Hundreds of Cuban migrants seeking U.S. entry stranded across the Americas

A group of Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago, including Baldomero Despaigne, second from far right.
A group of Cubans detained in Trinidad and Tobago, including Baldomero Despaigne, second from far right. Courtesy

Stranded on islands, jungles and border cities, thousands of Cubans are having trouble getting over the unexpected Obama administration decision that is blocking their access to the American dream — for which many sold their meager belongings in Cuba.

There are reports of hundreds of Cubans moving northward from Ecuador and Guyana, through Bogota, in hopes of entering Panama after crossing the Darien Gap, one of the world’s most dangerous jungles.

In the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, six Cubans remain out of a group of 15 detained by immigration authorities in recent weeks. The others were deported to Cuba.

“The Cuban embassy is meddling in all this, and we are desperate. We had some political refugees in our group, but that didn’t make any difference to them,” said one of the Cubans, Baldomero Despaigne. “They are preparing everything to deport the rest of us. We need help.”

Another group of Cubans in the South American nation of Suriname, including members of the dissident Ladies in White movement and their children, are also begging for permission to proceed their journey to the United States.

The number of Cuban migrants also has increased significantly at a shelter in Panama run by the Roman Catholic Church’s Caritas agency. In less than one week, the number of Cubans waiting for a U.S. grace period to enter the United States rose to 230 from 60 last week.

“They are phoning to say that more will be arriving from the jungle. We are expecting at least another 70 migrants,” said Caritas director Víctor Luis Berrío.

Panama Immigration Department Director Javier Carrillo has said that all undocumented Cubans must leave the country. “The law is clear. They have to leave the national territory,” he told el Nuevo Herald.

Some of the Cuban migrants did not stop their trek northward after the end of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was announced last week, and are continuing moving toward the Mexican border with the United States. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes has said U.S. officials will no longer accept undocumented Cubans who try to enter through the border.

“We will not stop. We will go on to the border. We went through a lot to escape from Cuba, and we’re not taking one step back — not even to regain our momentum,” said Yuniel Ramos, who left everything behind and started his trek north in Ecuador. He was due to enter Mexico on Thursday.

“We don’t have a home or money, nothing [left in Cuba]. Why would we return? Besides, the Cuban government doesn’t want us,” Ramos said.

In Mexico’s southern city of Tapachula, the government’s Siglo XXI immigration detention center “is jammed with Cubans. People don’t want to go there, because they arrest you,” said Miguel Antúnez, another Cuban moving north through the area. “The waiting lines for the passes [travel documents] that allow you to move across Mexico are immense. I got an appointment to come back in the second week of February.”

The Cuban migrants’ new problems also has led to increased reports of fraud and corruption.

“A lawyer with connections in immigration is handling the papers for Cubans for $500. Even Immigration officials tell you that if you give them money you get an appointment for the next day,” Antúnez said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Cubans are continuing to arrive at the Mexican border with the United States, waiting to see what President-elect Donald Trump will do.

“Obama betrayed us,” Antúnez said. “And that’s after he went to Cuba and promised to be friends with Cubans. Trump is our only hope.”

Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba

This report is part of an agreement between the Nuevo Herald and 14ymedio.