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"I want to start a normal life": the Cuban who crossed the Rio Grande with only one leg

2022-05-12T22:42:48.865Z

"I thought about it a lot before making the trip, but I said: 'I'm going to take the risk,'" says Julio Martínez, a migrant with a disability whose hard journey through jungles and rivers exposes the desperation of Cubans in an exodus that worries Washington. .



MIAMI, Florida.— Night falls over Piedras Negras, Mexico, and the Rio Grande looks like a liquid highway along which a score of Cuban migrants parade on a recent day, seeking US soil.

Julio Martínez, 63, makes his way through the water with the help of two companions whom he has grabbed by the shoulders.

Martinez, who only has one leg, says he wouldn't have been able to cross the river on his own.

Behind him, someone does the favor of carrying his canes and the prosthetic leg with which he left Cuba on April 3, on a trip with no return.

"Seeing that the water was a little above the waist, two companions of the group told me to take them by the neck. Little by little we went over the current until we reached the shore," says the Cuban from Miami, where He was reunited with his wife, mother and two daughters after a 21-day journey.

Supported by canes and with his spare leg in a backpack, Martínez crossed highways, jungles, rivers, bridges and cliffs from Nicaragua to the southern border of the United States.

"The prosthesis is uncomfortable and I was only able to put it on for a part of the route in Guatemala, but I had to take it off because it made me peel," he says.

“In the conditions (of health) that I am in, I thought about it a lot before making the trip.

But I said, 'I'm going to take a chance.'”

His case portrays the desperation of thousands of Cubans who continue to leave the communist island for the United States in record numbers

, risking their lives on complicated journeys while economic chaos and allegations of political repression deepen in Cuba.

Cuban Julio Martínez, 63, was reunited with his family at a Miami airport in late April after a 21-day journey through Central America.

Courtesy of the Martinez family

Since Joe Biden took office, Cubans have arrived in the United States in such high numbers that they far exceed the number of nationals who fled during the so-called Balseros crisis in 1994 (35,000), and are comparable to the Mariel boatlift. from 1980 (125,000).

More than 100,000 Cuban migrants have arrived in the United States since the beginning of the current Administration, according to data from the Customs and Border Protection Office.

In March of this year alone, the irregular entry of Cubans through the southern border exceeded 32,000.

And a month later, in April, that number rose to about 35,000, according to as yet unpublished data cited by

The Washington Post

.

Nicaragua: an escape tunnel

The Cuban national stampede places that nationality as the second that is crossing the border irregularly, after Mexican migrants.

[“They took my son away from me and they took away my fear”: Cuba keeps 14 minors in prison for protesting against the regime]

Many of the Cubans seeking US soil, like Martínez, are taking advantage of the escape tunnel that Nicaragua has become, which at the end of 2021 became one of the few countries in the region and the world where Cubans can travel. without visa.

“On the plane in which I traveled to Managua (the capital of Nicaragua),

almost all the Cubans had the intention of making the same journey as me

,” says Martínez.

Many of them, he says, crossed the Rio Grande with him.

It is not clear how many of the thousands of Cubans who have crossed the southern border undertook the journey from Nicaragua, since the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not publish information on the journey of migrants. .

The new record of border crossings is headed by migrants from Mexico, Cuba and Ukraine

April 18, 202201:46

Some are skeptical of the visa waiver for Nicaragua — one of Cuba's few allies in the region — which came at a time of heightened social tension within the island and following the July 11 protests, the largest in 63 years of Castroism, where thousands of Cubans demanded a change in the political system before being repressed and, many of them, accused of sedition and imprisoned.

"This opening of Nicaragua to Cuban migrants is at least suspicious,"

Jorge Duany, an expert on migration issues and director of the Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute, told Noticias Telemundo.

"When the official announcement was made, the Nicaraguan government claimed that it was to improve trade relations and tourism. A Nicaraguan official even said something striking: that the Cubans who were coming to her country were to see the volcanoes. That obviously does not have a lot of sense”, says Duany.

The bulk of those who arrive in Managua, he notes, do not seem to be tourists or merchants, but

"people who are desperate to leave Cuba and embark on the journey to the United States."

Almost a dozen Cubans inside the island told Noticias Telemundo that they are making preparations to travel to Nicaragua, bound for the United States.

Some of them said that, to collect the money for the journey (about $10,000), they have put their houses and other belongings up for sale.

"In addition to the money they gave me, I sold my electric motorcycle and other things to pay for the trip," said Henry Piloto, a doctor who recently arrived in Miami after buying a ticket from Havana to Managua, to later cross part of Central America with the help of coyotes, in a tour of a month.

The Cuban migrant rescued in the Florida Keys will be able to remain in the United States.

March 25, 202200:55

The United States is visibly concerned about the Cuban national flight.

In late April, US and Cuban officials sat down to discuss immigration in Washington.

Conversations of this nature and range between both parties had not happened since 2018, when the Obama era.

"Enabling safe, legal and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States remains in the mutual interest of the United States and Cuba," the US State Department said in a statement after the meeting.

Washington seeks to "promote greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba," the statement added.

One of the problems for the Biden Administration is that, according to reports, Cuba has been refusing for months to accept deportation flights from the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service.

Noticias Telemundo contacted the Cuban International Press Center to find out Havana's position on these reports and their veracity, but did not receive an immediate response.

Various media have also reported that the United States reached an agreement with Mexico so that the neighboring country accepts more Cuban and Nicaraguan deportees expelled under the health regulation known as Title 42.

The United States Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a question from Noticias Telemundo about the veracity of the alleged agreement.

High point of discontent

Cubans are not only arriving by land, but also continue to take risks by sea in improvised boats.

Hundreds of them have been intercepted by the Coast Guard in recent months and others have died trying to reach the Florida coast.

In this image from the US Coast Guard, Cuban immigrants are seen on a sinking boat, on February 3, 2022, about 40 miles from Key Largo, Florida.AP

Cuba has historically argued that the United States encourages irregular immigration, citing the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act that allows Cubans to obtain permanent residency one year after arriving on US soil.

[They denounce the sale of explosive croquettes in Cuba: "He bathed my face and chest in boiling oil"]

Social unrest within the island has reached its highest point in decades during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Caribbean island's most important source of income, tourism, was almost completely paralyzed, complicating already access to medicines and staple foods.

Allegations of political repression against dissenting voices have also played a role.

"I came to reunite with my family, apart from the problems that our country has, which are economic and others

," says Julio Martínez, the disabled Cuban migrant.

His plans in the United States, he says, are "those of any person."

“If I could work, I work.

Being able to make a higher quality prosthesis ", she says." And being able to start, like any citizen, a normal life ".

Reporter Maylin Legañoa contributed to this story.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-05-12

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