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Posted June 12, 2008 by publisher in Cuban Americans

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(original title: High-speed escape) |

Greater optimism at home has not stopped the exodus to the United States

WITH Fidel Castro formally out of office and some signs of greater optimism among Cuba’s citizens about the possibility of social and economic change, you might expect fewer people to risk their lives by seeking to escape the island by sea.

Not so, apparently. The number of Cubans trying to smuggle their way into America is the highest it has been for more than a decade. The United States Coast Guard says that over the past eight months 3,846 Cubans have made the trip—a 7.5% increase on last year’s already high figure for the same period. Of these, around 40% (1,577) were intercepted at sea, an increase of more than a quarter. In the whole of the last (American) financial year, ending in September, 7,693 sought to flee to the United States, more than half of whom managed to avoid detection. But 3,197 were intercepted at sea, the highest number since the “rafter crisis” of 1994, when 37,000 were caught.

“There is sort of a silent exodus taking place from Cuba,” says Ramón Saul Sánchez, leader of Democracy Movement, a Miami-based Cuban advocacy group. Despite the transition of power from Fidel Castro to his brother, Raúl, many Cubans have little expectation of big changes on the island. American restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba have added to their sense of desperation.

Yet the spike in the number of Cubans seeking to leave may have as much to do with an increase in organized smuggling as with economic despair. In the past, Cubans made the crossing—just over 100 miles (160km) between Havana and Key West—in home-made rafts. These days, they travel in speed boats hired in Miami by relatives paying up to $10,000 a head for the trip.

Cubans have also discovered a new route to freedom, crossing the sea to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, then making their way overland to the border with the United States. Under American law, these so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” Cubans are allowed to stay if they make it to their objective. Those picked up at sea are nearly always repatriated.

Until recently, the trafficking of people was virtually ignored by American officials. But prosecutors in Miami have now begun to get tough. Over the past two months, 41 Cuban-Americans have been charged with attempting to smuggle hundreds of Cubans into Florida by boat. Investigators started to pay greater attention after several drownings cast an ugly spotlight on the trade. The Coast Guard says that 36 Cubans died at sea in April alone. In one incident last November, as many as 40 people from a single village in Cuba, including a dozen children, are believed to have died. Rear-Admiral David Kunkel, the Coast Guard’s district commander, recently appealed to Cuban exiles to “put the criminals who engage in human smuggling out of business by not using them”.

In an attempt to stem the flow, America’s State Department has accelerated its visa procedures for Cubans seeking to be reunited legally with their families in the United States. But the escalation in smuggling has had one positive outcome: American and Cuban coast-guard officials are now co-operating to try to stop the trade—one of the very few areas where the two countries do work together. “It really is in no one’s interest to let this continue,” said one American official.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on June 12, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    1. ...recently appealed to Cuban exiles to “put the criminals who engage in human smuggling out of business by not using them”.

    That’s like telling drug addicts that they can put the drug dealers out of business by not buying drugs from them.

    So, that’s a pretty stupid thing to say for a Rear Admiral. Apparently he doesn’t really understand the Cuban American community.

    I feel bad saying this but the wet foot dry foot policy is simply a pressure relief valve. I’m guessing the good people who venture across the Florida Straits are willing to risk their life so they can have a better live… outside of Cuba. If they didn’t have the opportunity to get US citizenship, maybe they would stay in Cuba and fight.

    Imagine if ALL the Cubans who were granted exile under the wet foot dry foot policy had to stay in Cuba. That’s a lot of people. Now imagine that no one in Cuba could get remittances from relatives in Miami.

    WOW. You’d have a lot of pissed off Cubans and I’ll bet you Cuba would be a different place today if there was no wet foot dry foot or remittances.

    A great number of Cubans would have risen up to Fidel long ago.

    2. Raul’s reforms are giving Cuban’s more freedoms. To some Cubans that means getting the hell out of Cuba, simple as that.

    When the hell is this stupid US Cuba policy going to end? Next year? Right, that would be the 46th year of the failed Plan A policy. Sure, sounds good.

    Cuba consulting services

  2. Follow up post #2 added on June 13, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    And this is just one side effect:

    Armed men snatch 33 Cuban migrants, 4 Central Americans from custody of Mexican agents

    The Associated Press

    Armed men hijacked a bus carrying 33 Cubans and four Central American migrants detained in southern Mexico after forcing immigration agents away at gunpoint, officials said on Thursday.

    A half-dozen assailants wearing masks and carrying guns blocked the road, stopped the bus and forced the seven unarmed agents and two bus drivers to get off, Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said.

