MIAMI - The Coast Guard said it was deterring copycat efforts when it sank a 1951 Chevrolet pickup that was converted into a boat by a group of Cubans hoping to reach the United States.
Rear Adm. Harvey Johnson, the Coast Guard's district commander, told the Miami Herald editorial board Wednesday that if the pickup had been salvaged from ocean waters instead of sunk, it would have been a monument that encouraged similar efforts.
The truck was "an encouragement for people in Cuba to think they need to make it to the United States," Johnson said.
The truck-raft carrying 12 Cubans was kept afloat by empty 55-gallon drums attached to the bottom as pontoons. A propeller was pushing it along at about 8 mph.
The nine men, two women and baby were at sea for 31 hours and got to within 40 miles of Florida before U.S. Customs sighted them last month. The Coast Guard returned the group to Cuba and sent the truck to the bottom of the sea with machine gun fire.
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, called the decision to sink the boat "pathetic."
"What that Chevy would have represented was the struggle for freedom," Garcia said. "Not some kind of incentive for people to leave."