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Cuban Couple Recounts the Hardships of Socialism that Led them to Emigrate: We Want Food and ‘a Normal Life’

Matrimonio cubano relata las penurias del socialismo que los llevó a realizar un peligroso viaje para escapar del régimen

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[Leer en español]

Ángel Antonio and Arlyn Torres are two young Cubans who, like tens of thousands in recent months, have sold everything to cross irregularly Central America and reach the United States seeking “a normal life” that in their country “is very difficult.”

The young couple, who this Thursday reached the border between Guatemala and Mexico, detailed their plans, their dreams and their fears in an interview with Efe, just two days before leaving Cuba, a testimony that reflects the migratory situation affecting the country.

The “normal” life they seek, says Ángel, “is that it is not a problem to have food, a house of our own and independence with our own income from our work. And that is very difficult in Cuba,” he adds.

Both have joined the tens of thousands of Cubans who have taken advantage of Nicaragua’s decision last November to stop requiring visas for traveling Cubans whose final destination is to reach the United States and “start from scratch.”

Even though it is a complicated journey, since their lives are greatly exposed to the mercy of the “coyotes” – as migrant smugglers are known in the region– not to mention the high economic cost or the possibility of being deported, Arlyn and Angel left Cuba this weekend “without looking back”.

Between October and April, nearly 115,000 Cubans have arrived through the same Central American route as Arlyn and Angel to the U.S. border, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The number is already approaching the largest migratory wave in the recent Cuban history: the 125,000 who marched on the “Mariel sea-bridge” in 1980.

They are afraid, but remaining in Cuba is worse

“We’re scared, we’ve sold everything. They can deport us and there are stories of people even getting killed, so it’s best not to think about it too much,” says Arlyn, who at 30 years old has a degree in accounting and worked as a canteen cashier in Old Havana.

Her boyfriend, 27, who works in a cigar factory, never thought about leaving, but “an accumulation of things” led them to make the decision. “We were both admitted for covid-19 and food became scarce,” he says.

Ángel stresses his determination in face of the lack of “hope” in Cuba. He pointed out that they have incurred in a debt of thousands of dollars with relatives in the United States and is aware of “the uncertainty of not knowing if we will get there. But no one is stopping us,” he adds.

The route

Ángel and Arlyn opted for the “Nicaragua” route. The Central American route, with all the risks it entails, is the route most used in recent years by Cubans leaving for the United States, because the sea is much more dangerous.

Applying for a migrant visa for the United States is very difficult, costly and uncertain. The U.S. embassy reduced its consular services in Havana to a minimum in 2017 and only this year began to increase them gradually. Most are processed in third countries.

It is going to cost the couple a total of $23,000 for the trip, including plane tickets, accommodations, transportation and, of course, payment to a “coyote” recommended by a friend and a cousin, who preceded them on that route and who are already in U.S. territory.

The journey, according to what they say they have been told, begins when they arrive at the Managua airport from Havana. Someone is waiting there and recognizes them thanks to photos of the ticket and how they are dressed.

“There they pick us up and take us to a hostel to leave the next day by cab to the border with Honduras. We cross it on foot and look for the safe-conduct. And then, without sleep or anything else, we continued on to Guatemala,” says Arlyn.

In that country “things get complicated” because “they don’t give you any paperwork for security,” she continues.

“They say it’s the worst place to be because we have to lie on the floor of a bus so that, when we go on the road, the police or the immigration people don’t stop us,” explained the young woman, who says that “it’s like twelve hours lying on the floor without moving, not even stopping to relieve ourselves.”

Once at the border, they cross a river in “a little raft” to the Mexican city of Tapachula, “where we wait for the humanitarian visa, which they give us pretty quickly: in two or three days,” Arlyn notes.

With this document, the young woman continues, “you can go up through all of Mexico because you are legal there,” so all that remains is to cross the country and “turn yourself in at the border” with the United States.

The “coyote” they will use charges $5,500 per person, but they must also have about $1,200 more in cash to pay along the way.

The destination: Miami

Ángel says that neither he nor his wife “are afraid of work”. In the United States, specifically in Miami, where their relatives live, they will “work at anything, as long as it is decent.”

She says that “the first thing is to pay the debt, then settle down, work, become independent and start a family.”

“Our dream is to have our place, our little house, and we have had to do all this because in Cuba it is complicated to live together, hardly any couples can live alone and that always brings problems,” Arlyn indicated alluding to the chronic shortage of housing on the island.

The increase in Cuban migration is defined, first and foremost, by the serious economic crisis the country is going through after more than 60 years of socialism, what has driven out several generations of Cubans. There are also those who leave because of political repression.

Does it hurt to leave Cuba?

“Yes,” the young couple answered in unison. For her, “it’s not just leaving Cuba: it’s the family, the neighborhood, my country”. But they see no alternative. Otherwise, she points out, “we will never achieve our dream.”

“With pain in their souls and tears in their eyes, our close friends and family have told us: ‘Go ahead!’ And they do so aware of the existing situation, because they have lived through stages like this or worse and recognize the shortcomings,” Ángel assures.

Arlyn is clear: “You have to fight for your dreams and unfortunately this is not going to change, there is no hope at all. We have to take the risk.”

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