Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Long Way Around

One of the most infamous parts of American policy towards Cuba is what is commonly referred to as 'wet foot, dry foot'. When, as commonly happens, a group of Cuban refugees attempt to escape Cuba for the United States by setting sail in a lashed-together boat made of a junked car, inner tubing snd hope, they have what in older times would be considered a 'sporting chance': if they can set foot on American soil before the Coast Guard picks them up, they have a 'dry foot' and get to stay. If the Coast Guard catches them, they have a 'wet foot' and are sent back to Cuba.

Given that it's a relatively small distance, 90 miles, there is no shortage of Cubans willing to attempt the trip. However, given the consequences of getting caught wet-footed, and the size of the Coast Guard patrol along the route (which isn't difficult to figure out), Cuban refugees have explored alternative routes.

The most obvious alternative route is to start from Cuba's western tip and make landfall at the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, then come into the United States along with everyone else using the Mexico-U.S. border. The distance to the Yucatan is 140 miles, twice the distance, but there's no Coast Guard to worry about. Cubans who take this route are termed 'dusty foot'. However, this also carries risk; many who take this route use the same resources as those in the drug trade, often hitching rides on boats with smugglers. The ride given by the smugglers is harrowing and expensive, often extortionary, not only by the smugglers, but by Mexican authorities asking for bribes. Capture can mean anything from months in a Mexican prison to death at the hands of the drug war.

And then there's Honduras.

Honduras is the one country in Central America that doesn't automatically repatriate Cuban immigrants. Instead, they're given what is akin to 30 days to make their own way out of the country. That's all the Cubans need, not only to get out of Honduras, but to make it into the United States via Guatemala and Mexico. The 400-mile sea route, is, according to that last article, more popular than the 90-mile route to Florida, though no source could be found to compare the numbers of Cubans going to Honduras to those going to Florida. They still must deal with the Mexican authorities when passing through, but as they're not landing there, one key meeting can be avoided, and the drug smugglers can be bypassed.

It is, however, a much longer voyage at sea, and a much longer route overland, both of which come with dangers of their own. 400 miles at sea can take six days in calm waters. In the article just linked, rough seas made the trip three times as long.

But for a growing number of Cuban would-be refugees, Mother Nature is an opponent they prefer to any human.

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