VILLA CLARA, Cuba (AP) — Some of the more than 840 Haitians, who tried to reach the United States in a boat but ended up in Cuba, said Thursday that they fled violence in their country and were charged thousands of dollars by smugglers who ushered them onto a dilapidated boat and later abandoned them at sea.
It is the largest single arrival of people from Haiti on the Cuban coast amid an increasing exodus caused by gang violence and other problems there.
“They deceived us. In my case [a trafficker] told me that the boat was going to have 200 or 300 people, and on a big boat it is normal. But when you’re on board you don’t know how many people are going to appear,” said Maximaud Cherizard, a 34-year-old engineer who travelled with a seven-year-old son, his wife and his sister.
“We were ashamed when we arrived” in Cuba, Cherizard said. The boat was so packed that some people were on the vessel’s roof, he said.
The 842 people were rescued Tuesday by the Cuban coast guard and other government services in the vicinity of Caibarien in Villa Clara province, about 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the capital, Havana. They were taken to a temporary centre in a former summer camp and were in isolation as a health precaution.
According to the account of at least three migrants with whom the AP spoke, the group left Tortuga Island in northern Haiti after waiting there for almost two months for the trip. News of the supposed opportunity to go to Florida had spread spread by word of mouth and some people said they paid US$4,000 each for a spot on the boat.
They were taken in a small boat to the larger one early Saturday morning and their phones were taken away by smugglers, who alleged the signal would make them detectable by US Coast Guard, according to the migrants.
There were 70 children, including infants, among the migrants, Cuban authorities reported.
“In Haiti there is no future for babies,” said Loverie Horat, the 30-year-old mother of a 24-day-old infant. She told The Associated Press that she and her husband boarded the boat after leaving Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.
Migrants said that insecurity and poverty in Haiti forced them to flee.