November 19, 2006

What is the season in Honduras?

Is it winter? Rainy season? Hurricane season? Christmas season? Shopping season?

Yes, it is all of those but it is also la temporada de los balseros Cubanos.

November until February is the "season of the Cuban rafters." This is the time of year that the winds and currents are right for sailing from Cuba to freedom in the north coast of Honduras.

Small groups of desperate Cubans, usually 5 to 15, sometimes including women and children, sail on makeshift boats during bad weather with the hope of reaching the north shores of Honduras.

They leave Cuba with nothing more than some food and water, often stopping in the Cayman Islands to replenish their supplies. Sometimes they are even able to get a small engine and some fuel from sympathetic Caymans.

By the time they arrive, the Cubans are usually starving, dehydrated, and terribly sunburned after two weeks or more on the sea.

The government of Honduras always puffs themselves up and says that the law of Honduras states that they must be deported back to Cuba. The Cubans say, "Better to kill us now than to send us back to Cuba where we will spend the rest of our lives in prison for escaping from Cuba."

Then Honduras relents and gives them a 30-day permission, always stating that the government has no money to sustain them. Somehow, probably through the generosity of Honduran citizens, they are fed and clothed.

Relatives or Cuban exile groups in Miami will then negotiate with the government of Honduras, promising economic support for the sustenance of the exiles. I seriously doubt that that 'economic support' ever reaches the Cubans or those who care for them, but rather ends up in someone's pocket in return for looking the other way.

That is the end of the official story. They are never heard from again in the newspapers. El Jefe tells me that almost all travel to a better life in the USA, legally or illegally.

Why do they come to the poor country of Honduras of all places? The Cuban saying is that "to land in Honduras is to land in Miami." The Caymans, Belize, and Mexico routinely return the Cubans to Cuba.

In the past two years, 600 Cubans have risked their lives to sail for Honduras.

The Washington Post has an excellent article, "A Risky Route to Freedom Desperate Cubans Head For U.S. Via Honduras," about some Cubans who arrived in Honduras in May.
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