‘No future for babies:’ 842 US-bound Haitians end up in Cuba

VILLA CLARA, Cuba (AP) — Some of the more than 840 Haitians who tried to reach the United States in a boat but ended up in Cuba said Thursday they fled violence in their country and were accused of thousands of dollars by the smugglers who brought them on a dilapidated boat and then dumped them at sea.

It is the largest influx of people from Haiti to the Cuban coast amid a growing exodus caused by gang violence and other issues there.

“They deceived us. In my case (a trafficker) told me that the boat was going to have 200 or 300 people, and on a big boat that’s normal. But when you’re on board, you don’t know how many people will appear,” said Maximaud Cherizard, a 34-year-old engineer who traveled with a 7-year-old son, his wife and sister.

“We were ashamed when we arrived” in Cuba, Cherizard said. The boat was so crowded that some people were on the roof of the ship, he said.

The 842 people were rescued Tuesday by the Cuban Coast Guard and other government services in the vicinity of Caibarien in Villa Clara province, about 300 kilometers (185 miles) east of the capital, Havana. They were taken to a temporary center in a former summer camp and isolated as a health precaution.

According to the account of at least three migrants the AP spoke to, the group left the island of Tortuga in northern Haiti after waiting there for nearly two months for the journey. Word of the supposed opportunity to go to Florida had spread by word of mouth, and some people said they had paid $4,000 each for a place on the boat.

They were taken in a small boat to the larger Saturday morning and their phones taken away by smugglers, who alleged the signal would make them detectable by the US Coast Guard, the migrants said.

Cherizard said he was shown a picture of a cruise liner that was going to take the migrants, a promise he realized was false when he saw the dilapidated boat. He and other migrants said they did not see a name on the ship.

Cherizard said he and his family were placed in a cabin with others with little access to the rest of the ship. When the captain abandoned the ship at sea early Tuesday morning, they learned that migrants had tried to take control of the boat in an attempt to reach their destination.

Another migrant, Joyce Paul, 19, said the captain left in a smaller boat and the one the migrants were on was starting to tilt. The Haitians signaled with flashlights towards the Cuban coast for rescue.

During the days at sea, 15 people threw themselves into the water as conditions grew more desperate, according to Paul.

There were 70 children, including infants, among the migrants, Cuban authorities reported.

“In Haiti, there is no future for babies,” said Loverie Horat, the 30-year-old mother of a 24-day-old baby. She told The Associated Press that she and her husband boarded the boat after leaving Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. His comments in Creole have been translated into Spanish by Cherizard.

Migrants said insecurity and poverty in Haiti forced them to flee. Paul, the 19-year-old, said gang members killed his two sisters.

“You can’t go out on the street” because of the violence, Cherizard said.

Due to sea currents and winds, some smugglers’ ships aiming to reach the United States end up on the Cuban coast. Not all arrivals are officially reported, although in recent months authorities in Havana have acknowledged an increase in arrivals. Migrants are generally sent back to their country of origin in accordance with binational agreements.

The Haitians arrived in Cuba at a time when the island itself is suffering from a severe economic crisis with shortages of food, medicine and fuel and high emigration to the United States.

“Humanitarian aid has been a real challenge,” said Andy Borges, a member of the civil protection office of the municipality of Corralillo, where the Haitian camp is based.

US Coast Guard crews have intercepted some 4,500 Haitian migrants since October last year. Many attempted to land on the Florida coast in overloaded boats. More than 3,000 of these migrants have been intercepted since mid-March, indicating that the pace has picked up this spring.

“We don’t want to go back to Haiti,” said Leverie Horat, 30, one of the Haitian migrants who hoped to reach the United States but ended up in Cuba.

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Rodríguez reported from Havana.

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