Baracoa, Cuba : Cuba is depopulating. With the economy sputtering, the largest exodus yet suggests its people and students have lost hope.

Over the last year, nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2 percent of the island's 11 million people, have migrated to the United States, most of them arriving at the southern border by land, according to U.S.government data.

Even for a nation known for mass exodus, the current wave is remarkable -l arger than the 1980 Mariel boatlift and 1994 Cuban rafter crisis combined; until recently, those were the island's two biggest migration events. 

Roger Garcia Ordaz makes no secret of his many attempts to flee. He has tried to leave Cuba 11 times on boats made of wood, Styrofoam and reason, and he has a tattoo for each failed attempt :

Three boats mishaps and eight times picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent home.

Hundreds of homemade, rickety boats have left this year from the shores of Baracoa, a fishing village west of Havana where Mr. Garcia, 34, lives - so many that local residents call the town ''Terminal Three.''

''Of course I am going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there,'' he said. ''Or if the sea wants to take my life, so be it.''

LIVING CONDITIONS in Cuba under Communist rule have long been precarious, but today, poverty and hopelessness have set off the largest exodus from the Caribbean nation since Fidel Castro rose to power over half a century ago.

The country has been hit with one-two-punch of tighter U.S. sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic, which eviscerated one of Cuba's lifelines - the tourism industry.

Food has become even more scarce and more expensive, lines of pharmacies with scant supplies begin forming before dawn and millions of people endure daily hourslong blackouts.

While those movements peaked within a year, experts say this migration, which they compare with a wartime exodus, has no end in sight and threatens the stability of a country that already has one of the hemisphere's oldest populations.

The avalanche of Cubans leaving has also become a challenge for the United States. Now one of the highest sources of migrants after Mexico, Cuba has become a top contributor to the crush of migrants on the U.S. Mexico border, which has been a major political liability for President Biden and which the administration considers a serious national security issue.

''The numbers for Cuba are historic, and everybody recognizes that,'' said a senior State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

''That said, more people are migrating globally now ''than ever before '' and that trend is certainly bearing out in our hemisphere, too.''

Many experts say that U.S. policy toward the island is helping fuel the very migration crisis that the administration is now struggling to address.

The World Students Society thanks authors Ed Augustin and Frances Robles.


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