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The Legacy Of The Cortiñas

Photo courtesy of J. Albert Diaz.

Jose Cortiñas of Cuba [shown on left] was inducted in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967 as an Honour Swimmer after completing a 10 hour 45 minute crossing of the Strait of Gibraltar in 1948, failing at the English Channel in 1949 and a relay crossing between Cuba and Florida in 1950, completing a 28 hour 55 minute crossing of the Catalina Channel in 1952 from Catalina to the California mainland, and completing a 32 hour 10 minute crossing of the Catalina Channel in 1953 in the opposite direction.

He also swam from Alcatraz to San Francisco in one hour 14 minutes while being handcuffed and his legs bound.

His son Maybe Angel Cortiñas [shown below] told Carlos Harrison of the Daily Business Review, “Just months after his Alcatraz swim, Fidel Castro came to power. Jose Cortiñas tried to escape by swimming across the Florida Straits. He got caught both times, intercepted by Soviet ships. He died behind bars in Cuba, held as a political prisoner.”

When Angel was five, he moved to Florida, studied hard, graduated from Harvard Law School, became a lawyer and later a judge.

But along the way, water seemed to be a part of the Cortiñas legacy.

He successfully prosecuted Princess Cruises for dumping garbage at sea. The cruise company paid US$500,000 in fines. Later, Cortiñas focused on environmental work for the the Miccosukee tribe and sued the state and federal government to require them to enforce the water quality standards throughout the Everglades.

His reason? “I always wanted to take on the most challenging and complex cases you could take on. At the time, the U.S. attorney was bringing very high-profile, large environmental crimes cases. That was an enormous challenge, and that’s what I wanted it to be a part of.”

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