A new attempt to flee to the United States leaves five rafters dead and 12 missing on the Cuban coast | International

A boat with Cuban migrants is intercepted by the island's coast guard, on December 22.
A boat with Cuban migrants is intercepted by the island’s coast guard, on December 22.Ramón Espinosa (AP)

Once again, an unfortunate tragedy in the Straits of Florida has revealed how serious the Cuban migration crisis is and how much remains to be done so that Havana and Washington can normalize irregular migration flows between the two countries. This time, the shipwreck occurred off the north coast of Matanzas, in the vicinity of Cayo Cruz del Padre, when a fragile skiff capsized in which 28 rafters were traveling with the purpose of fleeing their country and achieving the American dream. They left the coast of Cárdenas on January 23, but bad weather and waves turned the adventure into a death trap: there are five dead and 12 missing, according to an official Cuban statement, which indicated that two ships from the Border Guard Troop service rescued to 11 survivors. Little else is known.

The fateful news of another shipwreck with deaths, which is repeated cyclically, is especially shocking today because both the US and Cuba have recently reached immigration agreements, and the US embassy in Havana has actively and passively urged the rafters not to try or risk their lives, because they will be deported immediately. Both countries have held high-level contacts in recent months to try to stop the unprecedented exodus of Cubans to the US – in 2022, close to 300,000 entered the US illegally through the Mexican border and another 10,000 were intercepted at sea by American or Cuban coast guards – but nothing seems to be able to stop the stampede. According to the US, between January 20 and 27, more than 400 Cubans were intercepted at sea, and there are already more than a thousand so far this month – most have already been repatriated. The figure has set off all the alarms, since in the entire fiscal year 2022 the intercepted were just over 6,000.

The most recent tragedy is terrible in itself, but bloodier because of the context in which it occurs. Both governments have successfully resumed high-level immigration and security meetings in recent months and have reached relevant agreements, such as Cuba’s willingness to receive deportation flights from the US with irregular immigrants, while Washington has reopened its consulate in Havana (dismantled in the Trump era) and has promised to once again grant a minimum of 20,000 emigrant visas to Cuban citizens a year. In addition, it has just opened the possibility for 30,000 Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans to take advantage of a new special immigration program each month to travel to the US legally with the support of a sponsor.

When US President Joe Biden announced the new regulations on January 5, he was blunt: “My message is this: if you are trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua or Haiti, do not show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally.” But nothing. At the moment, there is no light on the horizon that manages to illuminate a solution that appeases the desire of Cubans to emigrate from their country at any cost. The causes, fundamentally, have to do with the very serious economic crisis that Cuba has been going through for years and the absolute lack of hope of the people, exhausted by the hardships and burdens of all kinds that turn daily survival on the island into an ordeal.

The Government of Havana accuses the United States of cynically promoting this exodus by maintaining its policy of embargo and economic suffocation, which considerably increases the country’s difficulties, in addition to still applying policies that continue to benefit Cubans who arrive in US by any means, although it is true that these benefits are now much less than before. For the US, the Cuban government’s inability to offer its population hope for a better future is the ultimate reason for the drama. And in the midst of this crossfire of mutual grievances and accusations, thousands of Cubans, mostly young, continue to build rafts, and jump into the sea, and drown in the emerald waters of the Florida Straits in an ignominious tragedy.

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