This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
MIAMI — Cuban exiles once again are making haste for the shore of the United States.
Statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that 22,755 undocumented Cubans arrived in the United States by land or sea during the previous fiscal year. The figure represents an increase of 20 percent compared to last year’s numbers, but it is double the number who came in 2012.
Jorge Armando Martinez, 28, left his family and 2-year-old daughter last February to make the 90-mile trek from Cuba to Florida. He chose a windsurfing board to make the voyage.
He said he planned to make the trip in five hours. He had one bottle of water, a few pieces of candy and a compass to guide him.
That five-hour trip turned into four days in the Florida Straits.
“Some fishermen found me near Marquesas Key, and when I arrived on the shore the Coast Guard was already waiting for me,” Martinez told Florida Watchdog. “There they attended to me and took me to the hospital. I was dehydrated and a little delirious.”
Why did he risk his life to come to the United States?
“In Cuba I had no future. Right now, there is no place to live. You spend a lifetime and finally you get too old to have any hope of buying anything or giving your children any kind of future,” he said.
In Cuba, Martinez worked as a teacher for about 240 Cuban pesos, or about $12 a month.
Pedro Roig, senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said he’s not surprised by the jump in the number of people trying to get out of Cuba and safely ashore in the United States.
“While I don’t think it (the most recent statistics of new arrivals) classifies as an exodus, because it hasn’t managed to reach the numbers we had before where the number was 100,000, it is a high number,” Roig said. “I think that it has to do with the way in which the Cubans, above all young Cubans, are getting information they didn’t have before.”
Although young people in Cuba have limited access to the Internet, information avenues “are opening up,” he said.
Young people, he said, “are seeing that there are opportunities of life denied to them at this time because of the (communist) system,” Roig said.
And it’s not just the information super highway getting the word out to Cubans. It’s coming by word-of-mouth as well.
President Obama opened travel for Cuban-Americans with family still living in the island nation, and the flow of travelers increased. In 2012, more than 350,000 Cuban-Americans visited their homeland, from some 209,000 in 2004.
“The families that live here and visit over there, they tell them about the opportunities that they have and how they live, and that makes them want to progress, and they want to leave (Cuba),” Roig said.
José Azel, author of the book, “Mañana en Cuba” (Tomorrow in Cuba) an analyst for Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, said the recent increase in Cuban arrivals is a result of the failed policies of Raúl Castro, who took the reins in 2008 when his brother, Fidel, fell into declining health.
“A few years ago, Raul Castro raised the expectations of the Cuban people, when Cubans thought he was going to bring about the economic reform, and that opportunities were going to improve,” Azel said. “I think what we see now is a total disenchantment with the realization of those so-called reforms are not going to change the economic situation in Cuba.”
Unlike other undocumented immigrants, thanks to the 1966 “Cuban Adjustment Act,” Cubans who manage to make it to U.S. soil qualify for expedited “legal permanent resident” status and eventually U.S. citizenship. Those found at sea, however, are sent back to Cuba or a third country.