Mahound’s Paradise highlights a refugee crisis that Pope Francis could use some of his patented compassion and mercy by highlighting:
At least 80,000 people have died in open water, attempting to flee Castro’s Cuba. Or at least that number is probable. Presumably most drowned, though undoubtedly many died of thirst or exposure, were eaten by sharks or were directly murdered by the Cuban border police or coast guard. Estimated figures for the number of lost were discussed in a 2004 paper by Maria Werlau, the Executive Director of the Cuba Archive:
Armando Lago, Ph.D., has derived an estimate of 77,814 such victims from data obtained in studies by the Oceanographic Institute of the University of Miami and the University of Havana. (Telephone interview of October 2003 with Armando Lago, Ph.D., Project Director of the Truth Recovery Archive on Cuba, www.CubaArchive.org. This data is from his upcoming book The Human Cost of So- cial Revolution: The Black Book of Cuban Communism.) Another study, using available estimates of survival rates, estimated in 1995 that over 100,000 may have perished from 1959 to 1994. (Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, “The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty,” Miami: Cuban American National Council, 1995.) Francisco Chaviano, who attempted to collect this information inside Cuba, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1995. There are many media and anecdotal reports of deaths, but the identity of victims is rarely es- tablished and a systematic recording of bodies found at sea does not exist. (See, for example, P. Abusleme Hoffman, “Mueren dos mujeres en travesía de Cuba a la Florida,” El Nuevo Herald, 24 de febrero de 2001.) The exact number of victims, or even an accurate estimate, is simply impossible to know under the current circumstances and, in fact, may never be known precisely.
Unlike the current situation in the Mediterranean, where despite some well-reported cases, the vast majority of migrants successfully completed the crossing, the success rate for Cuban “rafters” is far worse. Almost certainly, over 50% of Cuban rafters failed in their attempt–though failure would not necessarily mean death but rather the more “benign” fate of being thwarted by Cuban police or the U.S. Coast Guard (which, tragically, since 1994 has followed a policy of forcibly repatriating intercepted refugees).
But at most times the death rate has probably been 25% or higher of those making the attempt. The total figure for deaths is close to 1% of the Island’s population.
Here are a few other interesting facts:
- In 1994 Fidel Castro made a bizarre threat. He told the United States he would stop shooting people (or boarding or ramming their boats, etc.) who were trying to leave. Instead of thanking God and running up the welcome flags for escapees from communism, the Clinton Administration got Castro to go back on the threat by agreeing to empower the U.S. Coast Guard to send virtually all intercepted escapees back to Cuba.
- Because leaving Cuba is illegal, the homemade boats and rafts come in all shapes, colors and sizes. See the end of this post for one that features the body of a truck.
- If you see an empty raft in the Straits, chances are that represents human beings who didn’t make it. After picking up rafters, the U.S. Coast Guard usually destroys rafts it intercepts as a hazard to shipping.
- The crossing usually takes three to five days. Sometimes rafters make it to the Dog Rocks, a set of uninhabited islands off the Bahamas (see below).
- Latin American leftists (and their friends in the United States) call the refugees “worms”.
Pope Francis has called the refusal to aid Mediterranean refugees in distress an “act of war”. I do not believe he has ever spoken of the Cuban refugee situation. Nor am I aware of any previous Vatican comments on the matter (though that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any). Perhaps the Pope will bring it up in the next few days.