Cuba: A Predictable Exodus

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Cuba: a predictable exodus

Cubans demonstrate outside the Panamanian embassy in Havana, March 9, 2022, to demand the abolition of transit visas on flights to Nicaragua, the first leg of their long journey north.

Nearly 200,000 Cubans have arrived this fiscal year (since October) on U.S. soil, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This is unheard of, and more so than the two previous great exoduses (those of Mariel and the “balseros”) combined.

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In the month of April 2022 alone, some 35,000 Cubans were intercepted at the US-Mexico border.

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About 5,700 other people were arrested at sea and returned to Cuba.

This is without counting all those who have headed elsewhere, whether in Latin America or Europe, remarks Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, deputy director for Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an American NGO .

“It is estimated that approximately 300,000 Cubans have left the island this year, representing almost 3% of the population [of 11, 3 million people].

— Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, Washington Office on Latin America

Nearly 13,000 Cubans have sought asylum in Mexico since January, a 60% increase only in 2021.

All the conditions are met, notes Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University. Political, economic and health factors have combined to produce this extraordinary exodus.

Several Cubans employed in tourism have had to find new occupations, such as Yusmani Garcia, a tourist guide in Vinales, who has had to resume his work as a blacksmith since the pandemic.

The point of departure is a stagnant economy that fails to meet the needs of the population, underlines Mr. Duany. Then came the pandemic. Tourism, which is the island's second largest currency earner and accounts for 10% of GDP, has collapsed. We went from more than 4 million visitors in 2019 to less than 350,000 in 2021.

Then, the sanctions put in place by the Trump administration hit the economy hard and in particular the private sector which was beginning to develop, explains Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a nonpartisan institution based in Washington.

There were restrictions on remittances from abroad, the closure of the embassy and consular services in Havana, the cancellation of the family reunification program, the limitation of visas and the suspension of certain flights, specifies she.

“The whole issue of sanctions has had a very significant impact on the Cuban population.

— Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas

Added to this is the decision of the Cuban government to reunify the national currency, which led to a devaluation of the peso and an increase in inflation to 71% in 2021.

The inability to receive funds from the diaspora also hurts a lot.

As part of the sanctions, ex-President Donald Trump banned US companies from dealing with Fincimex. This entity, controlled by the Cuban state, managed the sending of funds with Western Union, an American company specializing in international money transfers. However, in addition to being one of the main sources of foreign currency for the country, these dollars received from abroad allowed many Cubans to survive.

People compare the current crisis to the “special period” of the 1990s, notes Jorge Duany. According to some, it is even worse. There is no food, medicine or fuel.

Difficult economic situation, dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the pandemic, Cubans have had enough, observes Maria José Espinosa. It all added up and July 11 [2021] happened, she said.

Thousands of Cubans have demonstrated all over the country on July 11, 2021 under the slogan “Patria y vida” (Homeland and life), as opposed to that of the Cuban revolution, which is “Homeland or death”.

That day, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate their discontent.

There had never been a public demonstration of such magnitude, maintains Jorge Duany. Incidents were reported throughout the island, from east to west, passing through Havana, the main towns and small villages. There is no precedent, except perhaps the protest of 1994 (the Maleconazo), but it was much more circumscribed.

The government responded with repression and criminalization of protesters, accusing them of being agents of Yankee imperialism, undercover mercenaries, etc., adds Mr. Duany.

Hundreds of people have were arrested that day and the following ones. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms, others are still awaiting sentencing.

Virgen Frometa shows a photo of his brother Luis Frometa, sentenced to 25 years in prison for taking part in protests against the regime. He is one of approximately 700 people who have already been sentenced or will face trial for their participation in the protests.

Since then, the Cuban state has tightened the screws on opponents and all those who dare to show their dissatisfaction. Repression and censorship are even more extensive. Artists have been jailed, others have been banned from the country.

“The reaction has been extreme and, a year and half later, does not seem to be weakening, on the contrary, they continue their effort to control and stifle any attempt at dissent. »

— Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University

Civic space has shrunk, confirms Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio . In years past, there had been a sort of openness, a gray area in which civil society, LGBTQ activists or feminist groups were allowed to exist, claiming rights but not seeking not to overthrow the government. But when it feels cornered, the Cuban government opts for increased repression.

