More Cubans Attempt Dangerous Journey To The United States Across The Strait Of Florida – .

More Cubans Attempt Dangerous Journey To The United States Across The Strait Of Florida – .

ORLANDO NODARSE, CUBA – Zuleydis Elledias has been up every morning for the past two months hoping for a phone call, a message – news about the fate of her missing husband and nephew at sea after the boat they were in capsized while trying to reach Florida.

Another half-dozen families in the small town of Orlando Nodarse, 55 kilometers west of Havana and near the port of Mariel, live in the same uncertainty.

“Due to the pandemic, my husband lost his job. Many places closed and he had been home for over a year. Every time he went to his workplace, they told him to wait. And that made him desperate because we have a 2- year-old son, ”Elledias, a 38-year-old housewife, told The Associated Press in tears.

Cuba is seeing an increase in unauthorized migration to the United States, fueled by an economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic, increased US sanctions and cuts in aid from its also crisis-ridden Venezuelan ally. This led to shortages of many commodities and a series of protests that rocked the island on July 11.

And the legal means to leave were strained by the near-closure of the US consulate by the Trump administration in 2017 following a series of mysterious illnesses among diplomatic staff that some believe could be the result of an attack – allegations that Cuba bitterly denies.

Most Cubans who want to try a US visa now have to travel to embassies in other countries – and getting there is nearly impossible due to sharp reductions in air traffic during the pandemic. Most can’t afford the tickets anyway, unless relatives abroad can pay them the money.

This prompted many Cubans to launch into the sea on small boats or rafts to attempt the dangerous crossing of the Straits of Florida to the United States.

The US Coast Guard recently said it has intercepted 595 Cubans at sea since the current exercise began on October 1. be deported, ending a long-standing policy of granting asylum to those who have reached mainland.

This is still low compared to the nearly 5,400 stops at sea in 2016 or the dramatic crises of 1994-1995 and 1980, when the Cuban government temporarily stopped trying to block departures and tens of thousands left. en masse. Thousands of people have died in the ocean.

It’s also still much smaller than the current flow of those who have somehow made their way to the mainland and headed north. The US Border Patrol had registered 26,196 Cubans attempting to enter the United States undocumented between October 1 and June 30, most by land.

In addition to her husband, driver Fernando Quinones, 45, Elledias is also awaiting news from her nephew, Ismel Reyes, 22, who worked on a farm.

They were part of a group of 18 men and two women who left Cuba for Florida on May 25. The boat sank the following night and the survivors were rescued by the US Coast Guard approximately 18 miles southwest of Key West. The search by sea, land and air took days.

“Something happened, I don’t know, the currents, the boat rocked. The US Coast Guard has rescued eight people alive, found two bodies and there are 10 people missing, ”Elledias said.

Among the survivors were four cousins ​​of Elledias, some of whom have already been repatriated to Cuba.

Elledias, his sister Sudenis – Reyes’ mother – and other Orlando Nodarse residents who spoke to the PA all agreed that the risky decision to travel to the United States was triggered by the economic crisis and difficulties in obtaining a visa.

Cuban historian Alina Barbara Lopez noted that two previous mass exoduses by sea were sparked by crises and that Cuban authorities opened the borders as a kind of relief valve in the face of social pressure.

In 1980, as disgruntled Cubans flocked to the premises of foreign embassies in search of visas, Fidel Castro opened the port of Mariel to people who wanted to leave and 125,000 Cubans rushed north, triggering a political crisis to the government of US President Jimmy Carter.

The disastrous economic fall of the early 1990s following the collapse of Cuban aid to the Soviet Union led tens of thousands to take to the seas in inner tubes, makeshift rafts and hijacked boats. So too, many died.

But now Havana is “trapped” because it cannot open its borders because of the migration agreements signed with Washington following this crisis, she said.

Meanwhile, Cuba’s economic reforms have only been superficial, Lopez said. The economy remains stagnant.

“All of this makes the underlying political foundation of this crisis much stronger than in previous crises,” she said.

Cuban officials acknowledge there are “symptoms” of a possible migration crisis, but say it could be turned off if President Joe Biden keeps his campaign pledge to drop Trump’s tougher sanctions, which were aimed at try to oust the Communist Party from power, and resume the dialogue launched by former US President Barack Obama.

“The current situation is the result of a number of negative factors,” said Jesus Perz Calderon of the United States Department at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry. “Firstly, the deterioration of the economy following COVID-19 (…) but at the same time the resurgence of an economic blockade war against Cuba by the United States. “

Jose Ramon Cabanas, former Cuban ambassador to the United States and current director of the Center for International Policy Research, said the two countries have put in place instruments to prevent an exodus to Florida,

“There are agreements in force but they are not fully implemented,” Cabanas said.

The United States had provided 22,000 visas per year to Cuba for two decades until 2017, when Trump froze relations. The closure of the consulate made visa applications almost irrelevant for most Cubans.

In addition, in early 2017, Obama eliminated the policy known as ‘wet-dry feet’ which allows Cubans who have reached US shores to stay, usually as refugees, while those captured at sea are returned. .

Returning to Orlando Nodarse, Elledias hopes a miracle will bring his loved ones home.

“I would tell people who are thinking about this option (of crossing the Strait of Florida) not to do it, that it is not a safe road. There is no money in the world that can pay for this suffering that we are going through, ”she said.


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