Forget the politics – this story is about people with steely determination.
Last month, 11 Cuban migrants reached the shore of S. Florida’s Hollywood Beach.
Yoandy Alonoso Figueredo, one of the migrants, said the trip lasted eight days – four of the days were without food and water. They likely scavenged for algae and small fish. While this may seem alien to those who visit S. Florida, the truth is that this kind of migration has been going on for decades.
The US “wet foot, dry foot” policy is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that essentially says that anyone entering the US from Cuba can remain (ie. avoid deportation) and pursue permanent residency a year later. No other foreign nationals enjoy this privilege in the US.
As you can see from this Pew Research Center chart, the impact is in full swing as many Cubans believe the wet foot, dry foot policy will end with the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba.
Balseros (or rafters) is the name given to the Cuban people who emigrate in self constructed or precarious vessels to neighboring states including the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica. But the US is their primary destination.
Cuban migration to the US can be described in four waves. The first wave occurred before the Cuban Missile Crisis ended travel between the US and Cuba. The second wave occurred between 1965-1973. The 1980 Mariel Boatlift was the third wave.
Some regard the August 1994 Cuban Rafters Crisis as the fourth wave of Cuban immigration.
During the 1994 Cuban Rafter Crisis, the most commonly observed raft was constructed of two doors atop large truck tire inner tubes, with the doors connected by 2-inch x 4-inch wooden beams. A simple 6 – 9-foot mast was improvised to support a small white cloth as a flag to increase the raft’s visibility to nearby vessels.
In the video below, the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter rescued seven Cuban migrants in March 2015, who were stranded on a rock formation at the bottom of a 100-foot cliff off Mona Island, Puerto Rico. The rough seas did not allow for a small boat rescue. Upon the arrival of the Coast Guard rescue helicopter to the scene, the crew deployed their rescue swimmer from the aircraft to assess the situation. The stranded migrants were assisted by the rescue swimmer and safely hoisted and removed from the danger by helicopter.
Several experts suggest 70,000-80,000 Cubans have died attempting to cross the Florida straits since 1961 – many eaten by sharks. Once ashore, solace is elusive. The culture shock of assimilating into US society exerts psychological stress that is compounded by grief over loved ones left behind in Cuba.