The U.S Coast Guard intercepts Cuban migrants. Photo:

For the first time in years, more and more Cubans are braving the rough waves of the open sea–whether by makeshift raft, small boats, or smugglers– to escape worsening economic conditions in their country.

Four men recently accused of running a Cuban migrant smuggling operation were busted by Federal agents in the Florida Keys, making their first court appearance on Monday.

Yosniel Fuentes, Alberto Garcia, Manuel Fonseca, and Yudier Panaque were arrested for what agents with the US Homeland Security Investigations say was a smuggling scheme using a home in Key Largo, Florida. They had made several trips bringing migrants from Cuba to the Keys, charging each migrant $10,000.

And the stories go on. 

On March 18th, 17 Cuban migrants on a boat were stopped by the US Coast Guard and later returned to Cuba. On March 3rd, 19 Cubans were rescued, prompting a search for 5 others who were missing. Just days prior, on March 1, two Cuban men whose small boat was intercepted by the Coast Guard said they had been stranded at sea for 10 days

On February 21st, 8 migrants thrown from a capsized raft–including two pregnant women– were rescued after what they said was 16 days at sea [watch video here]. A day earlier, 5 Cubans were stopped by the Coast Guard and repatriated. And 3 Cubans whose boat had flipped over were rescued by the Coast Guard on February 10th after spending 33 days on a deserted island.

The US Coast Guard reports the at-sea interception of approximately 107 Cubans since October 1st, with the previous year totaling just 49.

Many don’t make it. 2 groups, one of 10 and another of 6, had disappeared after being spotted along the Florida coast last month. Searches were later suspended. 

“People who attempt to illegally enter the United States by taking to the sea put their lives, and the lives of their accompanying family members at grave risk,” said Lt. Cmdr. Mario Gil, Coast Guard liaison officer, U.S. Embassy Havana. “We strongly discourage these dangerous and deadly voyages in favor of safe and legal ways to enter the United States.”

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