In one of the largest waves of Cuban migration in decades, more than 70,000 have fled the island this year, rushing to the U.S. out of fear that its preferential policy toward those escaping the Castro regime might change.
This time though, the majority aren’t braving the Florida Straits in rickety rafts, as in 1980 – they’re flying to South America, then taking a treacherous land journey all the way to the southern U.S. border. Recently that route has been cut of by local allies of Cuban leader Raul Castro, leaving thousands of Cubans stranded along the way, most in Central America.
An American flag towel dries at the shelter for Cuban migrants in La Cruz, Costa Rica. U.S. officials say they have no intention of changing laws that generally allow Cubans who reach American soil to stay, but those fleeing the island are doubtful.i
Liannis Rodriguez rests in a corner on the concrete patio of the dusty Costa Rican border station with Nicaragua. Like the dozens of other Cubans here at the station, she’s been sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes under metal awnings or a cover of plastic bags.
Rodriguez left her small town in eastern Cuba late last month and flew to Ecuador, the nation closest to the United States that doesn’t require a visa of Cubans. She says that nearly everyone on her plane was Cuban, and that once on the ground, all headed north using every kind of transportation possible.
“We took buses, cars, boats you name it,” she says. She paid bribes to Colombian police, hundreds of dollars for a clandestine boat ride to Panama, then still more payoffs until she arrived here at the Nicaraguan border. Rodriguez, a fourth-year engineering student, says she has no future in Cuba.
“I was about to graduate, and I would get a job, but I’d be forced into one that pays 12 dollars a month,” Rodriguez says. “What kind of a life is that?”
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker (in blue jacket), visits the container port at the Special Enterprise Zone in Mariel, Cuba, on Oct. 6. Cuba is creating the zone to encourage trade and foreign investment. Some foreign companies are eager to move in, though the Pritzker said Cuba’s commitment to free trade was…