It is very difficult for many to fathom the idea of traveling in the smallest of vessels through a vast and dangerous sea, across thousands of miles battling giant waves, the blistering sun, hunger, thirst and great fear. But the hope of a better life has driven thousands of Cuban residents to take the unthinkable challenge of crossing the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to find refuge in another country.
This is such the case of a group of 17 Cuban refugees that made landfall in the Area of Santa Fe located about 6 1/2 miles North Ambergris Caye on Monday, March 3. San Pedro Police Department received a phone call around 6:15 a.m. and transported them to the San Pedro Police Station that same morning.
San Pedro resident Elbert Greer was the first to see them. He made a posting on the site Ambergriscaye.com saying that at 5:30a.m. he was drinking his coffee when he saw a small boat coming over the reef; when it got close to shore, all the passengers jumped out and started to swim to the beach. Greer reports that when they reached the shore, they began to kiss the ground – because – he claims they thought they had reached the United States.
According to one of the refugees they were hidden for about ten days in the jungle and departed from Manzanillo, Cuba on Wednesday, February 20 at about 11:00 p.m. heading to Honduras. The 17 refugees, twelve men and five women, were encountered by three storms along the way and traveled through inclement weather and rough seas, sailing through 12 meter (39ft) waves.
According to a refugee once they ran out of fuel they began to drift and were helped by a passing yacht who offered them fuel and food. They were informed that they were about 150 miles from Cancun but instead they drifted to Ambergris Caye.
Many Cuban residents of San Pedro came to the aid of their paisanos by providing clothes, nourishment and medical attention; some of them were injured and others suffering dehydration and extreme sun exposure.
According to 7News, as of press time, the Cuban refugees were moved to the Price Barracks. CEO in the Prime Minister’s Office Audrey Wallace has confirmed that the plan is not to deport them. She says they have told Belizean authorities they were heading for Honduras, so their boat will be repaired, they will be given fuel and provisions, and hopefully, a compass and sent on their way. And while that’s what’s planned this time, it might not be so simple. Seems their vessel which was adapted to run on a diesel car engine is completely not sea worthy.
The standing agreement that Belize has with Cuba is that they should be returned, deported to Cuba. But generally, inside sources tell us that it’s considered more trouble than its worth for Belizean authorities and when it happens – typically those authorities just help them fix their boat, give them fuel and water and send them on their way. The last time authorities stored boat people at Camp Belizario in Cayo, it blew up into a public relations nightmare.