Treacherous trip to Puerto Rico

US Coast Guard’s stern warnings fail to deter Haitians and Dominicans from risking everything to make the crossing.

He tells me his name is Raymondo, but that is probably a lie and for good reason.

“Raymondo” is a smuggler who takes illegal migrants across the Mona passage, a treacherous shark-infested stretch of ocean between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Business has been brisk lately, with an increasing number of Haitians and Dominicans risking everything to make the crossing to what they hope is a better life.

From Nagua, on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the journey can take 18 hours and despite the accounts of cannibalism, shark attacks and rape, the numbers of those making the journey is rapidly rising.

“We have nothing to lose,” David Delva tells me at a church in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “We came from a place where there is only failure and I want happiness.”

David is 29, a former hotel worker from Port-au-Prince who spent three days at sea to reach Puerto Rico. He hopes to contact his brothers in the US and eventually settle in Miami.

Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the US, is viewed by many migrants as an “easy” route to the continental US.

A thriving black market in fake US driving licences means some can board planes to the US without the need for a passport, but for a group of new arrivals, who are offered shelter and advice at the San Mateo church in San Juan, the future is less than certain.

Many have spent all they have to make the perilous crossing.

Smugglers charge around $1,500 per passenger and without money and family contacts they remain in limbo.

“Illegal migration by these means at sea is very dangerous,” Captain Brendan McPherson of the US Coast Guard says.

“We know of the ones we interdict at sea, we often know of those who may make it to land, what we don’t know are the many hundreds who have perished at sea,” he told us.

But it is doubtful that stern warnings from the US coast guard will discourage the thousands who continue to strive for something better.

Watching the group of new arrivals at the church in San Juan you can see the hope, desperation and uncertainty in their eyes.

Few know, with any certainty, what awaits them, but they are keenly aware that a chance to make money for their families and strive for a better way of life are worth the extreme risks involved.