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Worsening conditions in Cuba are causing a new surge in migrants arriving in Florida by sea

 Cuban migrants in a makeshift balsa, or raft, south of Key West earlier this year.
U.S. Coast Guard
Cuban migrants in a makeshift balsa, or raft, south of Key West earlier this year.

The discovery of more than 30 Cuban migrants hidden in a fast boat in the Keys is the latest instance of a renewed wave Cubans say the U.S. needs to address.

On Monday, 32 Cuban migrants were found hidden in a fast boat in the Florida Keys — the latest in a surge of Cubans coming here by sea as their economy collapses at home and the U.S. struggles to respond.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies discovered the Cubans in the fast boat as it was being towed by their alleged migrant smuggler through Marathon. He was arrested and the migrants were turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.

The day before, police in Key West met 17 Cubans who'd just made landfall after three days at sea in a decrepit vessel. It’s a common scene right now in the Keys and Florida’s southeast coast, and it’s thanks to ever-worsening economic factors in Cuba.

“The most immediate reason would be the July 11 protests, which can also be partly explained by the economic situation, the pandemic, the effects of the tightening of the embargo," said Jorge Duany, who heads the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

"There seems to be a general atmosphere of hopelessness among the Cuban population.”

Cubans say their communist regime is more repressive since those anti-government protests in July. But they also complain the U.S. has not resumed processing more visas for them or allowed Cubans here to send more money to families there.

“There’s a general perception that the Biden administration has not made good on its promises — the opening up of the consular section so that people could migrate legally, plus [allowing increased U.S.] travel and remittances," Duany said.

"All of them are part of the equation.”

The Biden administration has said it first needs to make sure Havana is safe after many U.S. embassy staff fell mysteriously ill there in recent years.

The Cuban government, meanwhile, says it intends to have 90% of the island's population vaccinated by next month so it can re-open the economy to desperately needed tourism revenue.
Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.