Thousands of Cubans have started to join other migrants in caravans heading for the U.S. southern border to apply for political asylum, Cubans in Latin America have told el Nuevo Herald.
From Guyana to Paraguay and Chile, Cuban migrants are posting notes on social networks to join the caravans, which have already created problems in Suriname because of border closures due to the coronavirus. Nearly 500 Cuban migrants, including children and pregnant women, are stranded in campgrounds there.
“I came to this country three years ago with my two children and my husband. I came from Cuba to escape the misery, but we’re in the same situation here. Without work and without assistance, living in a neighborhood with drugs and violence,” Janet Figueroa, one of the members of a caravan in Suriname, told el Nuevo Herald.
Suriname, like Guyana, allows Cubans from the island unrestricted entry, so in recent years the two countries have become jumping-off points for migrants heading for the United States or other countries with large Cuban communities, such as Chile and Uruguay.
Figueroa, 36, is traveling with her husband and two children. She is asking the Guyana government for permission to move on “in search of the American dream.”
“We don’t want to hurt anyone. We only want to get to the United States and join our relatives,” she said. Several cousins in Miami have promised to help her family if they manage to pass the tight requirements for asylum applications along the southern border.
The Suriname government has provided humanitarian assistance to the Cuban migrants and requested technical assistance from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration, according to Foreign Minister Albert Ramdin. It has also suspended flights from Cuba and Haiti to keep the crisis from escalating.
An official statement from the Cuban government, issued at its embassies in Suriname and Guyana, blamed the United States for the migration crisis. Washington provoked the wave of migration, it claimed, when it reduced the number of immigrant and tourism visas it issues each year. Havana said it’s ready to receive all Cuban citizens who want to return to the island voluntarily.
A mysterious affliction that hit U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana led the U.S. government to reduce its diplomatic personnel in the Cuban capital by 60 percent and process visa applications in third countries in Latin America. The affliction was likely caused by targeted microwave emissions, according to a recent report by the U.S. National Academy of Science.
The number of non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans plunged from 16,335 in 2017 to 6,959 in 2018 and to 10,167 last year. Immigration visas totaled 7,748 in 2019, according to the U.S. State Department. Washington also suspended the Cuban Family Reunification Program, leaving more than 20,000 families in limbo.
Jorge Duany, who heads the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said a new migration crisis is unlikely even though the island is undergoing a profound economic crisis, an increase in the level of repression and the impact of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policies.
“Since the cancellation of the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy the United States has deported a growing number of Cubans to their native country,” Duany said.
President Barack Obama eliminated the policy in early 2017 before leaving office. It had allowed Cubans who set foot on U.S. territory to remain but deported those intercepted at sea. Since then, applications for asylum along the southern border have soared, even though Trump administration restrictions have made it more difficult to win asylum.
“It is expected that the southern borders of the United States, with Mexico and the Caribbean will remain hermetically sealed, at least until the Trump administration hands over power and the situation with the pandemic normalizes,” added Duany, an expert on Cuban issues.
MORE CUBAN CARAVANS IN URUGUAY, CHILE AND PERU
Hundreds of other Cubans are preparing to leave for the United States from Chile, Uruguay and Peru, according to dozens of WhatsApp and other social media posts viewed by el Nuevo Herald and telephone interviews.
José Yans Pérez, a Cuban who has lived in Chile for three years but dreams of living in the United States, is one of the migrants ready to travel through Latin America to reach the U.S. border.
“The situation in Chile has become very difficult. There’s no work, and the process of becoming legal is interminable,” said Pérez, who tried to reach the United States from Cuba several times aboard makeshift boats before he emigrated to Chile.
Posts in whatsApp, Facebook and Messenger show the Cubans organizing and detailing the process for applying for political asylum when they reach the U.S. border.
“I’ve been in Chile without papers for two-and-a-half years. Friends have been in the United States for one year and they already have residence. That’s why I am going. I don’t want to stay here, where the Cubans are last,” said Gustavo Cedeño, 46.
“Without papers you can’t work. We also don’t have access to healthcare, and now they are threatening to deport us to Cuba.”