Between visits by the Obamas and Kardashians, Chanel fashion shows, and Carnival Cruise-ship dockings, all eyes have been on Cuba in 2016. But all the flashier news obscures an ongoing regional concern: the continued migration of thousands of Cubans through South and Central America into the United States.
Per the Pew Research Center, 46,635 Cubans entered the United States in the first 10 months of fiscal year 2016 (beginning in October 2015), a figure that already exceeds the 43,159 Cubans who entered in fiscal year 2015. Since AS/COA last reported on the migrant crisis in November 2015, tensions have mounted and policies changed. Quito, once the most common starting point for Cuban migrants, thanks to Ecuador’s no-visa policy, reversed its policy toward Cubans in December 2015.
One by one, the countries on the route are turning out the migrants. Costa Rica, after sheltering nearly 8,000 Cubans from November 2015 through March 2016, airlifted the majority of them to El Salvador or Mexico before officially closing its borders to Cubans without an entrance visa. Panama, which saw its own bottleneck of migrants following Costa Rica’s closure, followed suit. As Central American governments clamped down, stranded Cubans were pushed south, leaving thousands of Cubans camped out in Colombia and Ecuador this summer. Many grew impatient, opting to pay human traffickers to expedite their journey, despite the risk of robbery and violence. Washington has remained relatively quiet on the matter, even as Cuba and Costa Rica spoke out against the Cuban Adjustment Act—a U.S. policy granting Cubans special entry to the United States—and blamed it for encouraging dangerous immigration.
In this interactive map, we take a look at the 5,000-mile-plus journey from Cuba to Quito to the U.S.-Mexican border that Cubans have been undertaking for years, along with a timeline of major complications and border disputes met along the way.