In November 2021, Nicaragua, an ally of Havana, opened its doors to Cubans, who can now travel there without a visa. Since then, tens of thousands of people have bought plane tickets for Managua, the first leg of a long journey north.

Cubans join thousands of other migrants trying to reach the United States by crossing Central America on foot.

For Ricardo Herrero, director of the Study Group on Cuba (Cuba Study Group), a non-partisan group in Washington, this is no coincidence.

There is a generalized crisis in Cuba, where we are coming out of the pandemic, we are experiencing food shortages, monetary inflation, massive blackouts island-wide, in more political repression, and then comes an agreement that removes the visa requirement to enter Nicaragua, observes Mr. Herrero.

“ When you add it all up, you have both a pressure cooker and a valve.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

This is not the first time that the Cuban government has used migration to reduce tensions on the island, analysts note. It is difficult to see what interest Nicaragua has in eliminating the entry visa for Cubans, notes Mr. Herrero. When you know the links between the government of Nicaragua and that of Cuba, you can come to your own conclusions.

The Cuban government has announced that it will start selling dollars to its population, after having started buying them at black market prices, with the intention of creating an official foreign exchange market in the country.

Migration is a way for the Cuban government to export its surplus labor and its dissidents, but also to increase remittances to the island, which are essential for the survival of the economy and the regime, emphasizes Jorge Duany.

The road through Nicaragua is long and expensive, but less than that from Guyana, in South America, already taken by many Cubans, since Georgetown does not require a visa. It is also less dangerous than crossing the Florida Strait, which is attracting more and more people.

“This new route is longer, more expensive and more complicated, but at least they have a higher probability of entering the United States, which does not seem to happen with the sea route between Florida and Cuba.

— Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University

According to the US policy of dry feet, wet feet, the Cubans who arrive in the United States by land have the right to remain on American soil and gain rapid access to citizenship. Those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.

Officially, the Cuban Adjustment Act (its official name) is no longer in effect. But in practice, Cubans continue to get preferential treatment.

Those who can afford it take this overland route, while others continue to try overland. seaway.

Start of the widget. Skip the widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?

Migration flows are expected to continue unabated if nothing changes in Cuba, analysts fear.

People don't have more confidence in Cuba's internal reform process or in US policy, Espinosa said.

There have been some improvements during the rapprochement initiated under the Obama presidency, including greater openness to the private sector and trade, raising much hope. But since then we have backtracked. This created a lot of pessimism, she believes.

A massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, northwest Cuba, has contributed to the island's growing power outages, which are getting longer.

Many Cubans feel they have no more options, adds Ricardo Herrero. They say: we can't rely on the United States and we can't hope for reforms that get the economy back on track.

“All of this contributes to this feeling that there is no future for them on the island. They see no other way out than exile.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

Americans cannot stand idly by in the face of this influx. President Joe Biden has announced some measures, including the resumption of some services at the Havana Embassy, ​​which has been operating at idle since the mysterious acoustic attacks of 2017.

The granting of 20,000 annual migration visas (the result of a 1994 agreement) will start again next year, as will the family reunification program.

C t is a positive measure, but one that will be too late, considers Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, since the issuance of visas is not expected before next year. This will not help restore legal migration in the short term, she believes.

The United States Embassy in Havana

This is insufficient, also thinks Maria José Espinosa. It would be important for the administration to take action quickly to support Cubans and give them hope so that they stay in their country.

In particular, it should remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism, which would allow the resumption of remittances and make life easier for Cuban companies, she believes.

“What happens is the responsibility of the Cuban government, but the White House could take measures that would relieve Cubans.

— Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas

Especially since this situation was very predictable, believes Ricardo Herrero. Americans are reacting to a crisis to which they themselves contributed, he notes. They had been warned that if they did not change Trump's policy towards Cuba, we would see a migration crisis. They did nothing, and conditions in Cuba only got worse.

“If you add up the decisions made by the Trump administration, the failed measures of the Cuban government to revive the economy, and then the pandemic, it gives a toxic combination.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

For Cubans, who are only 150 km from Florida, the the temptation to leave is strong, he believes.

But migration policy, and particularly everything related to Cuba, is highly sensitive to the United States. With the approach of the mid-term elections in November, no one has much hope of an early resolution of the crisis.

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Cuba: A Predictable Exodus

Spread the love

Cuba: a predictable exodus

Cubans demonstrate outside the Panamanian Embassy in Havana on March 9, 2022, demanding the removal transit visa on flights to Nicaragua, the first leg of their long journey north.

