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Cuban migrants drank own blood, urine, adrift at sea for 23 days

Cuban migrants drank own blood, urine, adrift at sea for 23 days
By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) – A group of Cuban migrants drank their own urine and
blood after the engine of their homemade boat failed, leaving them
adrift in the Caribbean for three weeks without food or water, according
to survivors who reached the United States this week.

“I’m happy I made it, alive, but it was something no-one should have to
go through,” said Alain Izquierdo, a Havana butcher, and one of 15
survivors of the 32 passengers.

Six passengers are missing after they tried to swim to shore, while 11
others died of dehydration.

“I just feel sad for those who didn’t make it,” said Izquierdo, sitting
under a sun shade by the pool of his uncle and aunt’s home in Port St
Lucie, on Florida’s east coast.

The survivors were rescued by Mexican fishermen 150 miles (240 km)
northeast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and were briefly detained in
Mexico before being released late last month.

Their story is one of the most tragic Cuban migrant disasters in
decades. Reuters spoke to several of the passengers and their relatives
in Florida and Texas, although some were still too traumatized to talk
publicly about the experience.

Cubans seeking to flee the communist-run island are heading in
increasing numbers by sea to Central America and then making a long
journey overland to reach the United States.

Under Washington’s “wet foot, dry foot policy,” Cuban migrants who make
it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain, while those intercepted at sea
are turned back.

The group set off from eastern Cuba in early August, but ran into
trouble about 40 miles from the Cayman Islands when the boat’s motor – a
Hyundai diesel car engine, attached to a homemade propeller – failed on
the second day at sea, said Izquierdo, 32.

The 20-foot, home-made craft, made from aluminum roofing sheets riveted
together and sealed with cloth and resin, drifted up the Cuban coast as
the passengers tried to flag down passing ships.

“No-one stopped even though they could see we were desperate,” said
Mailin Perez, 30, another survivor recovering in Austin, Texas.

The passengers heaved the engine overboard to reduce weight and
fashioned a makeshift sail from sheets sewn together with cord.

Six of the men decided to swim for the Cuban coast clinging to inner
tubes, but have not been heard from since.

Brief rain showers every three or four days provided the only water,
rationed out in doses by medical syringes. One woman who was six months
pregnant received extra rations.

One by one, 11 passengers died. Their bodies, lips swollen, were slid
overboard, and floated off into the distance, a sight that one survivor
said haunts her in nightmares.

The first to die was Izquierdo’s friend, 50-year-old Havana car
mechanic, Rafael Baratuti O’Farrill.

“That was the saddest day,” said Izquierdo.

After running out of water, some passengers began drinking sea water, as
well as their own urine. O’Farrill was one of several who also used
syringes to draw their own blood to drink.

“That was a mistake, the ones who drank their blood became faint.
Gradually they lost their minds and faded away,” said Izquierdo.


O’Farrill and Izquierdo had quit their jobs in Havana six months earlier
after hearing that boats were leaving for Central America from the port
town of Manzanillo, in eastern Cuba.

The U.S. Coast Guard had virtually shut down the shorter routes across
the treacherous Florida Straits, which separates Cuba and Florida by
only 90 miles at its narrowest point.

After Honduras’ leftist president Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Cuba, was
toppled in 2009 and replaced by a conservative, the longer western route
became popular, a trip of about 675 miles, via the Cayman Islands.

Honduran authorities give Cuban migrants temporary visas allowing them
to head north for the United States.

Most boats withstand the journey, taking a week to 10 days to cross the
sea, said Izquierdo, who paid $500 to join the ill-fated voyage.

“Boats are leaving Manzanillo every week and most of them make it,” said

U.S. authorities said last month more than 16,200 Cubans arrived without
visas at the border with Mexico in the past 11 months, the highest
number in a decade.

Cuban officials have not commented on the illegal boat departures, but
blame the U.S. policy for encouraging migrants to risk their lives.

Izquierdo and Perez said they abandoned Cuba for economic reasons to
find a better future for their children. Izquierdo left behind his wife
and two small boys in Havana. Perez was reunited with her husband in
Texas, but also has a young son and daughter in Cuba.

Economic reforms underway to modernize the Cuban economy by allowing
greater private sector activity have so far failed to improve living
standards, they said.

Instead, conditions were getting worse.

“The pressure cooker is boiling, it’s ready to burst,” said Izquierdo.

Both sought to leave legally, but were told it could take five years
before their cases would be determined by U.S. consular officials.

Thinking of their spouses and children is what kept them alive, said
Izquierdo and Perez.

“I knew I had to be strong for them,” said Perez. “I felt very weak at
the end. I was scared to close my eyes in case I never woke up.”

(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Kieran Murray and Andre Grenon)

Source: Cuban migrants drank own blood, urine, adrift at sea for 23 days
– Yahoo News –

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