Stranded in Comayaguela, in the suburbs of Tegucigalpa, this 48-year-old Cuban tries to survive by selling candy in the street. She embarked on the trip with her six-year-old granddaughter, 54-year-old sister, 32-year-old daughter and 34-year-old son-in-law.

In 2021, 17,590 irregular migrants passed through Honduras, mostly Haitians. But this year their number has exploded: more than 44,000 in six months, now mostly Cubans fleeing the economic crisis on the communist island.

Diana worked in a retirement home but she and her family finally decided to give up everything: they sold their two houses and bought plane tickets for Guyana, at the rate of 1,500 dollars per person.

On their way for three months, they then passed through Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where they plunged into the jungle of Darien, a dense forest of 575,000 hectares, which extends over 266 km to straddling the border between Panama and Colombia.

The crossing of this mountainous and swampy jungle – without road network, infested with mosquitoes and snakes, dotted with ravines and where criminal gangs operate – lasts several days.

“When we entered the jungle, we did not think it was going to be so hard (…). We were sequestered, we were robbed”, narrates Diana.

Their attackers tied them up and left them naked. “They took everything from us, they even stomped on all the food we had. They stole our phones.

They were dressed in all black, they had guns and whoever opposed them, they hit him with their guns and left him on the ground,” she recalls.

Fortunately, several hours later, another group of migrants found them, untied them, gave them clothes and food.

Once in Panama, a community of natives helped them.

“You walk in the jungle and in front of you people fall. When you want to come to their aid, they are already dead because they can’t resist, they can’t stand it. The jungle is very hard and I don’t want to never go through that again,” sighs Diana.

– “Nicaragua connection” – 

Another route, higher north and less perilous, opened in November 2021 thanks to the abolition of visas in Nicaragua for Cubans.

But the price of plane tickets has soared with the high demand: around 6,000 dollars for a one-way ticket Havana-Managua, explain the migrants.

On arrival in Managua, the Cubans are walled in silence and sometimes confide, on condition of anonymity, that their odyssey looks like an “all-inclusive” organized trip: accommodation in the capital (15 to 30 dollars the night) and transport thanks to “intermediaries”, the whole paid for generally by the families already installed in the United States.

Managua invoked humanitarian reasons to justify the visa waiver. Observers believe that it is for this ally of Havana to open a “valve” for the emigration to the United States of Cubans exasperated by the multiple shortages and who had shouted their anger in the streets of the island in July 2021 during unprecedented events.

Once in Nicaragua, those Cuban migrants — the vast majority — who cannot catch a plane from Managua to Mexico are transported by bus to the border village of El Porvenir.

Then they walk along the edge of a cornfield, cross a eucalyptus wood. Finally, they arrive in Honduras where they are picked up by motorcycle taxis to Trojes.

There, in this large town of 54,000 inhabitants, they crowd in front of the offices of the migration services which demand payment of 210 dollars in fines for irregular entry.

Those who cannot pay must wait several days until the authorities forgive them of the fine and give them safe conduct to continue the journey to the capital.

Unlike other migrants, Cubans can obtain residency in the United States once they have entered it legally. For those who do not have a visa, this means filing an asylum application before entering American territory.

“We left because of the economic situation in Cuba, which is really bad. The salary is barely enough: if you buy a pair of sandals, you can’t eat,” laments Diana.

“We don’t have anyone abroad to ask for money and we decided to leave to have a better future,” she explains.

In Comayaguela, Cuban migrants who can afford it take buses to Guatemala.

Others set off on the road or rely on “coyotes” (smugglers), at the risk of being intercepted.

The Guatemalan authorities have indeed tightened controls: on June 15, eight “coyotes” were arrested and nearly a hundred migrants intercepted, mostly Cubans and Venezuelans.