Why Do Cubans Emigrate? / Ivan Garcia
Posted on December 22, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 16 December 2015 — Laying the blame on "Yankee imperialism"
or the "perverse and criminal" Cuban Adjustment Act will not stem the
flow of people escaping poverty and bleak futures.
The national debate should be of a different nature. A responsible and
reasonable government would ask itself what went wrong. Seeing Cuban
migrants within the broader context of third-world emigration would
amount to de facto recognition that the island's vaunted economic and
social model had failed.
Ask a Mexican or a Syrian fleeing the civil war if he approves of the
government of Enrique Peña Nieto or Bashar al-Assad.
People emigrate to other countries for a life with dignity, a better
salary or the opportunity for professional development. The Cubans who
are leaving now are trying to change their circumstances.
I spoke with dozens of Cuban citizens stranded in Costa Rica after the
decision by Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, to close the border at
Not one was a political dissident or felt persecuted by the government.
But they will tell you quite frankly that they are tired. Tired of
everything. Tired of the aged and ineffective Castro government. In
spite of guaranteed universal health care and a highly politicized
public education, they are tired of their dull gray lives, the social
controls, the rationing and the question mark hanging over their
futures. And they have lost faith in those running the country.
Most of the more than four thousand migrants in Costa Rica want to be
free men and women, to be themselves and not someone else's tool.
It is a heterogeneous and diverse group. Most are professionals or
technical workers who in Cuba had to put away their college degrees and
take up burning pirated discs, driving taxis or selling mass-produced junk.
Of course, there are also the low-lifes — prostitutes, drug dealers and
deadbeats — as in any human group, but they are in the minority. Their
political leanings are not comparable to those of their compatriots, who
were outcast by decree and whose property was seized.
But they should not be looked down upon because they are not dissidents
or because they silently go along with the Castros' edicts. Cubans do
not have what it takes to be martyrs. Autocratic regimes are very
efficient at devising systems of social control. That is a fact.
There is no country in which a communist regime been overthrown through
mass uprising. The Berlin Wall came down because East Germans wanted to
get out. The only large-scale protest to take place in Havana was in
1994 and at issue was the desire to emigrate.
In societies with tyrannical policies towards opponents such as Cuba,
North Korea and Vietnam — societies in which a market economy serves as
an escape valve, providing some degree of prosperity — it is unlikely
that regime change will come about through popular revolt.
The option for Cubans who cannot afford milk in their morning coffee is
to leave the country by any means and at any price. And preferably via
Miami. But even in Ecuador or Spain, where there is no Adjustment Act,
there are tens of thousands of Cuban residents.
Emigration in Cuba has political overtones. Even before the Cuban
Adjustment Act took effect, Fidel Castro was branding any Cubans who
wanted to leave the country as "worms." They were demonized by the system.
They were fired from their jobs and, while waiting for an exit visa, had
to work on collective farms. When they left, they were stripped of their
Setting sail on a raft from the island's coastline was a crime
punishable by up to eight years in prison. After being tried, an
irritable Fidel Castro would insult them, calling them "scum."
In 1980 the regime introduced the infamous acts of repudiation —
fascist-inspired verbal and physical public assaults — against those
planning to emigrate. Before going overseas, emigres were forced to
leave behind their jewelry and other personal possessions.
As Hitler similarly did to the Jews, they were marked by a scarlet
letter. Such practices were later abandoned but there was never a public
apology made to those who had been humiliated.
The new strategy represents an accommodation to new political
circumstances and the urgent need of an unproductive state economy to
bring in dollars to sustain itself.
It is an economy in which the "worms" now provide remittances, replenish
telephone accounts, travel to Cuba and send packages. Their
contributions constitute the island's largest industry after the export
of medical services.
The Adjustment Act is a pretext, not the real cause of Cuba's
madness. In any case, it is a problem for the United States, which
should either revise it or strictly apply its provisions.
Responsibility for the current out-of-control migration rests with the
country's military dictatorship. Before 1959 Cuba was a country of
immigrants. Between 1910 and 1925 the island took in one-third of all
Spanish immigrants to the Americas. In 1902 it absorbed 11,986
immigrants and it 1920 the figure grew to 174,221.
Some 9,571 Cubans emigrated to the United States between 1931 and 1940;
26,313 emigrated between 1941 and 1950; 208,536 emigrated between 1961
and 1970. According to U.S. census figures there were 1,213,418 Cubans
living in Florida, an increase of 45.6% over the year 2000 census figures.
According to U.S. Customs Service statistics for the current fiscal
year, more than 45,000 Cubans have entered the country by crossing the
Mexican and Canadian borders, and even the Russian border with Alaska.
In spite of the 2013 emigration reforms, Cubans who leave the country
must pay extremely high fees to renew their passports. And they lose
their properties if they reside for twenty-four months outside the country.
Furthermore, the government does not recognize dual citizenship, so
overseas Cubans must request permission to visit their homeland. And
they have no political or social rights when they are living outside of
The Cuban government maintains its own version of the Adjustment Act,
directed at Cubans living overseas, because that is the way Fidel Castro
Hispano Post, December 7, 2015
Source: Why Do Cubans Emigrate? / Ivan Garcia | Translating Cuba -