Couple say they want ‘normal’ life that has eluded them in Cuba

By Laura Becquer

Havana, Jun 16 (EFE).- Angel Antonio and Arlyn Torres are among the tens of thousands of Cubans who in recent months have sold virtually everything they own, incurred mountains of debt and embarked on a United States-bound journey via Central America in search of a better future.

The young married couple, who on Thursday were near the Guatemala-Mexico border, discussed their plans, dreams and fears in an interview with Efe just two days prior to departing Cuba.

The “normal” life they are seeking, says Angel, “is for it not to be a problem to have food, our own house and independence” and to afford those things with the money they earn at their jobs.

“And that’s very difficult in Cuba,” he added.

Like many of their other countrymen, they were spurred to emigrate by Nicaragua’s decision last November to eliminate its visa requirement for Cuban nationals, choosing to embark on a journey they hope will lead them to the US and allow them to “start from scratch.”

The trip is fraught with peril and entails enormous sacrifice.

Migrants put their lives in the hands of “coyotes” – as people smugglers in that region are known -, incur huge economic costs and are at constant risk of being deported back to their homeland.

Between October and April, nearly 115,000 Cubans arrived via the Central American route at the US-Mexico border, according to the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

That figure is comparable to the huge migratory flow of 1980, when 125,000 Cuban asylum seekers made the journey across the Straits of Florida to the US.

“We’re afraid. We’ve sold everything. They could deport us, and there are even stories of people who’ve been killed. That’s why it’s best not to think about that too much,” said Arlyn, a 30-year-old with an accounting degree who had been working at a private cafeteria in Old Havana.

Her 27-year-old husband, who had been working as a machinist at a cigar factory, had never thought about leaving. But an “accumulation of things” led them to make that decision. “They kept both of us at home because of Covid-19, and food started to become scarce,” he said.

“We have plans to have children. Then we thought, ‘how are we going to feed our children without that stress of how to get food, without always having to improvise?” Angel said.

He said they have incurred tens of thousands of dollars in debt with family members in the US and face “the uncertainty of not knowing if we’ll get there,” though adding that “no one will stop us.”

Angel and Arlyn opted for the “Nicaragua” route despite all the risks it entails, deciding like many of their compatriots that the sea journey would be far too dangerous.

Applying for a US immigrant visa is very difficult, costly and uncertain. The US Embassy in Havana reduced to a minimum its consular services in 2017 and only this year has begun gradually to expand those services. Most of those visa applications are handled in other countries.

The trip will cost Angel and Arlyn a total of $23,000, including the flight to Nicaragua, lodging, transportation and, of course, the payment for the services of a “coyote” recommended by a friend and a cousin, who had previously taken that same route and now are in the US.

Upon arrival in that Central American country, they said they would be picked up at the airport and taken to a hostal. They would then be driven by taxi the following day to the Nicaraguan-Honduran border, which they were to cross on foot before seeking a safe-passage permit.

“Then, without any chance to sleep, we’ll continue on to Guatemala,” Arlyn said, adding that migrants are more vulnerable there because authorities do not even provide migrants with a short-term safe-passage document.

She said she and her husband were told they would have to lie down on the floor of a bus for 12 hours to avoid detection by Guatemalan police or immigration personnel and not even get up to go to the bathroom.

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