Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this brief story, Vega creates a semi-comical microcosm of the historical and contemporaneous context of several Caribbean islands and peoples. Though the dialogue itself is revealing, the omniscient narrator makes the reader aware of each character’s thoughts, and much of the story’s content and meaning is revealed through those thoughts. Thus the reader discovers that Antenor, the Haitian, is fleeing “famine, the macoutes’ war-cries, the fear, the drought.” The Tontons Macoutes were death squads employed by the dictatorships of Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier to terrorize and control the Haitian populace. When the Spanish speakers band together against him to seize his food stores, Antenor attempts to avoid understanding their commands to move off the box he is guarding, thinking “our undisputed world illiteracy rate might pay off here.” When Antenor later throws the canteen of water into the sea rather than share it with a “Dominican cur,” he thinks “that’s so you’ll remember we invaded you three times.” “Trujillo was right,” shouts Diogenes the Dominican, referring to the massacre of thousands of Haitians by Rafael Trujillo, dictator of the Dominican Republic. The history of dictatorship, oppression, and in the case of Cuba, communist revolution, are all referenced in the dialogue and thoughts of the characters of these island nations, and events on the makeshift boat reveal the ongoing political tensions among the three countries.

Vega raises the issue of race as well. Haitians are typically black, and Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans may be black but are more commonly mixed race. The Spanish speakers repeatedly refer to and denigrate the Haitian’s race, which reinforces the irony of their rescue. The captain of the American vessel is an “Aryan, Apollo-like seadog . . . [with] golden locks and the bluest of eyes” who lumps all three refugees together as “niggers” whom the “spiks” (Puerto Ricans) should assist.

Vega also creates an ironic comic tone through the use of high-flown language. Antenor’s box of food is “the very Ark of the Covenant” whose contents are “the fabled Horn of Plenty.” The narrator in effect enters the story, referring to the refugees as “our heroic emigrés” and denying responsibility for the story: “Don’t ask me how in the hell they kept the sharks at bay.” “Cloud Cover Caribbean” treats a potentially tragic theme in a comedic way.