June 15, 2006

Honduras new route for Cubans bound for the U.S

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - Honduras is becoming a
key staging point for human trafficking rings bringing
undocumented Cuban immigrants to the United States, authorities
said on Thursday.

The Central American nation has long been a stepping stone
for Latin American immigrants bound for the U.S. border, but
the government said at least 292 Cubans have washed up on the
palm-fringed Caribbean coast this year, up from 177 in 2005.

Migration authorities say organized human trafficking gangs
spirit the Cuban nationals north through neighboring Guatemala
and Mexico to the United States, in an illicit trafficking
pipeline funded by Cuban relatives living stateside.

Honduran Foreign Minister Milton Jimenez said that while
authorities give asylum to the Cubans they nab, police have
started an investigation to try to break up the human
trafficking rings at work in the country.

"We cannot tolerate the fact that there are three or four
coyotes (professional smugglers) using our territory," he said.

Under U.S. policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil can stay but
the U.S. Coast Guard works to intercept Cubans coming from the
sea. These people are repatriated.

To avoid the Coast Guard, smugglers have shifted their
focus to Mexico and Central America, from where Cuban migrants
try to make it into the United States.