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History Repeats Itself With Cuba’s Migrants

History Repeats Itself With Cuba’s Migrants
By FRANCES ROBLES  OCTOBER 9, 2014 3:00 PMOctober 9, 2014 3:00 pm

Frances Robles is a correspondent in Miami. Her article today, about the influx of Cubans making their way to Miami on makeshift boats, is a replay of something she saw two decades earlier.

I have been a journalist in Miami long enough that I have seen trends go full circle.

I will never forget the Cuban rafter crisis of 1994, when thousands of Cubans showed up on Florida’s shore every day. I remember meeting disheveled migrants, shirtless and shoeless, who gave me worthless Cuban pesos as gifts. And I recall the pall that fell over a packed refugee shelter near Key West when President Bill Clinton announced that from then on, rafters were going to be turned back to Cuba.

Maybe that’s why I was particularly sensitive to the recent spate of news reports in South Florida about Cuban migrants arriving at the shore or lost at sea. I kept noticing that the crafts they arrived on were rickety old things made of car parts, something we have not seen here in Miami in at least a decade. Smugglers using go-fast boats had long cornered the market on Cuban immigration.

I found out that’s no longer the case. The Coast Guard says the number of Cubans trying to make it to the United States has doubled in the past two years, and the number of homemade vessels they use has soared as well.

To find recent migrants, I went to the Church World Service, an organization that helps Cuban arrivals with their transition. I met with a group of seven Cubans who had just come to Florida a few days earlier.

They told me about how they spent months hoarding supplies for their trip. One person would be in charge of finding fiberglass, another of obtaining an old Toyota motor. I was startled to see that none of them had family in Miami, which experts say is a growing trend in Cuban migration.

The spike in immigration is reflective of a couple of things. For some people, because of relaxed travel restrictions, it’s just easier to leave Cuba right now, which is why we are seeing so many more Cubans showing up at the Texas border.

People like Osmany Batista, a 31-year-old X-ray technician I met at Church World Service, said he and his friends came because they had given up on new reforms enacted by Raúl Castro, which they felt only benefited the elite.

People were pretty hopeful back in 2008 when he took office, which is one reason there was a dip in immigration after he officially was named president and announced reforms such as relaxed travel requirements and the ability to speak more openly.

But Mr. Batista said some of the reforms actually wound up hurting. It used to be illegal to sell your house, but people did it under the table anyway. So many houses flooded the market when real estate sales became legal that the home in which he lived, once worth $20,000, can now only fetch $6,000.

“Why are so many people selling? To raise money for the trip to the United States,” he said.

He wants to start working right away.

“You will not find me on the corner playing dominoes,” Mr. Batista said.

Something that surprised me was how the survivors of shipwrecks are not cautioning others against making the treacherous trip. Yannio La O, a wrestling coach from Manzanillo, in southern Cuba, saw 17 friends die when they were lost at sea for 24 days last month.

He still thinks the voyage was a good idea.

“I didn’t come here to own helicopters or 10 yachts or to have Marc Anthony’s fortune, but in Cuba, I had nothing,” he told me. “With the money I was making, I could not live. I am not saying I could not buy clothes. I am saying I could not live.”

Source: History Repeats Itself With Cuba’s Migrants – NYTimes.com – http://www.nytimes.com/times-insider/2014/10/09/history-repeats-itself-with-cubas-migrants/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

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