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Flight of Cuban Exiles Is Largest Since 1980

NBC News has the story of one woman who survived a perilous sea journey
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2022 11:58 AM CDT
Inside One Cuban Woman's Perilous Journey to the US
Cuban migrants row toward Stock Island, near Key West, Fla., on Aug. 12. The US Coast Guard has intercepted many at sea, but many more are crossing the US-Mexican border.   (AP Photo/Mary Martin)

Barbara Viltres survived the journey that claimed the lives of some of her fellow Cubans who were illegally trying to enter Miami. But she didn't survive it unscathed. NBC News shares her story against the backdrop of the largest Cuban "exodus" that's occurred since 1980. Amid shortages of food, fuel, and electricity, Cubans are coming by sea and via the US-Mexico border. The AP reports they typically travel to Nicaragua as tourists and then journey toward Texas or Arizona; between January and July, Cuban migrants were intercepted at the US-Mexico border more than 150,000 times, a sixfold increase over the year prior. As for the 25-year-old Viltres, she paid about $300 for a seat on a boat that was being constructed in secret in a house in Havana.

She was among 15 passengers who set off in early August and soon ran into issues. The waves flooded the boat, and the decision was made to intentionally capsize it and sit atop it. She remained there for three days and nights as other passengers drowned. When a Coast Guard boat found them, "they tried to revive me, to get water out of my chest, but what I released was foam. ... I was rotting from the wounds I had," she says. Viltres spent two weeks in a coma in a Miami hospital. Recovery will be slow going. A Miami resident who's Cuban and has been assisting Viltres explains, "The first thing she asked the doctor was, 'Where are my nipples?' because so much of her skin had been lost." (Read the full story here.)

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