US-bound Cubans pour into Panama through Colombia
Led by smugglers armed with knives and machetes, Mayra Reyes and 14 other Cubans sloshed through swamps and rivers and suffered hordes of mosquitoes as they struggled across the notorious Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia, the only north-south stretch of the Americas to defy road-builders.
... the U.S. Coast Guard has been patrolling the Florida Straits more aggressively, halting many before they can reach Florida. Most Cubans who reach U.S. soil can stay, but those intercepted at sea are usually returned to their homeland, and U.S. figures indicate that more than 1,000 have been stopped at sea so far this year. So Cubans have turned to land routes. In the first nine months of this fiscal year, 7,407 Cubans have entered the United States through the border with Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
President Rafael Correa eliminated visa requirements for Cuba in 2008, as other countries in Latin America, including Mexico, made it harder for Cubans to reach their shores.
All a Cuban needs is an exit permit from the Cuban government and a letter of invitation from a citizen of Ecuador, where some people sell such letters for $300 to $500.
Mildred Morales, a 34-year-old Cuban nurse who was part of Reyes' group, said she paid $300 just to cross the border into Panama. She had spent about $1,000 since leaving Ecuador three days earlier.