Beatriz Jimenez sees her daughter and two young grandchildren when she closes her eyes, and they are all alive.
On March 4, Jimenez’s family boarded a smuggler’s boat and set sail from the small seaside town of Cabarién on Cuba’s north coast.
According to a statement from the Cuban foreign ministry, the boat had arrived from Florida and picked up a group of Cubans desperate to enter the United States.
The smuggling activity broke both US and Cuban laws, putting the passengers’ lives in jeopardy. While Cuba is only 90 nautical miles from the United States, the weather in the Florida Straits can be dangerous, particularly in the spring when “Easter winds,” as Cubans refer to seasonal sudden changes in weather, can turn the sea into a frothing monster.
Lisbethy Jimenez took the journey, according to Jimenez, because she had been separated from her husband in Florida for more than a year due to the pandemic, which forced Cuba to cancel most international flights. Lisbethy was afraid to abandon her 6-year-old daughter Kenna Mariana and 4-year-old Luis Nesto in Cuba and face a long separation.
Smugglers forced the migrants to move boats once they entered Bahamian waters, according to a statement from Cuba’s foreign ministry, possibly to confuse any Coast Guard ships that might be chasing them. The second boat lost control and capsized as it sped north. The number of people on board is unknown.
According to a Bahamian government statement, a Royal Bahamian Defence ship discovered 12 survivors and one dead body 14 hours later. They didn’t include Lisbethy or her children.
According to Jimenez, relatives in Florida who spoke with survivors in the Bahamas later told her that the smugglers had not carried life vests for any of the passengers.
As Cuba’s economic crisis worsens, more Cubans are attempting the risky journey by sea, according to US Coast Guard officials.
According to Coast Guard spokesman Brandon Murray, the Coast Guard has intercepted 90 Cubans at sea since October 1. That number already exceeds the 49 Cuban migrants who arrived in the previous fiscal year, and it does not include many migrants who could arrive in third countries such as the Bahamas or who make it to the United States.
After 16 days at sea, a small boat carrying eight Cubans, including two pregnant women, capsized off the Florida coast in February.
After being stranded on a deserted island in the Bahamas for 33 days, the US Coast Guard rescued three Cubans who had been living mainly off coconuts.
While the number of Cuban migrants taking to the seas has so far been far lower than during the rafters crisis of the 1990s, when thousands attempted the perilous crossing by boat, the rise is raising concerns.
“The Coast Guard does not recommend anyone taking to the seas in vessels that are not seaworthy. The vessels are often overloaded, the seas are unpredictable and the risk of loss of life is too great,” the US Coast Guard said in a statement to CNN.
After President Obama canceled the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that allowed anyone who entered the country to stay in his final days in office in 2017, the majority of Cubans caught entering the US are now returning to the island.
According to the Coast Guard’s statistics. In the 2016 fiscal year, 5,396 Cubans were detained. Following Obama’s policy reform, the number fell to 1,468 the following fiscal year, and has remained in the hundreds since then.
However, as the economy worsens, more Cubans may be forced to make the risky trip, despite the fact that they have lost their preferential status. According to Cuban government estimates, the economy shrank by 11% in 2020, owing to the pandemic’s near-complete shutdown of the island’s tourism industry.
This came after the Trump administration imposed the toughest sanctions in decades, including adding Cuba to the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, restricting US citizens’ right to travel to the island, and cutting off pathways for Cuban-Americans to send remittances to relatives there.
“Remittances basically determine who can eat and who can’t,” said Ernesto Gonzalez, whose remittances company Vacuba was impacted by the Trump sanctions. Gonzalez has urged the Biden administration to restore money transfer facilities until Cubans face a humanitarian crisis, according to Gonzalez.
The Biden administration has stated that it is investigating possible changes to its Cuba strategy, including how dozens of US diplomats working at the US Embassy became ill. The State Department withdrew most of its diplomats from the island in 2017 as a result of unexplained health incidents, and shut down embassy services that enabled Cubans to obtain US visas.
According to a State Department estimate, more than 78,000 Cubans were on the waiting list for immigrant visas as of November 2020.