It was hot and dark and mosquitoes bit at his skin as 23-year-old Jose Fuente Lastre boarded a raft with eight other men, intent on fleeing Cuba.

Their flimsy vessel built from scraps of metal, wood and inner tubes had failed repeatedly. Oil leaked. The propeller sputtered.

“I’m not going,” Lastre had announced. “It seems we weren’t meant to leave.”

“Don’t be a fool,” shot back his stepfather, Antonio Cardenas. “After trying this hard you have to try again.”

Four of their companions decided it was too risky, jumping out and wading back to shore.

Lastre looked at his stepfather’s wrinkled face. They had invested nearly everything they owned to build the raft.

They switched on the motor taken from a Russian tractor-trailer.

Tens of thousands of Cubans have made the harrowing journey on homemade rafts across the Florida Straits, preferring to risk their lives than remain in Cuba.

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