Ninety-eight days after drowning in the waters off South Sound, the body of Manuel Ramon Mariño Vasquez was buried in his native Cuba on Friday.
Mr. Mariño, 51, and three other men in a makeshift boat sailed into Cayman waters in rough seas on Jan. 2, first seen near the Brac and the next day off the southern coast of Grand Cayman. The boat ran into trouble off South Sound. Mr. Mariño drowned, and surfers in the area pulled the other three men to shore near Sand Quay.
Cayman authorities kept Mr. Mariño’s body in the morgue for two-and-a-half months while they negotiated with the Cuban government on how to return the body. The man’s family in Miami and Cuba contacted the Cayman government and a local pastor for help getting the body back to Mr. Mariño’s native Santa Cruz, on the southern coast of Cuba.
Local churches started a collection in March to raise the $5,000 to send the body home. Pastor Herbert Rodriguez of the Cayman Baptist Church, who was helping the family with arrangements, said the Cayman government told a church representative they would bury Mr. Mariño’s body here since the negotiations with Cuba had stalled.
Last month the Ministry of Home Affairs said it would pay the full cost to return the body to Cuba.
The three other men traveling with Mr. Mariño – Dalier Perez Arresoitia, 28, Lexy Sanchez Fonseca, 33, and Diosruel Barerro, 37 – have been sent home after being detained by the Immigration Department.
The four men from Santa Cruz had been traveling to Honduras to seek work in the United States, according to statements given to police.
More people have been leaving Cuba for the U.S. because many worry about the end to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy giving Cuban immigrants special status if they reach U.S. land. In January, Cuban officials pushed a U.S. delegation to end the policy.
Cayman is on pace to see more Cuban migrants pass by on the way to the Central American land route to the U.S. than the country has seen in a decade. Almost 50 Cubans have landed in the Cayman Islands and at least 85 passed through the country’s waters so far this year.
For all of 2014, 143 Cubans landed in Cayman and 368 passed through the territorial waters.
The U.S Coast Guard has seen the increase too, reporting that it picked up almost 500 Cuban migrants in December 2014 alone, double the number from the year before.