Friday, August 20, 2010

There won't be another Mariel

Posted on Friday, 08.20.10
There won't be another Mariel

Policymakers in Washington continue to express concern about a possible
mass-migration out of Cuba. They fear the implications of this
possibility: deployment of U.S. naval forces; mobilization of Cuban
Americans; and a possible confrontation with Cuba. With the United
States occupied by other priorities -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, North
Korea -- the last thing American policymakers want is a crisis over Cuba.

There are reasons for concern. A floundering economy; alienated youth;
little hope for the future; an increasingly repressive political system.
These, together with the attraction of the United States, with its large
Cuban-American community, families and friends, make a repeat of the
1980 Mariel scenario a possibility.

Yet it is not a probability. Raúl Castro's regime fears the
destabilizing consequences of such an event at this difficult time. The
perception of weakness projected by the Carter administration during
Mariel is not comparable to the Obama administration now and its
willingness to use force in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Also Raúl Castro
is no Fidel; he lacks the risk-taking characteristics of his older brother.

To organize a sea flotilla like Mariel requires for the United States to
tolerate Cuban-American vessels to leave American territory and pick up
friends and relatives in Cuba. There are not enough boats in the island
to mount a massive migration. It's not likely that Homeland Security
would look the other way as hundreds of boats from Miami leave for the
island and thousands of undocumented Cubans arrive on U.S. shores.
Closing South Florida ports, confiscating Cuban-American vessels and
detaining Cuban Americans in the business of ``importing'' refugees are
some of the measures available to deal with a new Mariel.

Other factors gravitate against a massive exodus. Economic conditions in
the United States, and particularly in Miami, although quantitatively
better than in Cuba, may make an exodus less palatable. The
anti-immigration feeling in America also has removed the ``welcome mat''
for immigrants.

A possibility still exits for a massive march of Cubans toward the
Guantánamo Naval Base in eastern Cuba. Whether Raúl Castro would be
willing to allow for this type of crisis is difficult to predict. This
would certainly be seen as major provocation and a violation of U.S.

U.S. policy makers' perception and fear of a migration crisis serves
well those who advocate appeasing the Castro brothers and provide their
lingering regime with economic aid and concessions to continue to
oppress the Cuban people. Yet 30 years after Mariel, a new massive
exodus is not likely.

Jaime Suchlicki is director of the Institute for Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

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