More Cubans have attempted to reach Florida this year than last year, new numbers from the Coast Guard show. That increase has led to speculation that the new migration has been sparked by Obama's diplomatic thaw with Havana, as Cubans worry that the wet-foot, dry-foot policy might be on the way out.
But the numbers have actually been rising over the past three years, the Coast Guard says, not just since last December's announcement of renewed diplomatic ties.
"There's been a lot of rumors as far as the removal of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy," Coast Guard Petty Officer Mark Barney tells New Times. "But we can't make that correlation" between the rumors and the increase in interdictions.
Since last October 1, the Coast Guard has interdicted 4,133 people on their way from Cuba to Florida.
The prior October-to-October period, the number was 3,731. But the increase actually traces back since before the big diplomatic announcement, Barney says, with the biggest recent jump from 2013 to 2014. For the 2013 fiscal year, 2,129 Cubans were interdicted; 1,870 were interdicted in 2012; and 1,979 were interdicted in 2011.
"It's been a steady, increasing trend," Barney says.
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The Coast Guard's most recent interdiction took place yesterday afternoon. Around 1 p.m., while a Guard boat was on a routine patrol, officers spotted a small red boat not far off the coast of Key Biscayne. Eight men were found inside a rickety, badly battered homemade vessel. Plywood sheets served as the boat's floor, and clothes were strewn across the bow.
The vessel, Barney says, appeared to be made from metal scraps, the kind of material that might be lying around someone's garage. "It really is amazing that they can get these things to float," he says, "let alone navigate."
A couple of the men were dehydrated, but for the most part, the migrants — who will likely be repatriated, in accordance with wet-foot, dry-foot — were healthy, to the relief of the officers.
"They are human beings," Barney says. "Our main concern is their safety."