The United States Coast Guard said on Friday that Cuba is cracking down on would-be rafters, as the coast guard increases patrols in the Caribbean Sea.
The US Coast Guard said residents of a shantytown in a coastal area near Havana clashed last week with police officers who were looking for makeshift rafts, one of two recent violent confrontations involving the country’s security forces, “as authorities appear to be ramping up efforts to curb the number of Cubans fleeing to the United States by sea.”
In a separate incident, the US Coast Guard said its Cuban counterpart detained two US residents who attempted to pick up Cubans on a speed boat near La Coloma in Pinar del Río province on Monday.
The US Coast Guard said the number of Cubans attempting to reach US shores has “dramatically increased in recent weeks as the population struggles with a devalued peso, food shortages and daily blackouts.”
Since August 27, 219 Cubans have landed in Florida and were taken into custody, according to information provided by Walter N. Slosar, the US Border Patrol’s Miami Sector chief agent, on Twitter.
The US Coast Guard said it returned another 85 to Cuba on Wednesday.
The number of those halted at sea by the US Coast Guard since October — 5,392 — is about to surpass those sent back in 2016 — 5,396 — the highest number so far in the past six years, the US Coast Guard said.
Responding to the increase in migration from Cuba and Haiti, the Task Force Southeast, an inter-agency group led by the US Department of Homeland Security, announced last week it was “increasing patrols and enforcement by land, air and sea” in the Caribbean.
The task force, comprising several agencies, including the US Defense Department and the Coast Guard, was created in 2003 to respond to large numbers of migrants trying to reach US shores.
“The US Border Patrol Miami Sector is committed to working alongside our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in a whole-of-government effort to prepare for and address any potential increases in irregular maritime migration or border security threats in Florida,” said Slosar, who is also the task force’s deputy director.
The US Coast Guard said many more Cubans are arriving by land through the US- Mexico border — 177,848 between last October and July — making this the largest migration from Cuba since the early 1960s.
Experts and activists suspect the island’s authorities cut a deal with the government of Nicaragua to let Cuban nationals travel to the Central American country without visas, effectively turning Nicaragua “into a launching pad for mass migration” to the US, said Kelly M. Greenhill, an associate professor of political science in Tufts University in an event organized by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University last month.