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Cubans make dangerous trips to the USA via Florida Straits

Zuleydis Elledias has been up every morning over the past two-months hoping for a call, a message, any information on her husband or nephew who vanished at sea while trying to reach Florida.

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Cubans make dangerous trips to the USA via Florida Straits

Another half-dozen families live in Orlando Nodarse, 35 Miles (55 Kilometers) west of Havana, near the port city of Mariel. They are also living with the same uncertainty.

"Due the pandemic, my husband lost his job. He was home for over a year and many places were closed. He was told to wait every time he visited his workplace. Elledias, a 38 year-old homemaker, said through tears that he was desperate as he had a 2-year old son.

Cuba is experiencing an increase in illegal migration to the United States. This is due to an economic crisis that has been exacerbated by increased U.S. sanctions, cutbacks in aid from Venezuela, its also-crisis-wracked ally. This has caused shortages of many goods, and protests that rocked the island on July 11th.

The Trump administration's 2017 near-closure the U.S. Consulate was a result of a series mysterious illnesses among diplomatic staff. Some claimed that the illness could have been caused by an attack. Cuba strongly denies these allegations.

Cubans who wish to apply for a U.S. Visa must now travel to other embassies because it is nearly impossible to get there due to severe cuts in air traffic during this pandemic. Without the help of relatives, most can't afford to travel unless they have enough money.

Many Cubans have taken to the water on small boats and rafts in order to cross the Florida Straits to the United States.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 595 Cubans have been intercepted at sea in the last fiscal year that began on October 1. This is more than any other full fiscal year since 2017. During which time the U.S. announced they would expel Cubans who reach American shores, ending a longstanding policy that granted asylum to people who had reached dry land.

This is still a small number compared to the 5,400 people who were stranded at sea in 2016, or the dramatic crises in 1994-1995, 1980, and 1980 when Cuba temporarily stopped trying block departures. Tens of thousands fled en masse. Many died at sea.

This is still far less than the current flow from those who somehow managed to reach the continent and made their way north. Between Oct. 1, and June 30, 2016, 26,196 Cubans tried to enter the U.S. with no documents, most of them by land.

Elledias, along with Fernando Quinones, her husband of 45 years, is still waiting for word on Ismel Reyes (22-year-old farm worker).

They were part of a group that consisted of 18 men, two women, and left Cuba on May 25, 2015. The boat capsized the next night, and the survivors were rescued 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Key West by the U.S. Coast Guard. The search for the boat by land, sea and air took several days.

"Something happened, and I don't know what. The currents, the boat flipped. Elledias stated that the United States Coast Guard saved eight people alive and found two bodies. There are still 10 missing.

Four cousins of Elledias were among the survivors, some of which have been repatriated from Cuba.

Elledias, Sudenis, Reyes' sister -- Reyes' mother -- as well as other Orlando Nodarse residents spoke to the AP and agreed that the risky decision of heading for the United States was triggered both by the economic crisis in the region and difficulties in obtaining a visa.

Alina Barbara Lopez, a Cuban historian, noted that two previous mass exodus by sea were caused by crises. The Cuban authorities opened their borders to provide a release valve for social pressure.

Fidel Castro opened Mariel port for those who wanted to leave Cuba in 1980 after unhappy Cubans began flooding into foreign embassy compound seeking visas. 125,000 Cubans fled north, triggering a political crisis for President Jimmy Carter's government.

Tens of thousands were forced to go to sea in makeshift rafts, innertubes, and highjacked boats as a result of the economic crisis that erupted after Cuba's Soviet Union aid collapsed. Then too, many died.

She said that Havana is now "trapped" as it can't open its borders because of the Washington-signed migration agreements.

Lopez stated that Cuba's economic reforms are only superficial. The economy is still stagnant.

She stated that "all this makes the underlying politics of this crisis stronger than in previous" crises.

Cuban authorities admit that there are "symptoms” of a possible migration crisis, but they say it could be activated if President Joe Biden fulfills his campaign promise to lift Trump's stricter sanctions. These were intended to drive the Communist Party out of power and resume the dialogue initiated by former U.S. president Barack Obama.

Jesus Perz Calderon, a representative of the United States Department at Cuba's Foreign Ministry stated that "the current situation is the result of many negative factors." "In the first, the economic decline as a consequence of COVID-19... and at the same the resurgence by the United States of an economic war against Cuba."

Jose Ramon Cabanas is a former Cuban ambassador and the current director of Center for International Policy Research. He said that both countries have the tools in place to stop a Florida exodus.

Cabanas stated that there are agreements in place, but they are not being fully implemented.

From two decades ago, the United States provided Cuba with 22,000 visas per year. Trump ended those relations in 2017. Most Cubans found it almost impossible to apply for a visa after the consulate shut down.

Obama also ended the "wet foot dry foot" policy that allowed Cubans to reach the U.S. shores as refugees and those who were caught at sea to remain.

Elledias, back in Orlando Nodarse hopes for a miracle to bring her family home.

"I would advise anyone considering crossing the Florida Straits to not do it. It is dangerous and not safe. She said that there is no money anywhere in the world that could pay for all of the suffering we are experiencing.

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