The United States is experiencing a massive surge in the number of Cuban refugees risking their lives to reach American shores, following President Obama’s announcement that the White House would legitimize the communist Castro regime by reestablishing diplomatic relations.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is reporting that 23,978 Cuban refugees arrived in the United States between October 2014 and May 2015, with another 3,564 Cubans attempting and failing to reach U.S. shores. Most of those arriving successfully crossed the southern border with Mexico or crossed the straits of the Caribbean separating Florida from Cuba. The number of Cubans arriving in the past eight months is significantly larger than the number that reached the United States throughout all of the 2014 fiscal year: 22,162.
In January, officials reported experiencing a major spike in Cuban refugee migration between December 2014 and January 2015, in the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s announcement of normalization of relations with the Cuban regime. Coastal officials recorded a 60% increase in the number of Cubans traveling to the United States in the last trimester of 2014, but a 117% increase in migration when comparing December 2013 and December 2014.
Cubans are attempting by any means possible to reach the United States, fearing that the current “wet foot-dry foot” policy–which allows Cuban refugees who touch American ground to stay in America–may be revoked at the behest of dictator Raúl Castro, who has increased restrictions on travel luggage since President Obama announced his new normalization policy. Spanish newswire service EFE notes that at least 1,000 Cuban professionals, mostly doctors, are grounded in Colombia after defecting out of “medical slavery” in Venezuela and not yet being allowed to travel to the United States. Most are hoping to be processed through a program called the “Cuban Medical Professional Parole.” The number of Cuban doctors trying to reach the United States by defecting on international missions has increased “in a massive way,” according to Julio César Alfonso, head of the group Solidarity without Frontiers.
Rey Anthony, a representative of the Free Cuba Foundation, explains that the increase in fleeing refugees is the product of two related developments: both the normalization of relations and “the increase in repression despite negotiations.” The head of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, John Suárez, took this theory a step further, arguing that, “historically, the number of refugees always increases when Cuba and the United States get closer.”
The voyage from Cuba to the United States via Florida is often a deadly one, with Cuban refugees using makeshift vessels to travel the 90 miles to shore. One group of refugees posted their voyage on Facebook, years after having made it ashore:
Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Havana this morning to attend a flag-raising ceremony at the United States embassy in Havana, which has reopened for the first time since 1961. While Kerry mentioned human rights in his speech and asserted that “the people of Cuba would be better served by a genuine democracy,” reports from within the island indicate the Cuban government did not translate those remarks, or replaced them in Spanish with other phrases.