The Cuban Odyssey on the Overland Route to the US / Ivan Garcia


Ivan García, Costa Rica, 11 December 2015 — One summer night in a private bar in Havana the deal was done. Miladis, 25, together with her boyfriend, would be responsible for travelling to Quito and Guayaquil to buy hundreds of kilograms of cheap clothes, knocked-off cell phones and domestic appliances to be resold later in Cuba.

Already in Ecuador the trouble started. “My boyfriend lost a lot of money in Ecuador gambling at cards and cockfighting. To settle the debt I was the payment. A coyote living in the neighbourhood of San Bartolo in Quito kept me from leaving until I paid $1,500. The option was to prostitute myself for $40 for two hours. After paying him I left with a group of eleven Cubans for the United States.

A soldier of the guerrillas in Colombia, when I was unable to pay the $400 charged per person, raped me. Please God that when the passage between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is opened I will not have to live another nightmare”, said Miladis indifferently, sitting on an outdoor concrete bench in a shelter for immigrants in the Costa Rican village of La Cruz, a few kilometers from the border with Nicaragua.

When you chat with any of the women who decided to abandon the Cuban economic madhouse, you will hear shocking life stories.

Magda, a plump woman in her forties, sitting in the dining room of the hostel El Descanso, in the Costa Rican town of Paso Canoas, says: “We left Ecuador on a night that threatened rain. In the Colombian jungle the Coyotes halted to rest. A little later some dangerous looking guys arrived with firearms. In addition to demanding a cash payment, they took a young 19-year-old woman that was traveling with the group. Another they raped several times. ”

Among the more than four thousand Cubans stranded in Costa Rica following the decision of the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega to close the border at Peñas Blancas, there are women with infants and mothers who made the journey with young children.

“It’s irresponsible. I am the father of two children and would never allow my wife to have to suffer the hardships of a difficult and risky journey”, muses Alex, a fourth-year law student, sitting on dirty cardboard on the platform of a dilapidated bus terminal in Pasos Canoas, waiting for a bus that for $15 will take them to San Ramon, a one hour drive from the Costa Rican capital.

In the town of La Cruz there are only six shelters for Cuban migrants. The largest of these is nestled in Colegio Nocturno and of the 631 persons accommodated, 185 are women and 16 are children. They sleep on foam rubber mattresses strewn in the classrooms and throughout the gym.

The Costa Rican authorities guarantee them breakfast and two hot meals a day. Until ten p.m. they can move around freely. But those who have enough money prefer to rent a room in one of the hostels in Paso Canoas, Peñas Blancas, Liberia, San Ramón or La Cruz.

The Cubans, shipwrecked on dry land, have a temporary visa for 15 days. According to Norberto Fumero, 34, there are compatriots who prostitute themselves for $20 a night. “If they hook a Costa Rican client they ask them 40 or 50 dollars. Some were prostitutes in Cuba and moved their way of life here. They can’t do anything but streetwalk. ”

Jorge, a Costa Rican taxi driver, says that several Cuban women have propositioned him with sex. “It’s pitiful. They are young and beautiful. I have been asked $30 or $40 because they have no money to continue the journey. The older ones ask for money, cigarettes or the price of a few beers”.

Many travel with their husbands. Others make the journey alone and travel with groups of people whom they know from Cuba. Yanira, a stylish brunette, worked in a food processing centre in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas province, 700 kilometers from Havana.

Yanira decided to leave the island to reunite with her boyfriend who lives in Orlando, Florida. “I traveled with little money, less than two thousand dollars. When I arrived in Panama I was already broke. How do you obtain the money?”, she asks while drinking a beer in a hostel in Paso Canoas. It takes little imagination to know how.

Translated by Araby