From Cuba to Miami in Business Class

By Abel Sanchez  (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — Felix took five days making a journey that, on a plane, takes no more than 40 minutes. He left Havana one Sunday afternoon and arrived in Miami Thursday night. He was exhausted, unbathed, unshaven, famished and weighed several pounds less, but when he hugged his relatives at the end of the trip he was very happy. After all, he had been lucky.

Félix and his girlfriend were students in their fifth year at medical school but decided not to finish their career to avoid the two years of what is known is Cuba as “social service.”

They found a contact — nobody knows how because such things are not revealed — a coyote who, for 6,000 dollars, would help them cross the border in a relatively safe manner. There are more expensive and safer alternatives, but they could not afford them.

The greater the safety, the higher the price, and both knew that all the money in the world will not guarantee a safe trip. You depend on luck or, what’s the same, the honesty of the person who brings you across.

They were told one week earlier that the flight would leave the following Sunday at 3 p.m. Beyond the concealed farewells, the restrained, badly concealed tears, the half-spoken secret that everyone imagines, the discreet certainty that there will be no return (at least not soon), came the sensation of being torn away, of being flung into the void, into the vortex of the universe.

Besides the minor mishaps typical of emigration, the first half of the trip transpired without complications. Nobody asked too many questions when they left Cuba or when they arrived in Mexico City. Outwardly, theirs was nothing more than a harmless tourist holiday.

The problems began shortly after they boarded the bus that would take them to Laredo, to the border between two worlds.

Barely three hours after they departed, they were stopped at the first federal police checkpoint. An officer got on the bus, said hello, exchanged some words with the driver and walked straight to their seat.

The officer asked Félix to step down, as his girlfriend watched, trembling, from the other side of the window. A couple of policemen led him to a bathroom next to the checkpoint shack. They weren’t looking for weapons or drugs, only for money.

They stood Félix face to the wall and frisked him from head to toes; then they had him turn around and asked him to lower his trousers. That was unnecessary. They had already found the cash he carried with him, when they saw the money belt around his waist.

That had been a rookie mistake, the coyote later explained to them. The money is usually carried by the women in their underwear, close to the skin. According to the rules, the police are not permitted to frisk women, which gives them a certain advantage — if and when the policemen follow the rules.

One of the guards counted the money and pocketed it. Félix tried to protest, but the policemen shoved him. They were still not satisfied.

“Listen, pal,” said the one who had counted the cash, “you’re going to cross the border and we know it.”

“I’m not going to cross anything. I’m on a holiday tour and my papers are in order.”

“Don’t play smart, you idiot. If you want to reach the border without problems help us, and we’ll help you.”

“I didn’t come to cross the border. I’m on a holiday tour.”

“If you don’t cooperate, we’ll bring your girl here and frisk her the way we frisked you. Is that what you want?”

“I didn’t come to cross the border.”

“We’re going to take your documents.”

“I didn’t come to…”

The exchange lasted several minutes, until someone — Félix doesn’t know for sure who — phoned police headquarters. After talking a few seconds on the phone, the guard who was questioning him kept the money and told the others to let him go. Apparently, the contact was reliable.

The same scene was later repeated a couple more times, with slight variations: the bus was halted, a federal policeman went aboard, went directly to their seat without checking anyone else and asked them to step down.

Félix believes that it was the driver himself who told the police that they were Cubans. But from that time on, Félix managed to keep from surrendering his money, no matter how much they tried to extort him.

When the bus arrived at the final checkpoint in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday morning — aided by the coyote, who finally did his part — the two had clear symptoms of what is called the Ulysses Syndrome, the syndrome of the emigrant, with chronic and multiple stress.

Once across the border, in Laredo, Texas, they were not taken to a detention center for immigrants because it was full. They had to stay in the border station the three days that it took to process them, sleeping on the floor, using their backpacks as pillows, near the bathroom (the warmest place in the building, nobody knows why), along with many others who had crossed the border, just like them.

From those people they learned that they had been lucky. Lucky that they had been stopped by the federal police, not by the Zeta or Mara gangs or the kidnappers.

Lucky that they didn’t go through the experiences they heard: Cubans who come from Ecuador and disappear; Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans who cross Mexico in a freight train called The Beast, because the people climb aboard while it’s moving, risking mutilation or death. Once aboard, they risk being mugged during the night, while they try not to fall asleep.

They heard the stories of 72 migrants who were gunned down by narcos because they refused to join their gang; about women who are raped and/or forced to become prostitutes.

