MIAMI—The U.S. Coast Guard said it has returned 40 people to Cuba after intercepting two vessels near Florida while two people were being investigated for human smuggling.
The vessels were spotted near the Florida Keys on Jan. 23 and on Jan. 25. Two suspected smugglers were transferred to Homeland Security Investigations, a Coast Guard statement said.
“People illegally entering the U.S. using smugglers put their lives in the hands of criminals,” said Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Mark Cobb. “Migrant smugglers are ruthless criminals who only care about profit.”
U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has reduced international tourism, have hurt Cuba’s economy. The Coast Guard said that its crews have interdicted 690 Cubans since Oct. 1, compared with 838 in the 12 months ending on Sept. 30.
Haitian boat migration is on the rise due to an economic downturn and a spike in gang-related kidnappings that have worsened since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
The Coast Guard on Thursday said it had intercepted a sailing vessel carrying 191 Haitians.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.