Diaspora in crisis

Cuban migrants.

The migratory, humanitarian, diplomatic and political crisis created by the presence of close to 4,000 Cuban migrants stranded on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border in their long voyage from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia headed for the U.S. border crossing in the north of Mexico, the more than 1,000 islanders on the border between Colombia and Panama, and the crowds of dozens of people before the Ecuadoran diplomatic mission in Havana after the announcement that visas would start being demanded to travel to that country have once again confirmed some questions we know very well, but which are worth recalling.

Much has been said about the origin of a problem that now has become more visible and dramatic and that lies in the fact that those migrants, because they have Cuban nationality, have the possibility of crossing the demanding U.S. migratory booths and entering the country with a special status thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act that guarantees them shelter, benefits, work permits and a relatively fast acquirement of U.S. residence, so difficult (or impossible) for other migrants from the Latin American continent. Washington recently announced that it would keep this act in force.


This legislation, which certainly encourages Cuban immigration to the United States, has been a thorny apple of discord in relations between the two countries. But the fact is that in the last two years, when Cuba’s internal migratory regulations were modified, the Adjustment Act has acquired a new overtone, previously unthinkable: that of the Cubans who go to the United States to obtain their residence without losing because of this the right to freely return to Cuba before the two years of their leaving the island.In this way, strictly economic Cuban migrants can get the benefit of residing and working in the United States, achieving economic results which are very difficult to obtain in Cuba, and then coming back temporarily to the country of origin to improve their living conditions and even set up a small family business with the money earned in the U.S.This new possibility depoliticises considerably the exit of Cuban citizens toward the United States, but at the same time encourages it as a form of solution to the economic problems which otherwise are very difficult to resolve.


It has also been said that the attempt to carry out that economic adventure is a complicated and dangerous alternative, almost as much as were the clandestine trips Cubans have made for years and on diverse means, through the now very controlled Straits of Florida.The fact of leaving from a South American country, crossing all of Central America and then Mexico has caused diverse tragedies in which the mafias devoted to human trafficking through that route have been involved and which now include migrants from this Caribbean nation. It has been said that the long journey costs travellers some 10,000 dollars and that the dangers of being ripped off and extortion, even by those countries’ authorities, can affect or prevent carrying out the project, in addition to endangering the physical integrity of the migrant. However, thousands of Cubans prefer running the risk and set off in search of another fate.


While the Cuban travellers continue to crop up on the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border, as a result of seeking diplomatic and practical solutions to the crisis, the government of Ecuador has again started requiring visas from Cubans who planned to travel to that country to establish themselves there, to carry out some type of business in a short period of time (import of merchandise to Cuba) or as a springboard to travel to the north. The immediate protest of hundreds of persons in front of the Ecuadoran diplomatic mission in Havana demonstrated that despite the current crisis many other Cubans had (or have) plans to undertake the long journey toward the United States through the road already travelled by their compatriots retained in Central America, so turbulent and currently in full crisis.


Meanwhile, the government of Ecuador announced that the process of obtaining a visa will be easy, almost formal, and this seems so for those who already had bought their tickets to travel to that country. At the same time Costa Rica continues receiving Cuban travellers and the government of Nicaragua, after more or less violent arguments that occurred when the crisis broke out, maintains its refusal to let them cross its territory toward Guatemala or El Salvador, the following stopovers of the trip toward the chosen destination. Parallel to this, the conditions of those emigrants already stranded in Costa Rica becomes tense, the difficult humanitarian conditions continue (the same occurs on the border between Panama and Colombia) and the solution to their drama is still not in view.


Added to all the aforementioned, the will of thousands of persons in Cuba to find a solution to their vital problems outside the country of origin is a factor that triggered the event. It is true that since the birth of the Cuban nation the search for a better life has moved islanders to diverse destinations, preferably to the United States, where the economic conditions have always been more favourable.Due to political motivations or with economic hopes (or a mixture of both), in the last decades this migratory movement has not stopped and, at certain times has become critical, as is occurring right now – again because of the convergence of some of the previously noted reasons.


But the fact is that now, when the Cuban economic conditions should point to an improvement after having gone through the long economic crisis that began with the so-called Special Period, the option of migration doesn’t seem to be stopping but, on the contrary, is increasing. But now, to migrate like the travellers detained on the Nicaraguan border or to aim to do so like the desperate Cubans in front of the Ecuadoran embassy in Havana, an important investment is needed whose capital is frequently obtained by selling everything the migrant has to sell (house, car, other goods) or depending on the aid of some family member who previously emigrated and who has the resources to finance the journey of the person who leaves in search of another life.


The thing is that the lack of expectations is a too powerful driving force about which less is said. Together with this, there is the almost impossible creation of a project for the future when little is known about the future or when it will get here. And, of course, the weight of the reality of a present in which the cost of living increases by the day (see the price reached now for pork, cassava, tomato and the numbers that decorate the products in the hard-currency collecting shops), while wages, the cornerstone of an improvement or change of daily living conditions, continues being insufficient for achieving a satisfactory wellbeing.


There was a time when the talent drain from Cuba was news in territories like sports. Nowadays, the news is that in one week another athlete has not fled to destinations that are not only the United States, though that country is the goal. The Cuban baseball team is clear proof of that reality that, for the time being, doesn’t seem possible to stop. The same happens in the public health sector, which had led the Cuban government, faced by a situation that is becoming critical, to again make the decision to control trips abroad by medical personnel, in a way rather close to what existed before the 2013 migratory reform.


The crisis created now in Central and South America will have some solution, which we expect will be satisfactory and fast (though at the moment it doesn’t look that way), for the good of those compatriots. But that solution will be a remedy and not a cure while each one of the previously noted conditions continue being present in the reality. And, of course, the biggest boost to migration and the dramatic and costly loss of young people and talent will especially depend at last on the approval of the so-called pending subject of Cuban society: its capacity for economic efficiency. Meanwhile, a leak will be closed, but on the other hand a new one will burst open. (2015)



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