Havana resident Yeny Varela sobbed when she heard on national television that the so-called wet foot, dry foot policy had ended effective immediately.
Repatriated to Cuba from Mexico in 2014 after a month-and-a-half trek from Ecuador, she had finally saved up enough money to try again.
Now her hopes of leaving the island have dissipated.
“I did everything to get to the United States where I have my elderly uncles. I went to the [U.S.] embassy and they denied my visa, I walked from Ecuador and the Mexicans deported me. The last thing I had achieved was a work contract in Mexico for which I paid thousands of dollars and now I have lost everything,” she said Friday by phone.
At 32, this young woman believes that the best years of her life are falling behind.
“And now where am I going to go?” she said.
“They [the U.S. government] are doing that because they think they're going to force change, but it's not going to happen,” she said, adding that although the population is fed up with the system, no one can protest because they disappear.
Varela was among many Cubans who now see themselves stuck in an island they desperately want to leave.
Rosa, 26, had sold her house in Villa Clara and all her belongings to begin the treacherous journey by flying to Guyana and then trekking across Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border, like thousands of others have done.
“I’m devastated,” she said. “My purpose was to leave the country to live a little better. There are no opportunities here.”
Now she has to start anew in Cuba.
It was not only those on the island who saw their plans to emigrate evaporate. Throughout the continent, hundreds of Cubans who were heading to the U.S. are now stranded.
“I never get into politics or anything, but Obama has been worse than Pontius Pilate,” said María Isabel, who lives in Argentina and was preparing her trip to the United States. “Days before leaving the presidency was not the time for him to have done such a thing.
“I've left everything behind,” said the Central Cuba native. “I was just taking a small step here to go on my way.”.
María Isabel had been waiting three months for travel papers to continue her journey through Mexico and ultimately reach the U.S. border.
“How many people have not risked or lost their lives!” she lamented. “The degree of despair and frustration is so great that we can only cry.”
Prior to Thursday’s end of wet foot, dry foot, more than 54,000 Cubans were allowed entry in the U.S.
Hundreds more of would-be migrants are spread across the Americas.
In Panama, more than 80 U.S.-bound Cubans are at a temporary shelter run by Caritas, a non-governmental organization linked to the Catholic Church.
That country’s director of migration, Javier Carrillo, already has publicly announced that Cuban migrants must leave. Caritas deacon Victor Luis Berrío said the organization would mediate so that deportations do not occur.
While those in Panama wait, others like Yuniel Ramos are forging ahead. He and 40 other Cubans are making their way through Honduras to reach the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Something’s got to be done with us, because to Cuba we will not return,” he said.
Follow Mario J. Pentón on Twitter: @mariojose_cuba