    The hijacking occurred late Wednesday in the southern state of Chiapas. None of the immigration agents or bus drivers were harmed.

    “The armed men took off with the foreigners to an unknown destination,” the Immigration Institute said in a press statement.

    An immigration official who was not authorized to be quoted by name said the assailants threatened the agents with “heavy caliber weapons.” He initially said 34 Cubans had been involved. The bus was later discovered, empty near the jungle city of Ocosingo.

    The Cubans had been detained June 5 on Mexico’s Caribbean coast near Cancun.

    Immigration officials said they did not know who carried out the attack, or if they were immigrant smugglers seeking to recover their charges. Migrant traffickers have sometimes been known to kidnap groups of migrants from their rivals, and later ransom them off.

    Cubans are increasingly traveling through Mexico to reach the U.S., instead of trying to get past U.S. Coast Guard patrols off Florida.

    There have been violent incidents related to the smuggling of Cuban migrants in the past: a suspected Cuban-American smuggler was shot and seriously wounded in Mexico in December. But Wednesday’s assault marked the first case in recent memory that assailants targeted migrants who’d already been detained by immigration authorities.

    The seized Cubans and Central Americans were being taken to an immigration processing center in the nearby city of Tapachula when the attack occurred. Mexican immigration agents are normally unarmed on such assignments.

    Some undocumented Cuban migrants who reach Mexico’s coast, usually in boats or makeshift rafts, are allowed to remain in the country, where they quickly make their way to the U.S. border.

    However, some are returned to the island.

    Cuba consulting services

  3. Follow up post #3 added on June 19, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    and here’s the wrap up. This is getting bad.

    MEXICO CITY - Officials say at least 18 Cubans have reached Texas, more than a week after gunmen seized them from immigration officials in southern Mexico.

    Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office says that the U.S. Border Patrol has detained the immigrants in Hidalgo County in Texas.

    At least six masked gunmen hijacked a Mexican immigration bus on June 11. They forced seven immigration agents and two drivers to get off before they took off with 33 Cubans and four Central Americans believed to be in Mexico illegally. It was unclear what happened to the remaining immigrants.

    The Attorney General’s office said Thursday that the Cubans used fake Mexican identification to reach the US border.

    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on June 19, 2008 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    and this…

    Cuba says 2 die as smugglers tip boat

    The Associated Press

    Smugglers fleeing from Cuba’s Coast Guard overturned a boat loaded with U.S.-bound immigrants to distract pursuers, killing a woman and an 11-year-old boy, Cuba reported Wednesday.

    The Communist Party newspaper Granma said the deaths occurred Monday off the northern coast of the central province of Villa Clara.

    The smugglers, who were charging $10,000 a person to take 20 people to the United States, escaped in their speedboat after being surprised by the Coast Guard, the newspaper said.

    Granma blamed the deaths on “murderous” American immigration laws that generally allow Cubans who can reach U.S. soil to stay. Cubans found at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard are usually repatriated.

    Killed in the smuggling attempt were Yudersi Rosabal Rodriguez, a woman from the central city of Sagua la Grande, and 11-year-old Jorge Luis Nunez Sanchez, from a rural community called La Sierra.

    The boy’s mother, Vivian Sanchez Cabrera, was also on the boat and survived. She was described as “weeping inconsolably” for the loss of her only child.

    Cuba consulting services

  5. Follow up post #5 added on June 23, 2008 by MiamiCuban

    How utterly tragic.  The U.S. should follow the same immigration procedures it follows for other countries so people leave according to the rule of law.  A good start might be to grant the agreed upon number of VISAS so people don’t have to be smuggled out.  Of course, that’s not what the old exiles want, since they thrive on chaos and tragic scenarios like this one so they can point the finger at Cuba and say it’s all their fault.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on September 11, 2008 by Tony

    Dry/wet foot is the one responsible for the deaths and smugling activities.
    Cubans are running from a comunist country and they should received asylum even if they get pick up at the sea as before.
    No smugling operations were conducted when cubans weren pick up at sea by the US coast gards and brought to US soil
    Noone will stop smuglers to go to Cuba cause is a good profit, they think that even they are charging money they are helping people in need and cubans in Cuba will still come to US

  7. Follow up post #7 added on September 11, 2008 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Virtually all the Cubans “running” from Cuba are doing so for economic reasons. Treating Cubans differently from other immigrants to the US from poor Caribbean countries (e.g. Haiti) by allowing them to stay once they reach the US is the cause of the problem. But we all know why that hasn’t happened.

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