When you arrive at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, you're greeted with a barrage of billboards with the popular Cuban government slogan promoting tourism: "Cuba, where the past and the present converge."

Perhaps nowhere on the island is that statement more true than in the city of Mariel, about 30 miles from Havana on the northeastern coast.

Mariel port is strategically located at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, facing the United States. In the 1980s, it was the exit point for 125,000 Cubans who were desperately fleeing to Florida, some of them with assistance from the U.S. government. The Soviet Union was collapsing, and its aid to Cuba was withering. That, coupled with decades of U.S. embargo, was causing the island's economy to nosedive...

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