HAVANA—Cubans are increasingly dodging Coast Guard patrols by taking a longer and more dangerous route to the United States: sailing south to the Cayman Islands and Central America, then going by land to the U.S. border.
By ANTHONY BOADLE
Reuters News Service
Saturday, February 5, 2005 - Page A14
The marked increase in the number of landings in the Caymans over the last year has forced the British territory and offshore financial centre to get tough and start sending the Cubans back to their Communist-run homeland.
The United States is just 120 kilometres away, but Cubans are sailing south to avoid interception in the Florida Straits or the exorbitant fees charged by smugglers on speedboats.
The first leg of the odyssey takes them 220 kilometres from the south coast of Cuba to Cayman Brac, where the arrival of flimsy boats packed with migrants, who often row for days on end, has become a familiar sight.
Dozens of makeshift boats carrying Cubans have landed there in the past two years as a result of more effective U.S. Coast Guard patrols after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Officials said more than 300 reached the Cayman Islands in 2004, and the number continues to rise.
From there, it’s 500 kilometres to Honduras, where the number of Cubans landing rose to 259 last year from 69 in 2003, Honduran immigration officials said. From there, they go through Guatemala and Mexico up to the U.S. border.
The Caymans, a resort known for its scuba diving, has a population of 43,100 people. Until now, residents have provided Cubans with food, water, clothing and shelter to help them on their way.
Concern over the mounting landings, however, led the Cayman Islands government to pass stricter guidelines on Jan. 11 that forbid assistance to Cuban boat people.
At the request of the Cayman Islands, British diplomats in Havana have asked the Cuban government to publicize its less-lenient policy to discourage the flow of boat people.
“There definitely is a perceived increase in the numbers of Cubans using the southern route, and the more people who do it, the more the word gets around,” said British embassy first secretary Nigel Baker.
“The consensus is that the numbers could increase dramatically if the word gets about that this is a soft route.”