Posted on Tue, Nov. 01, 2005 Miami Herald
More Cubans leaving for U.S.
The latest figures from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Border Patrol show a sharp increase in the number of Cubans leaving their country.
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
The number of Cubans leaving their homeland by sea in illegal attempts to reach the United States has increased sharply.
According to the most recent figures from the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol, the number of Cuban migrants stopped at sea so far this year is nearly double the number intercepted last year.
The number of Cubans who made it to shore in the last 12 months is almost triple the number who reached U.S. soil during the prior 12-month period.
Though landings and interceptions are up, American officials say the figures do not portend an exodus comparable to the Mariel boatlift in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans reached South Florida or the rafter crisis in 1994 when more than 37,000 Cubans made it to the United States.
''Mariel, that was an exodus, and the rafters in 1994, that was an exodus,'' said Luis Díaz, a Coast Guard spokesman based in Miami. ``What is happening now is not an exodus.''
According to figures posted on the Coast Guard's Internet website, 2,368 Cuban migrants have been intercepted at sea so far this year -- compared to 1,499 in all of 2004. The number stopped at sea so far this year is the highest for a single year since the 1994 rafter crisis.
Meanwhile, the number of Cubans who reached South Florida during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30 hit 2,530 -- compared to 955 during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2004.
State Department officials have accused Cuban authorities of encouraging illegal migration by not doing enough to prevent departures.
Cuban officials, in turn, have accused Washington of encouraging illegal departures through its controversial ''wet foot, dry foot'' policy.
The policy, set up after the rafter exodus, generally allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay while most of those intercepted at sea are returned home.
National media attention recently focused on the policy after 6-year-old Julián Villasuso drowned Oct. 13 when a suspected migrant smuggling speedboat turned over in the Florida Straits as it fled the Coast Guard.
The child's death sparked renewed calls by Cuban-American leaders for the U.S. government to scrap the wet foot-dry foot policy.
Many of those leaders prefer the old policy, when the Coast Guard rescued Cuban migrants at sea and brought them to U.S. soil.
The Coast Guard, for its part, is urging potential Cuban migrants to stop fleeing by sea.
''What we'd like to see is people apply for visas,'' said Díaz, the Coast Guard spokesman. ``It may take some time, but you arrive safe and alive.''