 1990
I woke from a nightmare a 4:00 A.M. The dream was a vivid one. I was
still incarcerated in Cuba, and for the life of me, I could not come
up with an answer to any of the questions the authorities asked me. I
couldn't even recall a single telephone number. We were trying to
call Key Wests' Mayor, Captain Tony Tarricino, but kept getting wrong
numbers. In my dream I was becoming hysterical.
I finally got up from bed at 8:00 AM. Breakfast was only a cup of
hot chocolate and Cuban coffee. I gave my coffee to the man who had
brought me the ice water the day before. I didn't know how to
contact any authorities, so I waited for a while and hoped that
they would come down and talk to me.
Finally, I was called upstairs and introduced to two Americans from
the Swiss Embassy. They tried to take photos of me with an old
Polaroid camera, but the film was also old and the pictures didn't
I was told that I could accompany these two rather out of place
American diplomats. We drove through Havana to the Swiss Embassy,
which was the former U.S. Embassy, and even still had the American
eagle emblem on the wall at the entrance. We went into the "American
Interest" office, where they succeeded in taking a couple photos,
issuing me a passport which was good for two weeks. I was told
that it was rare to have a US passport issued in Havana, Cuba.
As we left the embassy, the Americans pointed out a large propaganda
billboard placed near the front of the embassy. It stated: "We will
succeed in crushing the imperialists". I had seen many propaganda
billboards along the roads, some even set up in rows like "Burma
Shave" signs, but this was the only one I had seen in neon.
As we drove through town, I occasionally saw a military policeman,
standing unarmed on a street corner. Everywhere there were parked
military vehicles with no one in them. One thing that astonished me
was the presence of vintage, early 1950's American cars. I can't
remember when I'd seen so may '52 and '53 Chevies. I spotted one
being used as a taxi and a 40's vintage Ford passed us. Motorcycles
with side-cars seem to be very popular.
The Americans returned me to the "Immigration Hotel", as they
referred to it, and I was told that I'd be on the plane to Miami
at 9:00 PM. As I entered the building, I saw an officer carrying
an automatic weapon, the only one I'd seen since arriving in Cuba.
Back downstairs I offered the other detainees a Cuban newspaper
I'd gotten at the embassy. I napped after a lunch of fried rice,
mashed potatoes, salad, and a bollo. One of my new friends knocked
on the door and asked if he could listen to a baseball game on my
radio. I guess my room was the only room to have one. Soon there were
eight or more people gathered around listening. We spoke now and
then, and I drew a picture of the Prim Mermaid and a map showing
the trip across the Florida Straits which had landed me in this
situation. One man said he'd been incarcerated for nine days, but
that he expected he'd be leaving after two more. Another said he
had been there only two days. No one seemed at all pleased at being
An officer came in and exchanged cigarettes (the Cuban "Popular" brand)
for American money and soon the room was full of the foulest
smelling smoke imaginable. So I left them to listen to the game and
went to watch TV. "Fidel" was again talking everyone's ears off so I
made the (yakety, yakety, yak) "sign" with my hands and lips and
everyone in the rec-room laughed loudly. After I'd done it, rather
spontaneously, I was a little afraid I'd stepped out of bounds, but
nothing more was ever said about the incident.
At 8:00 PM, I bid farewell to my friends and was driven through
Havana in a police car to Jose Marti Airport, where I was allowed to
make purchases while waiting to board the plane. With American money
I bought post cards, T-shirts, Russian vodka, Cuban rum and Havana
A uniformed Immigration police woman helped me force my way
through a huge pushing crowd, to get to a small exit door
and to the shuttle bus. My bags were never searched. Not in the
airport, or, to my knowledge, at any time. The police woman literaly
escorted me to the plane door, while two policemen in a car kept a
close vigil by the plane. I thanked this woman and asked her to
convey my appreciation to her superiors for the respect I'd been
"My photo taken from the plane of
Jose Marti Airport"
As the plane left the ground, I had a great view of the lights of
Havavna. And at 12:00 midnight, I arrived at Miami International
Airport. The entire flight took only half an hour on this Eastern
charter, so upon disembarking, I said to one of the attendents, "For
$160, I expected a meal". She told me that since the Cubans had to
pay $700 for the same flight, most of which went to Castro, I'd
gotten a bargin.
I was the only American on the plane and went through customs in
less than a minute, at a different station than the Cuban
passengers, and again, my bags were never checked.
Sunday March 25th, 1990
While waiting at the bus terminal in Miami, I spoke with the security
guard and showed him the Cuban newspaper, dated the previous day,
which I'd brought back with me. He told me why he had left Cuba. He'd
been an officer in the Cuban army when teachers were being shot.
His son and daughter are now teachers in Cuba. The gray haired man
who relieved him, also a Cuban, smiled when I told him I'd been to
Bahia Honda. He said it had been his home. I asked if he smoked
cigars and he answered, "yes", as I handed him one of the Havanas.
He breathed in deeply as he passed it under his nose, then smiled
and laid his hand on my shoulder. His eyes got misty and he walked
away to stand alone for a while by the fence.
~ REFLECTIONS ~
Upon returning to Key West, I discovered many things through mutual
friends about the captain of the Prim Mermaid. It was explained to me
that he was wanted by the authorities in another state, the local
Coast Guard was looking for him relative to operating a vessel
while intoxicated, and, to top it off, he'd told people that he
didn't like me! I guess he'd only taken me along to help finance
There were many sailors in Key West, mostly fishermen, who told me
of their recent experiences in Cuba. Only one was not a horror story
and it sounded very much like mine. Washed onto Cuba by a storm, he
was, as I, treated with respect. All the other stories included
tales of jail, beatings, "injections", etc. The men who told me
about these bad trips also told me of resisting being boarded by
the Cuban gun boat crews, using abusive language, and even firing
at the Cubans with small arms.
Everywhere I went in Cuba I was treated with respect, understanding,
and kindness. When I said that I would like to return there as a
tourist, I was invited to the 1991 Pan-American Games in Havana.
The authorities said I would be welcome, but, I could not come from
the US with an American passport. I could only enter from
another country, using my International Passport.
THE END -- "Log of the Prim Mermaid"
Note: International Passports are available from the
World Servive Authority, 1012 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005.
Phone: (202) 638-2662. You can visit their web site at: [www.worldgovernment.org]
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