Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Cubans didn't invent Styrofoam

The Cubans didn't invent Styrofoam

When Dupont invented polystyrene foam back in 1941, the first ones to implement the use of this new water-tight, airy substance was the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1942 they designed the first six-person raft made out of Styrofoam. Five decades later, Styrofoam, which keeps our coffee warm and our bike helmets secure, has joined the list of consumer products that some consider politically incorrect. After all, according to Oprah, Styrofoam takes 2,000 years to decompose.

Yesterday, a U.S. surveillance aircraft spotted a makeshift, seven-foot Styrofoam vessel 51 miles south of Marathon. It wasn't a U.S.C.G. raft that may have slipped off a mighty cutter, but a Styrofoam boat cradling a Cuban man that had been adrift for 25 days (see Alfonso Chardy's article in the Miami Herald, p. 3B). Just when we thought the balsero thing was over.

The rafter crisis wasn't a 1990s/Special Period phenomenon. The first raft discovered by the U.S.C.G. was back in 1959, just months after Castro's Revolution. The raft that ignited the desire to do something for rafters back in 1990, when Brothers to the Rescue was formed, was also a Styrofoam raft, a carved-out ark cradling the dying body of Gregorio PĂ©rez Ricardo. He didn't make it, but thousands of others did.

They keep coming. Change their immigration status, detain them in their own back yard, send them back to be terrorized by neighbors, shoot down some planes, die at sea--it doesn't matter. They keep coming, escaping a world where everything is politically incorrect. At a time when desperation in U.S.-Cuba relations has so many on opposing sides, it seems like Styrofoam may decompose faster than the Castro brothers.

Luckily for the man found yesterday, it didn't.

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