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The risky route to freedom

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  • Walter Lippmann
    (Since the Honduran government is allied with the US government, and was the sponsor of the resolution against Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2004
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      (Since the Honduran government is allied with the US
      government, and was the sponsor of the resolution
      against Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission in
      Geneva this year, it would be difficult for Cubans to
      leave Honduras for the United States claiming they
      fear "political persecution" in Honduras.

      ("Once rafters reach Honduras, their relatives in
      Miami often send them money. Some try to find legal
      ways into the United States, but many set off
      through Guatemala and Mexico to try to cross
      the border illegally, they said.")
      ================================================

      The risky route to freedom
      Cubans seeking US via Honduras
      By Mary Jordan, Washington Post
      August 1, 2004

      LA CEIBA, Honduras -- Nine rafters slipped out of Cuba on
      May 3, guided by a full moon and buoyed by hope and ocean
      currents. After two days at sea, in the black and cold of 2
      a.m., a screw shook loose from their old outboard and it
      sputtered to a stop. As the screw plunged into the
      shark-filled depths, the rafter's spirits sank with it.

      ''That was the moment I thought we were going to die," said
      Luis Machado Hernandez, 42, a Cuban hospital manager who
      said he was fleeing because it is unbearable to exist on
      $10 a month in a place where a pair of child's shoes costs
      three times that much. But Machado and the others kept
      going, and for the next five weeks their remarkable voyage
      twisted and turned on the kindness and greed of strangers.

      A day after their engine failed, the rafters washed up on
      the Cayman Islands and were locked up with murderers for a
      month. There, as they recalled later, they bribed
      themselves free and set off again into the enormous waves.
      Finally, on June 5, they landed in this Central American
      country, whose welcoming immigration policies have made it
      the most popular new haven among Cuban refugees.

      ''The Honduran people know what the Cubans are suffering,
      that they are being repressed, and that they don't have
      liberties," said Ramon Romero, Honduras's director of
      immigration, who said his country welcomed Cuban boat
      people and would never return them to Fidel Castro, now 45
      years at the helm of the communist island.

      Far more Cubans attempt the 90-mile trip to Florida than
      the risky 500-mile voyage to Honduras. But because most get
      caught by Cuban authorities or the US Coast Guard in the
      heavily patrolled waters off Florida, an increasing number
      desperate to flee Cuba's miserable economic conditions are
      pointing their rafts toward Honduras, one of the poorest
      countries in the hemisphere. Romero said at least 100
      Cubans came to Honduran shores last year, more than twice
      the number in 2002. As the numbers keep increasing, he
      said, Honduras is recruiting families to take them in.

      Rafters interviewed in Honduras said word had spread that
      Honduras is a safer bet than Cuba's other neighbors,
      including Belize, Mexico, and the Cayman Islands, which
      routinely return the refugees to their homeland.

      Machado estimated that at least one boat a day is setting
      off from Cuba for Honduras. Many of those turn back when
      motors and nerves break down on the high seas, he said.
      ''And no doubt some don't make it," he added, describing
      how easily makeshift boats can be blown off course and
      swallowed by the Caribbean.

      Rafters said going to Honduras makes more sense than taking
      a chance with the United States' ''wet-foot, dry-foot"
      policy, under which Cubans who make it to US soil are free
      to seek political asylum but those caught offshore are
      returned to Cuba. Sometimes Cubans win the race against the
      Coast Guard, as did the wife and two daughters of New York
      Yankees pitcher Jose Contreras, who reached an island off
      Florida last month after a three-hour chase. But more
      often, they do not: The Coast Guard said it had caught and
      returned about 2,100 Cubans since the beginning of last
      year after finding them on rafts, rickety boats, even
      riding in a floating 1951 Chevrolet pickup.

      Once rafters reach Honduras, their relatives in Miami often
      send them money. Some try to find legal ways into the
      United States, but many set off through Guatemala and
      Mexico to try to cross the border illegally, they said.

      Thirty miles from where Machado is living, another group of
      Cuban rafters is being cared for by Honduran families.
      Lelis Arnulfo Hernandez, a gardener on the island of
      Roatan, said he was startled one day late last month when
      he found seven haggard Cubans stumbling out of a 12-foot
      boat that looked like an old fiberglass bathtub. They had
      spent seven days and eight nights at sea; all were
      dehydrated, and some were hallucinating. They had run out
      of food, water, and fuel by the time they washed ashore
      near Hernandez's one-room home on the waterfront.

      ''One of them asked me, 'Is this Honduras?' And when I said
      yes, you couldn't believe how happy he was," said
      Hernandez, who then welcomed them into his wooden home,
      gave them food and hot coffee, and took the ragged men to
      see a doctor.

      C Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
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