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For Cubans sent back to the island, home comes with a hard landing

For Cubans sent back to the island, home comes with a hard landing

Nations throughout the hemisphere are clamping down on Cuban migrants.
For those who end up back on the island, life often goes from bad to worse.
BY JIM WYSS
jwyss@MiamiHerald.com

ALQUÍZAR, CUBA
Like others who have gone abroad, Yoandy Boza Canal was feeling like a
stranger in his hometown: businesses and neighbors had closed or moved,
the sun was too hot, his prospects were too dim.

When he stepped off the airplane two weeks ago in Havana, freshly
deported from Colombia, he said he cried — but not from joy.

“I couldn’t believe I was back here,” said Boza, 23, who abandoned Cuba
last year in hopes of reaching the United States. “If I could do it all
over again I would; leaving wasn’t the hard part. What’s hard is being
back.”

As waves of Cubans continue to flee the economically-depressed island,
lured by the American Dream, they’ve become a hemispheric headache.

Since October, the U.S. Coast Guard has stopped more than 2,300 Cubans
from reaching the United States, and the majority were returned to the
island.

In recent months, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama have shut their
borders to undocumented Cubans. And nations that used to turn a
blind-eye to the desperate travelers are clamping down. In Colombia, at
least 2,500 Cubans have been caught entering the country illegally so
far this year, compared to some 6,200 last year.

In most cases, those who are caught are given a deadline to leave the
country or are sent back to their last point of entry. Some, however,
are deported to the island they’ve risked so much to leave.

In some ways Boza was lucky. He wasn’t gone long enough to be stripped
of his citizenship privileges, which include free allotments of rice,
beans, lard and sugar. But he says he lost everything else.

He sold his fruit and vegetable stand to finance a ticket to Ecuador — a
starting point for many Cuban migrants. Now, eight months later, he’s
home with nothing but three changes of clothes and a backpack.

“It’s very hard for men to get work in this town,” his mother said. “And
the fields are too hard, he’s too young for that.”

Alquízar, a small agricultural village, is less than two hours from the
capital, but it’s far removed from the buzz about warming
Washington-Havana relations. There are no well-heeled tourists here
helping fuel the economy; most people have to survive on wages of about
250 Cuban pesos a month, or the equivalent of $11.

“This town is worse than it was eight months ago,” Boza said. “It’s
going backward.”

For other deportees, the homecoming is even more fraught.

Virginia, 19, left Cuba three years ago to join her family in Ecuador.
There, she managed to get working papers and found jobs as a waitress at
Mexican and Chinese restaurants.

But after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in April left more than 600 dead
and large swathes of the country destroyed, she said an oppressive
nationalism swept the capital.

“Even with my papers I couldn’t get a job,” she explained. “People would
say ‘We’re not hiring foreigners, only Ecuadorians’.”

Virginia agreed to speak to the Miami Herald as long her real name or
identifying details were not published, for reasons that will be made clear.

Seeing her savings and prospects dwindle in Quito, Virginia decided to
follow the rest of her family that had already made the trip overland to
the United States — a grueling 3,000-mile journey that plows through
seven countries. On May 26, she dyed her blonde hair black to better
blend in and jumped on a bus to Colombia.

She and her partner were planning to reach the northern town of Turbo,
where more than 200 Cubans have been holed up since May, when Panama
closed its border. From there, they hoped to slip across the frontier
undetected or wait for a political miracle to happen — like the airlifts
that Costa Rica and Panama organized to shuttle Cubans north.

Instead, Virginia and her friend were pulled off a bus near Manizales
and hauled before immigration officials. Although Virginia had
Ecuadorian residency, she had no relatives there and was considered a
minor, so she was put on a plane to Havana.

She’d been gone so long from the island, however, that she’d lost her
citizenship rights. Among other things, that means her mother, who is
working two jobs in Tampa packing tomatoes and cleaning offices, can’t
send for her on the grounds of family reunification.

Recovering her rights can take up to six months, and Virginia said she
was fearful that if authorities found out she’d talked to the press that
the process might be obstructed.

“Now I have to ‘repatriate’ myself in the country that I was born in,”
she said. “I lost all my rights as a Cuban.”

While Boza and Virginia were on the road, they had easy internet access
— a novelty for Cubans — so they’re aware of the debate raging in the
United States about the feasibility of maintaining the Cuban Adjustment
Act, which provides a legal path to permanent residence after more than
a year for those who make it onto U.S. soil under the wet-foot/dry-foot
policy.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Cuban-American himself, has said the law
needs to be overhauled to keep it from being gamed. And countries in
South and Central America blame the policy for fueling the flow of
migrants that have been overwhelming their capacity to provide aid.

Boza called the policy “the sole salvation” for Cubans, but he said he
and others aren’t opposed to reforms.

“Let them take away the benefits but let us have the [right to work],”
he said. “I don’t need [monetary] help, I can find my own food; I just
need the papers.”

Boza and Virginia said there’s no stigma to being a deportee in Cuba.
Many people they know have tried, and failed, to get off the island.

In 2014, Boza and some friends built a raft in the underbrush about 7
miles from the coast. They used oxen to drag the boat to the shore in
the dead of night, but it broke-down before they ever got off the beach.

Virginia said living abroad opened her eyes to the world of gleaming
malls, grocery stores stocked with goods and job prospects.

Asked if she managed to come home with any keepsakes from Ecuador, she
shrugged.

“Just the bitter experience that we went through,” she said. “And the
memories that I have in my head.”

EL NUEVO HERALD WRITER MARIO J. PENTÓN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.

Source: For Cubans repatriated or deported, life back on the island is
harsh | In Cuba Today – www.incubatoday.com/news/article83909757.html

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