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One Cuban Family’s Long And Risky Journey To A New Life In The U.S.

Cuban migrants who arrived in northwestern Colombia set out to cranky illegally to Panama by a jungle in Aug 2016.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images


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Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Cuban migrants who arrived in northwestern Colombia set out to cranky illegally to Panama by a jungle in Aug 2016.

Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

In Jan 2016, Yoandra, a 37-year-old singular mom holding caring of her four-year-old son, faced a sheer choice.

Along with her son and comparison brother, Yoandra had left home in Cuba a year before, seeking a improved life. For scarcely a year, she’d been vital in Ecuador as an undocumented immigrant, but a pursuit or prospects.

She could stay put and wish for a best. Or she could take her chances and leave.

Yoandra, who wishes to be identified usually by her initial name given she fears reprisals opposite her family in Cuba, motionless it was time to go. Ecuador had usually tightened a borders and was commencement to impulse down on Cubans vital there illegally. She didn’t wish to risk deportation. Her aim was to strech a United States.

End Of 'Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot' Means Cubans Can Join Ranks Of 'Undocumented'

Diplomatic ties between a United States and Cuba were improving. But many Cubans vital in South America disturbed that a normalization of family would meant that a supposed wet-foot, dry-foot process — that given 1996 had postulated Cubans entrance to a U.S. but a visa a right to stay and get on a quick lane to citizenship — competence be entrance to an end.

It fueled Yoandra and her brother’s preference to get to a border, step onto U.S. dirt and turn authorised residents — and afterwards U.S. citizens.

Their devise was to walk, take buses, boats, planes — whatever it took to cranky 8 borders by Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala — and afterwards finally, from Mexico into a United States.

The initial leg of their tour was an 11-day train float from Quito, Ecuador, to Turbo, Colombia. After this, they boarded a vessel to a Panamanian city of Puerto Obaldía, circuitously a Colombian border.

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That’s when a outing started to demeanour grim.

Yoandra suspicion they could locate a reservoir jumper to Panama City. But they found thousands of other Cubans already watchful to locate a same plane, that usually left once a month. There was no revelation when they could get out.

Worried about using out of time and money, she and her hermit pressed a trek with as most food as they could lift and assimilated a tiny organisation of Cubans who paid a internal beam some $30 to lead them out of a area on foot.

“When your son gets adult and says to you, ‘Mom, I’m hungry,’ and we don’t have anything to give him, we get desperate,” she said. “So that’s because we motionless to travel by a jungle.”

That jungle was a Darien Gap — a healthy rainforest along a Panama-Colombia border, a place scandalous for a infrequently lethal dangers. The area is so unenlightened that a Pan-American Highway ends and afterwards picks adult again some 50 miles on a other side.

Everything Yoandra had been warned about it was true. There were high hills and high drops, slight paths and rivers with quick currents. There was rain, mud, inflexible underbrush.

“It was really formidable to stand a hills,” she said. “You had to try to squeeze a bend from a tree, and if a bend pennyless off, we could tumble down a gorge.”

The jungle was plentiful with snakes, spiders, jaguars and crocodiles.

“I saw a biggest ants we had ever seen in my life there,” she said. “I had to keep my eye on my son a whole time.”

The Pan-American Highway is seen from a atmosphere circuitously Meteti, Darien Province, Panama, in Aug 2015. The area famous as a Darien Gap is a usually mangle in a highway, that runs from Alaska to Argentina.

Arnulfo Franco/AP


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Arnulfo Franco/AP

The Pan-American Highway is seen from a atmosphere circuitously Meteti, Darien Province, Panama, in Aug 2015. The area famous as a Darien Gap is a usually mangle in a highway, that runs from Alaska to Argentina.

Arnulfo Franco/AP

Yoandra didn’t usually fear a wildlife. Armed riotous army and paramilitary groups control certain routes in a jungle used for a drug trade and tellurian trafficking. Some guides couldn’t be devoted and took advantage of a migrants by robbing, abandoning or assaulting them.

Yoandra’s beam competence have been one of them. He changed during such a quick shave that she, her hermit and her son couldn’t keep adult with a group.

“There was a impulse where we couldn’t go any further,” she said.

The small child was also display signs that a travel was too much, so to keep his spirits up, Yoandra started to sing favorite children’s songs.

“I started to sing ‘Los pollitos dicen pio, pio, pio’ [the chicks contend ‘pio pio pio’],” she said.

Singing gave a child a small boost, she said. But they were still descending behind and eventually got lost. The 3 trekked by a jungle aimlessly for 5 days, along with a few others from their organisation who were also left behind.

“One night,” she said, “we used depressed palm tree branches to preserve ourselves from a rain.”

They ran out of food and had to eat whatever they could get from other migrants. They ate avocados right off a trees.

Eventually, they found and assimilated adult with another organisation of Cuban migrants movement by a jungle. It took scarcely 7 days sum to find their approach out.

They arrived in a city called Bajo Chiquito, where Panamanian charitable groups came to their rescue. There were many profound women, infants and children entrance out of a Darien Gap. Some indispensable medical attention. They slept outdoor in temporary shelters.

A few days later, Yoandra and her son and hermit boarded a train to a western side of Panama, to a city circuitously a Costa Rican limit where Panamanian authorities were housing Cuban migrants in a room incited shelter.

But Costa Rica and other circuitously Central American countries had in a meantime sealed their borders to a swell of northbound Cubans, stranding thousands.

Realizing a problem wasn’t going to go divided anytime soon, a Panamanian and Mexican governments concluded to an airlift — a array of flights for Cubans to get to Ciudad Juarez.

Broke and distraught, Yoandra managed to scrounge a income for a craft tickets. Once she was aboard a plane, it was a initial time she felt her dream would turn a reality.

“I was really grateful,” she said, “but we also knew that a lot of people were left behind who wouldn’t be as propitious as us.”

On May 14, 2016 — 13 months after she’d initial left Cuba — Yoandra finally crossed a U.S. limit during El Paso, Texas, with her son and brother. They had trafficked some 3,000 miles. They were among a some-more than 100,000 Cubans who entered a United States between 2014 and 2016, before President Obama announced a finish of a wet-foot, dry-foot process in Jan 2017.

Yoandra has given staid in Emporia, Kansas. She has solid work, 6 days a week, earning roughly $16 an hour. Her son is enrolled in propagandize and creation new friends.

This story is partial of a “New Era in Cuban Migration” series, a collaborative plan between a Miami Herald, 14ymedio and Radio Ambulante, done probable by a extend from a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.