U.S. officials have wrapped up an exercise to prepare for the possible mass flow of migrants arriving by boat from Cuba or another Caribbean nation. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that the drill was intended to test existing U.S. resources to combat illegal migration, as well as drug and people smuggling.
U.S. officials said the scenario called for scores of boats from Cuba arriving on the shores of Florida after the fall of the Communist regime in Havana. Actors playing the role of Cuban migrants piloted vessels off the shore of Miami as part of the two-day exercise. In response, U.S. authorities deployed a dozen helicopters and 20 boats, including personnel from 50 agencies including the Coast Guard, and local rescue and police departments.
Officials said the exercise imagined the possible collapse of the Communist government in Cuba, but they said a mass migration also could come from Haiti, Dominican Republic or another Caribbean nation. The head of the operation, Coast Guard Rear Admiral David Kunkel said the goal of the drill was to ensure security forces are prepared for any event.
"I can promise you, the citizens of south Florida, that I will devote every waking moment to preparing and ensuring we are doing everything possible to protect our borders and our people, whether from drug smugglers, terrorists, or illegal migration," said Admiral Kunkel.
Illegal migrations are not uncommon in south Florida. During an economic crisis in 1980, scores of Cubans fled the island by boat after Cuban leader Fidel Castro said those who wanted to leave were free to do so. More than 100,000 Cubans made the 170-kilometer trip, prompting Cuban officials to again close the doors to emigrants. Over the years, thousands of Haitians also have tried to make the trip to Florida to escape poverty or alleged political persecution.
And early Thursday, police said 40 Cubans reportedly arrived on the shores of Miami Beach, even as officials were conducting the two-day exercise in the area.
Rear Admiral Kunkel said officials were investigating the case of the Cubans. And he said the reported incident shows the continued threat facing U.S. borders.
"What we want to do is investigate," he said. "We want to stop the smuggling, stop the landings, we want to stop what is illegal, and keep people safe on the seas. That's the message. Don't take to the seas."
Officials also have warned they may restrict the activity of U.S. boats in the event of a mass migration in the Caribbean. Some Cuban-Americans say they are prepared to pilot vessels toward Cuba in search of family members or others in the event of a mass exodus from the island.