Cuban Refugee Crisis: A Story
Many people don’t understand that the journey from Cuba to America is an all-in decision. By all in, we very much mean life and death. As most know, Cuba is a communist country. They are not too fond of American democracy and ideals there. When Cubans want to leave the country they have to specify to their government where exactly they are going to visit. If they find out that you decide to change course and go somewhere else on your vacation, you could be in some serious trouble. If you are caught trying to make it to America the punishment will be ten times worse. After speaking with other Cubans about their experience, we've been told that if you are caught trying to make it to America (by the police of another country) you will be exiled back to Cuba where you will most likely be found deceased somewhere soon after.
This specific family told us their journey from Cuba to America. They started off by selling everything they owned, and flew out to Guyana. (Guyana is a small country right above Brazil, bordering Suriname and Venezuela) They are currently the only country that allows Cubans to travel there without a visa (Ecuador allowed it until recently). Guyana was more accepting of them than other countries as they would come to know a little later.
They headed west towards Brazil and Venezuela. Every moment from then on out was a risk. If any police officer outside of Guyana were to find out they were crossing borders illegally they would be extradited back to Cuba. They took a bus close to the country border. They got off and started walking. They crossed the Brazil border on foot as well as the Venezuelan border. This was a couple of weeks into their journey. They carried with them only the clothes on their backs with a backpack full of food, basic supplies, and every single penny to their name. They were not received very well in Venezuela. During their travels they were caught by a Venezuelan police officer. After finding out they were Cuban he saw them as a profit opportunity. Because of the state Venezuela is in now (a crumbling socialist rule and devastated economy) outside currencies are much more valuable. This police officer threatened to report them to the higher authorities unless they gave him two hundred dollars. The average salary in Cuba is about 25 dollars per month. For eight months pay they were able to avoid being sent back to Cuba.
According to many refugees this is common with police officers all throughout south and central America. After escaping the police officer they were able to make it to Columbia. This was one of the most difficult parts of the journey. Refugees trying to get to America are forced to travel through a certain part of the jungle called The Darien Gap. This is a 10,000 square mile jungle that spans the border of Columbia and Panama. This is where a large number of refugees pass away on the journey. If the snakes, diseases, insects, lack of food and clean water don’t kill you, then the drug traffickers, militant rebel groups, and smugglers will. This family journeyed through the jungle. It was not an uncommon sight to see the bodies of previous refugees who tried to make it through. They had a small child with them and had to carry him almost the entire way. While trying to walk through the muddy land, some of those that were traveling with them got sucked into the swampy terrain. In order to get themselves out they had to ditch their backpacks which held all of their possessions. They were able to pass through this dangerous jungle in four days time. From there on they had a relatively easy time making it to Mexico, the last stop before the United States.
However, upon arrival to Mexico they were greeted with bad news; the "wet foot, dry foot" policy which granted Cubans U.S. citizenship upon arrival in the United States was discontinued. This meant that their journey could have all been in vain. They ended up having to stay in Mexico for three months with very unfavorable living conditions. On top of that, Mexican police were treating Cubans much more harshly because they were trapped there. We were told that there were some police officers that extorted more money from the Cubans as well as physically abused them in the form of breaking their legs or other bones in the body. They had to live with that constant risk for three months until their opportunity to sneak into the United States came. They took it. They are currently here living in Las Vegas. They traveled a total of 7,406 miles; 1,963 by plane and 5,443 by bus/on foot. They have practically nothing. Yet after all that, they have never been more grateful to be where they are now.
**For those who are curious, this family has already been adopted for Christmas. Thank you.