TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Twice in just three weeks the Carnival Cruise Line’s Paradise ship has rescued boatloads of refugees off the coast of Cuba.

Lazaro Omar was one of 24 picked up at sea by the ship.

He says they were in a very desperate situation.

“By the time the cruise ship picked us up, we had no water and little food,” Omar said.

Steve Rupert lives in Tampa and has more than 25 years of experience taking Americans on educational tours of Cuba.

He says conditions there right now are not good.

“Obama made these sweeping changes that when they showed him announcing this on television, people were weeping because it gave them something that they had not seen probably since the revolution, which was hope. It gave them hope,” said Rupert.

Then the pandemic hit and things changed.

“The pandemic shut everything down. They basically locked the whole country down for a year and a half and really never has recovered,” said Rupert.

He says there are shortages of food, medicine and just the basics.

“Everything is in shortage and they are having trouble figuring out what their money is worth because the value of money on the street is dramatically different than what it is in the banks,” said Rupert.

As a result of these conditions, some people are willing to risk their lives to leave.

“The one reason most people are leaving is, they’ve lost hope. There is just nothing they have to look forward to,” said Rupert.