Sharp surge in Cuban migrants seeking to reach US


Al Chardy, The Miami Herald


Roberto Treto Rodríguez had been thinking about leaving Cuba for years. But it wasn’t until late September that he finally fled aboard a boat with 18 other Cuban migrants that reached the Florida Keys.


Thus Treto joined the ranks of more than 13,000 undocumented Cuban migrants who reached the United States, or were intercepted en route, during fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30.


The figure reflects a sharp surge in the number of undocumented Cuban migrants arriving, or seeking to arrive in the United States. The figure is the largest in the last three fiscal years.


Between 2009 and 2011, the average annual number of Cuban migrants arriving or trying to arrive hovered at 7,500. Not since 2008 had the number of undocumented migrants leaving the island for the United States exceeded 10,000.


In 2008, the number of Cuban migrants who reached U.S. soil or were intercepted en route stood at 16,260.


These Cuban migrants leave without U.S. visas. Annually, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana issues 20,000 visas to Cuban nationals, who are counted separately.


The figures on undocumented Cubans came from the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.


Experts on Cuba generally attributed the drop in arrivals and interceptions after 2008 to the economic crisis in the United States and improved Coast Guard interdiction methods.


There is little agreement among experts in the United States about why more Cuban migrants are arriving, but the majority seem to agree that migrant relatives in the United States may have more money to pay smugglers to get their loved ones out of the island and also that Cubans there may have grown disillusioned with the slow pace of expected economic reforms under Raúl Castro.


Three recently arrived Cuban migrants, who spoke at an office in Doral of the Church World Service resettlement service, said more Cubans want to leave the island because conditions there never improve.


Treto, 40, and Juan Alberto Rosales, 45, arrived by boat directly from Cuba, while Miguel Alfonso, 35, walked into the United States from Canada over the border near Vancouver.


Of the three men, Treto was the first to arrive aboard a boat carrying 19 people that left from Baracoa beach west of Havana on Sept. 27 and reached the Florida Keys two days later. U.S. officials picked up Treto and the other 18 men and delivered them to the Border Patrol.


Treto, from San Antonio de los Baños southwest of Havana, said he fled Cuba because of worsening economic conditions and pervasive police harassment.


“I decided to leave Cuba because I couldn’t take it anymore there,” said Treto. “I no longer found myself in that country. The economic situation, the situation of everything else, I couldn’t take. The police was always harassing me because to them everything you do is illegal”.


Treto, who was a construction worker and bicycle mechanic, had wished to leave Cuba for decades but feared taking to the sea. Ultimately, he left by boat because he couldn’t find a way to board a plane to go abroad legally. He left his wife and four children behind, and hopes to reunite with them once he gets his green card.


Under the current wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard are generally returned to the island. Those who reached U.S. soil are allowed to stay.


At least 1,275 Cubans were stopped at sea between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. From Oct. 1, 2011 to Aug. 31, 2012, at least 354 arrived in South Florida by boat and 11,398 arrived through various ports of entry, including the Mexican border. The majority, 10,315, came in via the Mexican border.


The next one to arrive was Alfonso, who showed up at a U.S. border crossing point near Blaine, Wash., two weeks ago. Alfonso described himself as a member of the Cuban government elite whose parents were prominent members of the Cuban regime. He declined to provide details, but said he was the only one in his family to be opposed to the Cuban regime.


Alfonso said he left Cuba for Europe 15 years ago, but finally made his way to Canada and then the United States over the last two weeks. He left Cuba because he broke with his pro-Castro family.


“My family was integrated into the regime and I was the only one who thought differently," he said. “My parents had their life there and I did not fit into it. My father was an official in a hospital and my mother was a secretary in the Communist Party”.


Fifteen years ago, Alfonso finally managed to leave Cuba and went to study in Europe. He first went to Italy and then resettled in Spain where he became a citizen last year.


Alfonso flew from Madrid to Canada two weeks ago, then walked from Vancouver to Blaine, Wash. Last week, he arrived in Miami.


The last to arrive was Rosales, who turned up before sunrise Saturday at Marquesas Keys. He was fed up with an economy that never improves.


“I left Cuba because the problem is that every day the situation there becomes more and more difficult for Cubans,” said Rosales. “There, even if you work very hard, the money you make is never enough for basic necessities. I mean, if you buy food to eat, you cannot buy clothes to wear. And if you buy clothes to wear, you cannot buy food to eat”.


Rosales was self-employed, fixing flat tires and old cars.


A few weeks ago, he and several friends built a makeshift boat, then disassembled it, carried it in pieces in a car to a remote beach near Havana, reassembled it and launched it into the ocean east of Havana.



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