Boat with reported 842 Haitian migrants winds up in Cuba

Cuban state news media say that a single vessel carrying 842 Haitians who apparently were trying to reach the United States has landed instead in central Cuba

A vessel carrying more than 800 Haitians trying to reach the United States wound up instead on the coast of central Cuba, government news media said Wednesday.

It appeared to be the largest group yet in a swelling exodus of people from crisis-stricken Haiti. The U.S. Coast Guard and other nations have reported intercepting several boats carrying well over 100 Haitians in recent months.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma said Red Cross officials in the province of Villa Clara said the 842 Haitians had been given medical attention and were being housed at a tourist campground.

The new group that arrived Tuesday at Villa Blanca, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Havana, included 70 children and 97 women, two of them pregnant, the Telecubanacan broadcaster reported on its Facebook.

While the numbers on a single ship seemed unprecedented, it is not unusual for currents and winds to carry Haitians to Cuba, which borders most of the sea path between Haiti and the U.S. Cuba returns most of the arriving migrants to Haiti.

A crumbling economy and a spike in gang-related violence and kidnappings in Haiti has prompted thousands of Haitians to flee their country in the past year, with U.S. authorities saying the number detained in and around U.S. jurisdictions in the Caribbean has doubled.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said it stopped a sail freighter carrying some 153 Haitian migrants near the Florida Keys. Earlier this month, the Coast Guard rescued 36 Haitian migrants and found another 11 of dead — all women — after a boat capsized in waters northwest of Puerto Rico. The rescue came just days after another 68 migrants were rescued in treacherous waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

In April, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted more than 130 Haitian migrants aboard a boat near the Bahamas. A month prior, another 140 migrants landed in the Florida Keys.

U.S. Coast Guard crews have interdicted about 4,500 Haitians since October of last year. Many were trying to come ashore in the Florida Keys in overloaded vessels. More than 3,000 of those migrants have been found since mid-March, signaling the pace has been picking up in the spring.

Meanwhile, Cuba's government reported a group of 292 Haitians had reached the province of Ciego de Avila in February.

Telecubanacan journalist Máximo Luz said “adverse navegation conditions” brought the Haitians to Cuba, where “they sought the help of border guard troops.”

The national news site Cubadebate showed images of a gray vessel packed with people, and of rescue workers carrying some of the Haitians for treatment.

Human rights activists in Haiti have said those fleeing believe they’re safer taking the risk on an overcrowded boat than staying in their country, given the recent brutal violence.

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Associated Press writer Danica Coto contributed from San Juan, Puerto Rico

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