HAVANA, July 10th (AP) The so-called “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that allowed Cuban migrants who set foot on U.S. land above the high-water mark to stay in the country and apply for permanent residency ended in early 2017.
The rule, which in turn required those caught by U.S. authorities at sea to be returned home, was ended by the Obama administration in one of its final foreign policy decisions. Its demise resulted in the gradual decrease in the number of people from Cuba attempting the dangerous maritime journey across the Florida Straits.
Measured in fiscal years, which begin Oct. 1, maritime migration attempts from Cuba dwindled from nearly 5,400 in 2016 to just under 50 last year, according to the Coast Guard.
That trend reversed drastically this year, however. With almost three months left to go in the fiscal year 2021, the Coast Guard has caught more than 500 people from Cuba at sea. And there have been several tragedies, like the disappearance of nine people out of a party of 22 whose boat capsized off the Florida Keys Monday during Tropical Storm Elsa.
In March, two people were confirmed to have died and 10 remain missing and are presumed dead after their boat also went down along the way. Seventeen young men from the same neighbourhood have also not been seen or heard from again after they left Cuba in early November.
With the legal incentive to migrate to the United States long over, what is behind the latest influx of Cubans willing to take the risk to leave their homeland?
Jorge Duany, professor at and director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said there are several reasons why:
– The coronavirus pandemic in Cuba is becoming increasingly worse.
– A deepening recession has led to shortages of basic supplies like food and fuel.
– The Trump administration tightened the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and so far, the Biden administration has not done anything to lift those restrictions. This includes the U.S. prohibition on Cuban-American remittances through money transfer companies like Western Union. That’s because these companies deal with Cuban state agencies controlled by the military.
– The all-but-total elimination of commercial and charter air travel from the United States to Cuba, with the exception of Havana.
– Cubans lack access to U.S. visas because the United States closed the consular section of its embassy in Havana in September 2017 following the illness of dozens of staff due to what some officials suspect were “sonic attacks.”