A group of 18 Cuban men and women navigated off the island to Honduras, arriving in Central America on Tuesday morning, just as forecasts predicted Hurricane Matthew would be slamming into the Caribbean.
The group made the journey on a “rustic vessel,” and, according to Honduran officials, are currently safe. Tegucigalpa’s immigration authority must now decide whether to grant the refugees legal status in the country.
“At least” 18 Cubans, ten men and eight women, arrived in Punta Sal, Honduras, as Cuba braced for what is being deemed the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean in at least a decade. Any navigational error could have resulted in the group being stranded on their rudimentary vessel in the middle of the Caribbean as the storm passed over them, likely resulting in their deaths.
Hurricane Matthew landed in Cuba on Tuesday, devastating the easternmost point of Baracoa, as a Category 4 hurricane. The images of the devastation have begun to surface, showing centuries-old buildings in utter collapse and distraught residents digging through rubble for their belongings. The hurricane caused more damage in Haiti, where it killed dozens and has forced the government to postpone an upcoming election.
Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall in Florida on Thursday, potentially impacting 12 million people throughout the American South:
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) October 5, 2016
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) October 5, 2016
The routes out of Cuba to Florida and Central America for those seeking escape from the communist dictatorship there are highly dangerous, even without the presence of a major storm, yet Cubans have increasingly braved the journey following President Barack Obama’s announcement in December 2014 that he would engage in a diplomatic “normalization” with dictator Raúl Castro.
In January 2016, little more than a year since President Obama announced his concessions to the Castro regime and two months before his visit to the island, a first since the tenure of Calvin Coolidge, the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed to Breitbart News that they had documented a 350 percent spike in the “overall Cuban migrant flow” to the United States through the Caribbean between 2010 and 2016, but a 23 percent increase in the number of refugees recovered at sea between January 2015 and January 2016.
By July 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 500 percent increase in Cuban refugee flows into the United States between 2011 and 2016. The number of refugees arriving in the United States doubled between 2014 and 2015, after President Obama announced the normalization process.
The Coast Guard also reported an increase in the number of self-harm incidents by refugees when discovered at sea, including refugees “drinking bleach” upon seeing the Coast Guard, indicating an increased desperation among Cubans fleeing the island, preferring to harm themselves rather than return to the island.
Cubans the Coast Guard has rescued have repeatedly expressed panic at the possibility that President Obama’s friendly policy towards the Cuban dictatorship will result in worse treatment for refugees in the United States. “Despite the fact that immigration laws and policies remain unchanged … many Cubans report the belief that they need to migrate to the United States before such immigration policies change,” a Coast Guard official told Breitbart News in January. The Castro regime has repeatedly called for the United States to cease treating Cubans fleeing communism as refugees.