Portrait of an Artist

first_imgPortrait of an Artist Portrait of an Artist Cuban painter rafts to freedom Chosen to create portrait of first Cuban American justice The unveiling of a portrait of Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero III was a celebration of the freedom of artist Luis Soler, who escaped from Cuba by raft in 1994, barely surviving the ordeal to become the last Cuban to enter the United States before the “wet foot-dry foot” policy took effect.On March 14, Chief Justice Barbara Pariente’s conference room was packed with white guayabera-clad board members of the Cuban-American Bar Association and President Cori Lopez-Castro. Among the well-wishers were Cantero’s wife Ana Maria, 11th Circuit Chief Judge Joseph Farina, Florida Bar President-elect designate Frank Angones, Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, and Jeb Bush’s general counsel Raquel Rodriquez, who announced: “The governor brings greetings.”But, clearly, the man of the hour was Soler, who had tears in his eyes when he struggled to say: “Thank you to Raoul and his family to trust me.”Cantero, whose parents fled Cuba’s communist regime, wrapped his arms around Soler in a hearty bear hug and delivered these details about the artist who captured his likeness on canvas:“The reason I wanted to do something is not because of me. It was because of this man right here. I thought all of you, all of us Cubans, we are very proud of people like Luis, and the public in general should know about these success stories of Cuban immigrants, exiles who have come to the United States.“Luis was disillusioned with the government in Cuba and its failure to adopt the Glasnost and Perestroika policies that the Soviet Union had adopted in the early 1990s. In 1994, he decided that he had no future and his daughter had no future in Cuba. He decided to leave.“Of course, you can’t just decide to leave Cuba. You can’t just get on a plane. You can’t even just get a visa. Many people don’t get visas. Most people don’t get visas.“So, like many other Cubans, to remember back 13 years ago, 14 years ago, they built a raft. Of course, they couldn’t just build it in their backyard, because they would get caught and get arrested. So they built it inside somebody’s home. the time it was done, they had to knock a wall out just to get the raft out.“Then they left on August 15 of 1994, under cover of darkness. For the next three days they were ravaged by stormy seas and winds. Basically, the raft was torn to shreds. It was only the tires left on the raft that they were hanging from.“Luis was essentially dying with a 104 fever with an infection in his leg; the fish were biting from the flesh in his legs. Three days later, he was picked up by the Coast Guard. And he was air-lifted by a helicopter to a Coast Guard cutter. From there, he was taken to a hospital in Key West. He was almost repatriated at that time to Cuba, sent back to Cuba, except for the intervention of some friendly Cuban-Americans who went to Key West and got him out of the hospital.“And he happened to be the last Cuban to be admitted into the United States before the Clinton administration instituted the policy, which still exists, that in order not to be sent back you have to step foot on U.S. soil. He was the last Cuban admitted before the implementation of that policy.“Since then, Luis has been successful here in the United States. He was later able to bring his mother and his daughter. He went back to Cuba, brought them over here. Since 1999, he has owned his own business, specializing in graphic design and publicity. And, oh yeah, by the way, he paints portraits.“In fact, I think he specializes in making people look better than they do in real life. At least that’s what my JA (Judicial Assistant Lillian Dominguez) says.“I want to thank Luis. And, of course, we thank the entire country of the United States for allowing people like Luis to come in, for allowing him to experience freedom. It’s people that have no freedom, who have freedom for the first time, who never take it for granted and always cherish that freedom.“And I think that’s what Cuban Americans have brought to the United States. They are some of the most patriotic people that you will meet, because they know what it is to lose freedom, to live without freedom of speech, and freedom of religion, and the other freedoms that we enjoy. Luis, thank you very much.” April 1, 2006 Regular Newslast_img read more