Tags: Cubans | Fleeing | Rise

Cubans Fleeing on Rise

Sunday, 18 September 2005 12:00 AM

In leaky boats and homemade rafts and even a car converted into seagoing sedan, more and more Cubans continue to risk death to escape from the island Fidel Castro has turned into a vast prison camp.

According to U.S. Coast Guard figures reported by South Florida's Sun-Sentinel, 2,029 Cubans were intercepted on the high seas so far this year - the most in one year since the Coast Guard stopped almost 40,000 Cubans in 1994.

Moreover the Sun-Sentinel wrote that 2,347 Cubans have made it to South Florida since October, including 109 who landed in five separate incidents in a two-day period this week. The total is the most in four years, up from 955 during the same time period in 2004.

Coast Guard and Border Patrol officials, however, insist that the growing numbers do not mean there is a mass exodus from Castro's Cuba going on, claiming that despite the hurricanes and tropical storms that have threatened or hit South Florida, the Florida Straits have been calm and immigrant smugglers are taking advantage.

"They're in the business of smuggling people for profit," Assistant Chief Patrol Agent Steve McDonald of the Border Patrol told the Sun-Sentinel. "When the seas are calm, they can get people into these boats and they can make more money."

This however fails to explain the burning desire of many Cubans to escape from the island despite the risks. At least two Cuban men died from injuries they suffered in smuggling trips this summer. The Sun-Sentinel reported that in August three people a merchant vessel found at sea were taken to Cuba. They told Cuban authorities they survived the capsizing of a speedboat headed to the United States and said 31 other people aboard were swept away. The Coast Guard found the boat, but no trace of the people on board.

"It's 150 miles of travesty, where you don't see any land," explained Alexander Francisco Garcia, a mechanical engineer in the village of Caibarien, who said he has been intercepted at sea four times. "It's a very deep ocean. The water is black."

Showing reporters three crumpled tickets - fines by Cuban authorities for trying to leave - Garcia cited the summer's rolling blackouts, dismal salaries and clamped opportunities as reasons why some Cubans want to get away.

"People want to go out and protest in the streets, but they can't, so they look for escape in the ocean," he said.

"The youth has no aspiration," Angel Raul Perez told the newspaper while sitting on a seawall in his native Caibarien village. "Sometimes there's not enough to eat. Things are too expensive, and everything in Cuba is illegal."

Pointing over is shoulder at the quiet, dark ocean, he added, "It's irresistible."

But getting on some kind of hopefully seaworthy craft and heading towards freedom in the U.S. is only half the battle. The escapees have first to elude capture by Cuban coast guards and then to literally set foot on U.S. soil to make good their hope for sanctuary. If they are caught by the U.S. Coast Guard while still at sea they could well be sent back to Cuba.

As the Sun-Sentinel explained, under America's so-called "wet foot/dry foot" policy, Cubans caught at sea are interviewed by immigration agents and sent home if they cannot show they have a credible fear of persecution if returned to the island. Tragically, the vast majority are sent back, while those make it to U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay in the United States.

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In leaky boats and homemade rafts and even a car converted into seagoing sedan, more and more Cubans continue to risk death to escape from the island Fidel Castro has turned into a vast prison camp. According to U.S. Coast Guard figures reported by South Florida's...
Cubans,Fleeing,Rise
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2005-00-18
Sunday, 18 September 2005 12:00 AM
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