Nearly 200,000 Cubans have arrived this fiscal year (since October) on U.S. soil, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This is unheard of, and more so than the two previous great exoduses (those of Mariel and the “balseros”) combined.

Start of the widget. Skip widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?

In the month of April 2022 alone, some 35,000 Cubans were intercepted at the US-Mexico border.

Start of the widget. Skip widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?

About 5,700 other people were arrested at sea and returned to Cuba.

This is without counting all those who have headed elsewhere, whether in Latin America or Europe, remarks Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, deputy director for Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an American NGO .

“It is estimated that approximately 300,000 Cubans have left the island this year, representing almost 3% of the population [of 11, 3 million people].

— Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, Washington Office on Latin America

Nearly 13,000 Cubans have sought asylum in Mexico since January, a 60% increase only in 2021.

All the conditions are met, notes Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University. Political, economic and health factors have combined to produce this extraordinary exodus.

Several Cubans employed in tourism have had to find new occupations, such as Yusmani Garcia, a tourist guide in Vinales, who has had to resume his work as a blacksmith since the pandemic.

The point of departure is a stagnant economy that fails to meet the needs of the population, underlines Mr. Duany. Then came the pandemic. Tourism, which is the island's second largest currency earner and accounts for 10% of GDP, has collapsed. We went from more than 4 million visitors in 2019 to less than 350,000 in 2021.

Then, the sanctions put in place by the Trump administration hit the economy hard and in particular the private sector which was beginning to develop, explains Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a nonpartisan institution based in Washington.

There were restrictions on remittances from abroad, the closure of the embassy and consular services in Havana, the cancellation of the family reunification program, the limitation of visas and the suspension of certain flights, specifies she.

“The whole issue of sanctions has had a very significant impact on the Cuban population.

— Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas

Added to this is the decision of the Cuban government to reunify the national currency, which led to a devaluation of the peso and an increase in inflation to 71% in 2021.

The inability to receive funds from the diaspora also hurts a lot.

As part of the sanctions, ex-President Donald Trump banned US companies from dealing with Fincimex. This entity, controlled by the Cuban state, managed the sending of funds with Western Union, an American company specializing in international money transfers. However, in addition to being one of the main sources of foreign currency for the country, these dollars received from abroad allowed many Cubans to survive.

People compare the current crisis to the “special period” of the 1990s, notes Jorge Duany. According to some, it is even worse. There is no food, medicine or fuel.

Difficult economic situation, dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the pandemic, Cubans have had enough, observes Maria José Espinosa. It all added up and July 11 [2021] happened, she said.

Thousands of Cubans have demonstrated all over the country on July 11, 2021 under the slogan “Patria y vida” (Homeland and life), as opposed to that of the Cuban revolution, which is “Homeland or death”.

That day, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate their discontent.

There had never been a public demonstration of such magnitude, maintains Jorge Duany. Incidents were reported throughout the island, from east to west, passing through Havana, the main towns and small villages. There is no precedent, except perhaps the protest of 1994 (the Maleconazo), but it was much more circumscribed.

The government responded with repression and criminalization of protesters, accusing them of being agents of Yankee imperialism, undercover mercenaries, etc., adds Mr. Duany.

Hundreds of people have were arrested that day and the following ones. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms, others are still awaiting sentencing.

Virgen Frometa shows a photo of his brother Luis Frometa, sentenced to 25 years in prison for taking part in protests against the regime. He is one of approximately 700 people who have already been sentenced or will face trial for their participation in the protests.

Since then, the Cuban state has tightened the screws on opponents and all those who dare to show their dissatisfaction. Repression and censorship are even more extensive. Artists have been jailed, others have been banned from the country.

“The reaction has been extreme and, a year and half later, does not seem to be weakening, on the contrary, they continue their effort to control and stifle any attempt at dissent. »

— Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University

Civic space has shrunk, confirms Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio . In years past, there had been a sort of openness, a gray area in which civil society, LGBTQ activists or feminist groups were allowed to exist, claiming rights but not seeking not to overthrow the government. But when it feels cornered, the Cuban government opts for increased repression.

In November 2021, Nicaragua, an ally of Havana, opened its doors to Cubans, who can now travel there without a visa. Since then, tens of thousands of people have bought plane tickets for Managua, the first leg of a long journey north.

