US is returning 40 migrants to Cuba after intercepting two ships

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By Brian Ellsworth

MIAMI (Reuters) – The US Coast Guard said on Friday it has returned 40 people to Cuba after intercepting two ships near Florida while two people were being investigated for people smuggling.

In view of the growing economic problems in the Caribbean countries, more and more migrants are trying their luck at sea.

The ships were spotted near the Florida Keys on Sunday and Tuesday. Two suspected smugglers have been turned over to Homeland Security investigations, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

“People entering the United States illegally with smugglers are putting their lives in the hands of criminals,” said Mark Cobb, Lieutenant Commander of the Coast Guard. “Migrant smugglers are ruthless criminals who only care about profit.”

US sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced international tourism, have hurt Cuba’s economy. The Coast Guard said its crews have banned 690 Cubans since Oct. 1, compared to 838 in the 12 months ended Sept. 30.

Haitian boat migration is increasing due to an economic downturn and a rise in gang-related kidnappings, which have worsened since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.

The Coast Guard said Thursday it intercepted a sailing ship carrying 191 Haitians. [L1N2U723B]

It also called off the search for 34 people who disappeared after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the Florida coast. US authorities have not disclosed the nationalities of those on board.

Five bodies were recovered and there was one survivor. Colombia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it would assist this survivor, a citizen identified as Juan Montoya, who was taken to a Miami hospital in the care of immigration authorities. His sister Maria Montoya died in the accident.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; additional reporting by Julia Symmes-Cobb in Bogota; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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