woman tells tales of human smuggling
Ray Sanchez | Cuba notebook. Sun-Sentinel,
September 16, 2007.
Word about potential smuggling voyages
comes to her almost weekly, a 24-year-old
woman named Adiany says.
Just last week, a friend informed her that
two go-fast boats from South Florida would
pick up 52 Cuban migrants along the northern
coast. "This time it's a sure thing,"
the friend insisted.
Though anxious to be reunited with her
husband in Miami, Adiany declined. The uncertainty
and peril surrounding two of her previous
trips worried her mother. "I don't
think she can handle the stress," said
Adiany, who asked that her full name not
be used for fear of reprisals by Cuban police.
Adiany claims to have tried to leave the
island 25 times. Cuban police have arrested
her "numerous" times on her way
to meet smugglers, and held her overnight,
she said. Other times the boats failed to
show up. Twice she has made it on board
smuggling vessels, only to be intercepted
by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned to
"You try and you fail," said
Adiany, who now contemplates flying to a
Latin American country and entering the
United States through Mexico. "Then
you keep trying and trying until finally
you make it."
The number of Cubans trying to leave the
island appears to be rising, according to
analysts and coast guard officials, who
cite an increase in interdictions at sea
this year. With slightly more than three
months to year's end - as of Thursday -
the Coast Guard has intercepted 2,467 Cuban
migrants at sea, compared with a total of
2,293 in 2006. The current rate threatens
to eclipse the 2,952 migrants intercepted
in 2005, the largest one-year total since
1994, when 37,191 Cubans were picked up
at sea during the rafter crisis.
Adiany attributed the surge to growing
desperation among Cubans frustrated with
economic disparities as well as U.S. and
Cuban government polices that force the
separation of families. Because she has
been arrested for trying to leave Cuba,
Adiany can no longer find work.
Her husband, Franscisco, left Cuba on a
go-fast boat a year and a half ago. He lives
in Miami, where he installs Direct TV equipment,
work that helped him raise part of the $10,000
fee the smugglers will collect when they
bring Adiany to Florida. He sends money
to Adiany and her mother, but U.S. government
limits the amount he can send to $100 per
Her mother has done her part to raise the
smuggler's fee as well, illegally selling
her home in Cuba and moving into a smaller
"Getting to Florida becomes an obsession,"
Adiany said. "The desperation is so
Adiany calmly described the disturbing
first moments of the perilous journeys.
As many as two dozen people wait in water
up to their necks or deeper for the boat
to arrive. When it does, "People climb
over you," she said. "I was pushed
underwater. People stepped on me. It's a
human stampede. No one cares. There is no
A friend of Adiany provided similar accounts.
Emilia, a 21-year-old Cuban who twice crossed
the Florida Straits with Adiany, said smugglers
attempt to maintain order by requesting
that women and children board first, but
to no avail.
"The men are the first to climb up,"
Emilia said in a phone interview. "Only
then do they try to help others. Everyone
fears that the Cuban coast guard will show
up and they'll be left behind. It's survival
of the fittest."
Adiany and Emilia most recently boarded
a boat July 23. Adiany said a migrant traveling
near her repeatedly struck his head on the
floor of the vessel as it pulled into the
open sea. She remembered his head swelling
and his body convulsing and twitching as
the go-fast boat equipped with three 250-horsepower
engines lurched along the Florida Straits
in the predawn.
"I remember him saying at the start
of our journey that he was determined to
reach the United States even in death,"
Adiany said. "He nearly died."
After the smuggling vessel was intercepted
65 miles south of Dry Tortugas, the man
Adiany called Carlos was flown by helicopter
to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. Because
he had reached dry land, he was allowed
to remain in the United States.
The two suspected smugglers were turned
over to the customs and border protection
authorities in Key West as part of a criminal
investigation, according to the U.S. Coast
Of the 24 migrants, nine - including a
child and Emilia - were turned over to American
officials in Key West to assist in the criminal
investigation. The testimony of the other
migrants, including Adiany, was not needed
and they were returned to Cuba on Aug. 2.
Ray Sánchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2007, South Florida