Barely one day after their arrival, they saw two Salvadoran children under the age of 10, unaccompanied. Nobody knew how they got that far.

That’s why, when Félix and his girl arrived at Miami International Airport five days after leaving Havana and he was asked about the trip, despite the exhaustion, the stress and the hunger, he essayed a half-smile and answered, “Us? We came in business class.”


32 thoughts on “From Cuba to Miami in Business Class

  • September 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm
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    The country doesn’t get the opportunity to do its best for its people.
    The country is under the dictatorial control of the Castro family regime. Again you try to mitigate the economic disaster and food rationing and lack of human rights in Cuba by mentioning the problems of others.
    The are others you don’t mention North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. Why leave them out?

  • September 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm
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    I spend more than half the year in Cuba, my wife, our home and yes, even our dog are in Cuba, I am related to 68 Cubans and my God-daughter is Cuban. That is home! Where do you live when not shivering in your cave in your Chinese cotton Che T shirt?
    Explaining problems in other countries does not mitigate in any way the dictatorship of the Castro Ruz family.
    My concerns are for Cuba and the Cuban people if I am regarded by you as a “propagandist” for their desire for a better life and freedom, I am proud to be so. If you want a dose of real propaganda watch Cuban State TV – especially the “education” channel. That’s channel 25 on my TV at home.
    You ask about financial support – I guess the basis of such a snide totally unjustified remark is an inability to actually deny the points I make and a desire to cow-tow to Socialismo.

  • September 4, 2014 at 11:15 am
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    First of all because they don’t get VISAS from the US so they risk it thinking that streets are paved of gold in the US. You read a lot about those Cubans who make it but not about those who are in economic dire straits or have tried to return to Cuba. How many Central Americans migrate to Honduras? Cuba is in mcu better shape than Honduras, El Salvador and Southern Mexico, but of course you can exploit people and become wealthy…how many become wealthy in the US? How many Latinos (a very small percentage…) Cuba is neither hell nor paradise, just a country trying to do the best for its people…..

  • September 4, 2014 at 11:10 am
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    Yeah, that is why Cubans seem so sickly with the children showing their stomachs extended with parasites, just like in the Dominican Republic, Honduras or Panama….I guess being a propagandist gets you some financial support? By the way, you don’t live in Cuba!

  • September 3, 2014 at 2:44 pm
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    Not many DaN!
    The 2012 Census by Cuba revealed less that 5,600 residents born in other countries. Yes here are some Jamaicans who immigrated in the 20’s and 30’s – hence he annual cricket match.
    But in a world with an ever swelling number of economic, political and racial refugees civilized countries are offering refuge to them. Canada takes in over 300,OOO a year. The European Union countries have ever increasing numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants from Africa. The USA in addition to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants per year
    is inundated by millions of illegal immigrants.
    How many of these desperate people are offered refuge by Cuba?
    NONE, not one, NADA
    Why are there jobs in the free democratic countries which open their doors and hearts to the oppressed and why do those refugees accept?
    That DaN is because the freedom of the individual has encouraged capitalism and the creation of jobs. Cubans have neither freedom or democracy and offers no refuge for the oppressed – having 11 million already.
    Don’t bother DaN to advise me to visit Cuba – it is where my home is and where I daily observe reality.
    It also means that when there I cannot contribute to this site as there is no access to the Internet. There is no access to free media, be it TV, radio or press, only that which the Castro family in its generosity to its subjects permits.

  • September 3, 2014 at 8:00 am
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    Griffin, you need to visit Cuba. I have met Jamaicans and Haitians living there. Anyway, you miss the point. Economic refugees always flee to the Empire. It’s where the jobs are, y que ?

  • September 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm
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    rodrigvm, the GDP per capita in Cuba is $5,460. The average income is $252.
    $252 represents 4.6% of the GDP per capita.
    The balance is retained by the Castro family regime!
    A very major foreign business operating in Cuba pays the regime $9,000 per annum per worker. The workers receive $300 per annum from the regime.
    $300 represents 3.3% of the GDP per capita.
    The balance is retained by the Castro family regime.
    In each case the worker is receiving less than 5% of the total. Conclusion! Moses got his facts right!
    You may not personally value freedom in which case you should immigrate to Cuba – which for you has the added attraction for you of no tax!

  • September 2, 2014 at 9:51 am
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    How can you explain that Cubans sails rustic rafts to central america by thousand every year and central american people never try to get in Cuba????

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