Cuba cracks down on would-be rafters
This undated handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. (Photo: AP)

MIAMI, United States (CMC) — American law enforcers said on Friday that Cuba is reportedly cracking down on would-be rafters as the United States Coast Guard ramps up patrols in the Caribbean Sea.

The US Coast Guard said residents of a shanty town in a coastal area near Havana clashed two weeks ago with police officers who were looking for makeshift rafts one of two recent violent confrontations involving the country's security forces "as authorities appear to be ramping up efforts to curb the number of Cubans fleeing to the United States by sea".

In a separate incident, the US Coast Guard said its Cuban counterpart reportedly detained two US residents who attempted to pick up Cubans on a speed boat near La Coloma in Pinar del Río province on Monday.

The US Coast Guard said the number of Cubans attempting to reach US shores has "dramatically increased in recent weeks as the population struggles with a devalued peso, food shortages and daily blackouts".

Since August 27, a total of 219 Cubans have landed in Florida and were taken into custody, according to information provided by Walter N Slosar, the US Border Patrol's Miami Sector chief agent, on Twitter.

The US Coast Guard said it returned another 85 to Cuba last Wednesday.

The number of those halted at sea by the US Coast Guard since October — 5,392 — is about to surpass those sent back in 2016 — 5,396 — the highest number so far in the past six years, the US Coast Guard said.

Responding to the increase in migration from Cuba and Haiti, Task Force Southeast, an inter-agency group led by the US Department of Homeland Security, announced two weeks ago that it was "increasing patrols and enforcement by land, air and sea" in the Caribbean.

The task force, comprising several agencies, including the US Defense Department and the Coast Guard, was created in 2003 to respond to large numbers of migrants trying to reach US shores.

"The US Border Patrol Miami Sector is committed to working alongside our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in a whole-of-government effort to prepare for and address any potential increases in irregular maritime migration or border security threats in Florida," said Slosar, who is also the task force's deputy director.

The US Coast Guard said many more Cubans are arriving by land through the US- Mexico border — 177,848 between last October and July — making this the largest migration from Cuba since the early 1960s.

Experts and activists suspect the island's authorities cut a deal with the Government of Nicaragua to let Cubans travel to the Central American country without visas, effectively turning Nicaragua "into a launching pad for mass migration" to the US, said Kelly M Greenhill, an associate professor of political science in Tufts University in an event organised by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University last month.

Greenhill, the author of the book, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion, and Foreign Policy", argues that the Cuban Government has a "well-established pattern of using migration to coerce the United States to the negotiating table and force changes in US foreign policy", according to the US Coast Guard.

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