Cuban fashion brand apologizes over migrant ad campaign misstep
Cuba's Clandestina clothing brand first made waves during the United States' short-lived rapprochment with Cuba in the mid-2010s(AFP)

A Cuban clothing brand was forced to apologize Monday for an ad campaign that made light of the growing number of Cubans making the perilous journey to the US border which provoked a social media firestorm.

Since 2017, the island's citizens have no longer automatically qualified for asylum when reaching the United States, prompting some -- fleeing Cuba's rapidly worsening economy -- to join so-called human caravans headed for Washington.

Clandestina's campaign opens with a smiling couple wearing the brand's t-shirts at Havana airport, but their smiles dim as they hitchhike along a road holding a "Nicaragua" sign, before finally crossing a river, luggage in hand.

"We got it wrong," the sustainable clothing brand posted on its Facebook page in response to widespread criticism of its campaign, dubbed "Love is in the air."

The longtime subject of Washington sanctions, Cuba is undergoing its worst economic crisis in 30 years, leading many to leave in search of a better life, whether by land via Central America or by sea.

Nicaragua only ended its visa requirement for Cubans late last year, finally eliminating the need for asylum seekers to begin their journey in South America, a trip that included a trek through the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama.

"Repulsive! Do you know that a 14-year-old boy lost recently lost his life in the Darien jungle?" one Twitter user said Sunday.

"They don't care about the pain, the dreams and the frustration of the Cuban people," said another.

On Monday the brand apologized and said the campaign was a failed attempt at humor.

"We know that, when used well, humor is a powerful weapon against frustration and pain, and that's what a lot of our work is based on. But this time we admit we were wrong," Clandestina said after pulling the campaign.

It acknowledged the danger experienced by migrants, calling it "very painful" so many Cubans were motivated to "risk everything" to leave.

Clandestina made a splash in the United States during a short-lived diplomatic rapprochement between the countries during president Barck Obama's tenure, boosting the island's private sector.