Cubans join thousands of other migrants trying to reach the United States by crossing Central America on foot.

For Ricardo Herrero, director of the Study Group on Cuba (Cuba Study Group), a non-partisan group in Washington, this is no coincidence.

There is a generalized crisis in Cuba, where we are coming out of the pandemic, we are experiencing food shortages, monetary inflation, massive blackouts island-wide, in more political repression, and then comes an agreement that removes the visa requirement to enter Nicaragua, observes Mr. Herrero.

“ When you add it all up, you have both a pressure cooker and a valve.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

This is not the first time that the Cuban government has used migration to reduce tensions on the island, analysts note. It is difficult to see what interest Nicaragua has in eliminating the entry visa for Cubans, notes Mr. Herrero. When you know the links between the government of Nicaragua and that of Cuba, you can come to your own conclusions.

The Cuban government has announced that it will start selling dollars to its population, after having started buying them at black market prices, with the intention of creating an official foreign exchange market in the country.

Migration is a way for the Cuban government to export its surplus labor and its dissidents, but also to increase remittances to the island, which are essential for the survival of the economy and the regime, emphasizes Jorge Duany.

The road through Nicaragua is long and expensive, but less than that from Guyana, in South America, already taken by many Cubans, since Georgetown does not require a visa. It is also less dangerous than crossing the Florida Strait, which is attracting more and more people.

“This new route is longer, more expensive and more complicated, but at least they have a higher probability of entering the United States, which does not seem to happen with the sea route between Florida and Cuba.

— Jorge Duany, director of the Cuba Research Institute at Florida International University

According to the US policy of dry feet, wet feet, the Cubans who arrive in the United States by land have the right to remain on American soil and gain rapid access to citizenship. Those intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.

Officially, the Cuban Adjustment Act (its official name) is no longer in effect. But in practice, Cubans continue to get preferential treatment.

Those who can afford it take this overland route, while others continue to try overland. seaway.

Start of the widget. Skip the widget?End of widget. Back to top of widget?

Migration flows are expected to continue unabated if nothing changes in Cuba, analysts fear.

People don't have more confidence in Cuba's internal reform process or in US policy, Espinosa said.

There have been some improvements during the rapprochement initiated under the Obama presidency, including greater openness to the private sector and trade, raising much hope. But since then we have backtracked. This created a lot of pessimism, she believes.

A massive fire at a fuel depot in Matanzas, northwest Cuba, has contributed to the island's growing power outages, which are getting longer.

Many Cubans feel they have no more options, adds Ricardo Herrero. They say: we can't rely on the United States and we can't hope for reforms that get the economy back on track.

“All of this contributes to this feeling that there is no future for them on the island. They see no other way out than exile.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

Americans cannot stand idly by in the face of this influx. President Joe Biden has announced some measures, including the resumption of some services at the Havana Embassy, ​​which has been operating at idle since the mysterious acoustic attacks of 2017.

The granting of 20,000 annual migration visas (the result of a 1994 agreement) will start again next year, as will the family reunification program.

C t is a positive measure, but one that will be too late, considers Mariakarla Nodarse Venancio, since the issuance of visas is not expected before next year. This will not help restore legal migration in the short term, she believes.

The United States Embassy in Havana

This is insufficient, also thinks Maria José Espinosa. It would be important for the administration to take action quickly to support Cubans and give them hope so that they stay in their country.

In particular, it should remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism, which would allow the resumption of remittances and make life easier for Cuban companies, she believes.

“What happens is the responsibility of the Cuban government, but the White House could take measures that would relieve Cubans.

— Maria José Espinosa Carrillo, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas

Especially since this situation was very predictable, believes Ricardo Herrero. Americans are reacting to a crisis to which they themselves contributed, he notes. They had been warned that if they did not change Trump's policy towards Cuba, we would see a migration crisis. They did nothing, and conditions in Cuba only got worse.

“If you add up the decisions made by the Trump administration, the failed measures of the Cuban government to revive the economy, and then the pandemic, it gives a toxic combination.

— Ricardo Herrero, director of the Cuba Study Group, Washington

For Cubans, who are only 150 km from Florida, the the temptation to leave is strong, he believes.

But migration policy, and particularly everything related to Cuba, is highly sensitive to the United States. With the approach of the mid-term elections in November, no one has much hope of an early resolution of the crisis.

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