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Uptick In Cuban Migrants Making Dangerous Journey Across The Florida Straits

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - Every year since 1960 as the waters calm over the summer, Cuban migrants take to the sea for a dangerous journey across the Florida Straits in an effort to escape the oppressive Castro regime and its failure of a socialist economy.

In recent months there has been a noticeable uptick in those seeking the freedom of America.

"I should have said to you when you called for this interview, 'Hey Hank, why don't you get the interview we did 20 years ago in Key West and just replay it because that's exactly the same thing, unfortunately," Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Democracy Movement and a prominent member of the Cuban exile community, told CBS4's Hank Tester.

Since October 2020, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted nearly 300 Cuban migrants, about five times more than the number of migrants intercepted in the fiscal year 2020.

"What's driving migration over the past half century in regards to Cuba are two factors. The Cuban nightmare created by the Castro brothers combined with a perception of weakness of the occupants in the White House seeking unilateral concessions with Havana," said John Suarez, Executive Director at the Center for a Free Cuba.

The Obama administration extended a hand to Cuba. It opened the U.S. embassy, ended the "wet foot dry foot" policy," relaxed travel restrictions, and cruise ships from the U.S. were allowed to sail to Havana. The Trump administration reigned in that policy and tightened the screws economically.

With the Biden administration promising to engage with Cuba, Suarez said we can expect to see more Cubans attempting to make the journey to Florida.

"I see more coming until the Biden administration, they can do it privately or publicly, takes a strong stand with Havana," he said.

"The Cubans are going to come, just like Mexicans come and other groups that don't have status. Even without status, you get a better life here than you can in Mexico, definitely better than Cuba," he added.

The motivation that drives Cuban migrants has not changed over the years, according to Sanchez.

"A disastrous economy and the worst thing is losing hope. I think that is what the regime has achieved in 62 years," he said. "It has killed the hope of the Cuban citizens. They don't feel they can live with dignity in their own homeland."

One question that no one likes to discuss is how many have died attempting the crossing. It's a question that haunts people like Sanchez and Suarez.

Their consistent message to Cubans on the island is not to try it, it's too dangerous. Just recently, the U.S. Coast Guard had to rescue a group of Cuban migrants after their boat overturned about 16 miles off Key West. Eight made it, two died, and ten are still missing.

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