Cuban pilot defects to US in Russian plane

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A Cuban pilot defected to the United States via Florida Friday after winging in on a single-engine Russian-made plane, airport authorities said.

Around 11:30 am (1530 GMT), the pilot arrived aboard a Russian Antonov AN-2 single-engine plane at Dade-Collier Airport, located in the Everglades, officials said.

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“He said that he was defecting, and that he was from Sancti Spritus,” a province in central Cuba, the same sources specified.

Cuba is the only one-party Communist-ruled country in the Americas.

CiberCuba media outlet, which was the first to report the news, identified the aviator as Ruben Martinez and said that he worked for the Cuban Air Services Company (ENSA).

Agents from the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrived at the landing site to look into the case, airport sources said.

Many Cubans have tried to reach the United States in recent months after leaving their country, hit by its worst economic crisis in three decades with shortages of food, medicine and fuel.

Between October 2021 and August 2022, close to 200,000 Cubans were intercepted by US authorities, according to CBP, after entering through the border with Mexico or crossing by sea through the Florida Straits.

That is a dramatic increase over the same period last year, when the United States intercepted some 30,000 Cubans.

Cubans are the only people who are eligible for immediate US asylum if they flee their homeland and reach United States soil.

However, if they are intercepted at sea, they are returned home.

Critics say the policy encourages Cubans to make dangerous bids to reach US soil in planes and makeshift boats.

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