Videos show Cubans building ‘The Winner’ before voyage to Florida Keys

More and more Cubans are risking their lives at sea to get to the United States.

Cuban authorities destroyed hours of woodwork twice even though it was hidden in the wilderness near Matanzas, a city on the northern shore of the island. The group didn’t give up. Videos show their third attempt to craft “The Winner” was a success. It was equipped with a four-cylinder forklift motor.

Yuri Sanabria said she was part of the group of 31 that paid off Cuban police and survived on lobster and rodents. She said she was forced to leave her two-year-old daughter behind in Cuba. The perilous voyage ended seven days later in the Marquesas Keys, an uninhabited island near Key West.

“It was really, really hard. It was horrible because it was dark and the weather wasn’t good,” Sanabria said.

Michael Bustamante, a historian at the University of Miami, and Andy Gomez, an expert on post-Fidel Castro Cuba, said there is an ongoing immigration crisis that is going largely ignored.

“It’s the biggest, most intense out-migration for sure,” Bustamante said about the comparative data on Cuban immigration since 1959.

Migrants wait in a fishing boat, about 10 miles south of Key Colony Beach, on Aug. 13, 2022. The Coast Guard repatriated the Cuban migrants on Aug. 16.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s latest data shows there have been nearly 177,850 encounters with Cuban migrants nationwide since October. It’s a sharp increase from the nearly 53,320 Cuban migrants intercepted during the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

“18 Cuban migrants were taken into #BorderPatrol custody today after making landfall on a wooden vessel in the Marquesas Keys, an uninhabited island west of Key West. The migrants were stranded on an island & rescued by @USCGSoutheast,” U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosa wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

The latest U.S. Coast Guard data also shows crews have interdicted nearly 4,000 Cuban migrants at sea since October when they had just intercepted about 890 during the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine operations aircrew alerted Sector Key West watchstanders of this fishing boat about 30 miles south of Long Key, Florida, Aug. 14, 2022. The Coast Guard repatriated the Cuban migrants on Aug. 16.

A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council in Washington, D.C., said human smugglers are lying to take advantage of vulnerable migrants for their own financial gain.

President Joe Biden announced during the Summit of the Americas that the U.S. has been leading a campaign against human smuggling networks and secured “record levels of funding” for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to NSC.

“We will continue to urge individuals to not risk their lives at the hands of human smugglers and take the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, journey. As has been the case, those without a legal basis to remain in the United States will be removed,” the NSC spokesperson said.

A good Samaritan notified Sector Key West watchstanders of this rustic vessel about 7 miles south of Key West, Florida, Aug. 3, 2022. The Coast Guard repatriated the Cuban migrants on Aug. 5, 2022.

In Miami-Dade, Gomez said the Cuban exodus is predictable amid the economic crisis on the island. He said Cuban government officials’ policies are encouraging the exodus and this shouldn’t be surprising since they have done it before.

“That is fewer people that they need to worry about,” Gomez said referring to the budget for food, housing, healthcare, and more.

After Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega lifted the visa requirement for Cubans late last year, he made it easier for Cuban migrants to fly from Havana to Managua to make their journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.

A good Samaritan notified Sector Key West watchstanders of this rustic vessel about 5 miles south of Key Colony Beach, Florida, Aug. 2, 2022. The Cuban migrants were repatriated on Aug. 5, 2022.

Alain Lambert, better known on social media as the Paparazzi Cubano, is among the Cuban migrants who have fled through Central America after participating in the July 11, 2021 protests that prompted a new wave of much younger political prisoners.

Lambert recently reported that he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border through the Río Bravo and flew to South Florida with his daughter, wife, and brother. He visited Versailles on Tuesday in Miami’s Little Havana.

“The youth no longer believes in that dictatorship,” Lambert said in Spanish.

Michael Bustamante, a historian at the University of Miami, and Andy Gomez, an expert on post-Fidel Castro Cuba, said there is an ongoing immigration crisis that is going largely ignored.

A look at the data

Graphic by Border Patrol

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data on encounters with Cuban migrants.

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6 p.m. report

More and more Cubans are risking their lives at sea to get to the United States. Michael Bustamante, a historian at the University of Miami, and Andy Gomez, an expert on post-Fidel Castro Cuba, said there is an ongoing immigration crisis that is going largely ignored.

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