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Migrant crisis

The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects

The figures are irrefutable: none of the measures taken since 1959 has been able to halt the flow of people to other parts of the world. The fundamental causes: the non-viability of the economic model, and the lack of freedom.

La Habana

The inexorable exodus of Cubans has become a crisis once again. While thousands of countrymen are stuck at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border, the Government of Cuba chooses to deny the main cause.

In recent months thousands of Cubans have been making their way through Central America, bound for the United States. On November 15 the Nicaraguan authorities blocked their progress. On November 17 Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that these Cubans are "victims of the politicization of the immigration issue by the Government of the United States, the Cuban Adjustment Act and, in particular, the application of what has been called the "Wet Feet, Dry Feet Policy.” On November 24 the foreign ministers of the nations that make up the Central American Integration System met to find a regional solution to the crisis, and on November 26 the Government of Ecuador decided to require visas from Cubans as of December 1.

Migration is a geographical shift that occurs when the natural or social conditions of a given place prevent the satisfaction of residents' needs, and/or threaten their lives. Emigrants leave their homes when things are bad, in search of one where they are better. This is why thousands and thousands of refugees are arriving in Europe, where no country or region has any Adjustment Act.

As the statistics show, over the course of its previous history Cuba was actually a country of immigrants. It suffices to point out that between 1910 and 1925 the island absorbed a third of emigrants travelling from Spain to the Americas, in 1902 11,986 immigrants were admitted, while in 1920 the figure rose to 174,221.

The permanent exodus began in 1959, when Cubans took to ships and aircraft, even as stowaways, turned up at embassies, and deserted their missions abroad. First they were the white-skinned Cubans, followed by those of all colors, adults, seniors, children and young people. There was, therefore, a continual process before and after the embargo (1961), before and after the Adjustment Act (1966), before and after the diffident and partial reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl Castro (2008), and before and after the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US (2015). An exodus that saw critical moments during Operation Peter Pan, with departures from the ports of Mariel and Camarioca and the Guantanamo Naval Base.

Its long duration, the sociological diversity of the emigrants, the damage done and the numbers still waiting for their chance to leave, are enough to warrant an abandonment of denial and a recognition of the real causes, which include: insufficient wages, the near prohibition on entrepreneurship in the country or doing business with foreign companies, the dreadful state of transport, the untenable housing situation, the multiple obstacles faced by farmers, and the absence of civil, political and economic rights.

In 1959 the Government established mechanisms to control Cubans who wanted to leave. In 1961, after the exile of several members of the Government, and the July 26th of July Movement - which included President Manuel Urrutia - the famous "exit permit" was introduced, and the length of time that Cubans could legally remain abroad was limited. In that same year Law 989 was passed, which set down the "measures to be taken with regards to the possessions or property, or any other kind of asset, etc., from those who abandon, with unforgivable disdain, their country." At the same time opponents were dismissed as traitors to their nation, scum, social rejects, and emigration was used to throw out dissidents. The authorities still do not accept any Cuban, regardless of his educational level, having any opposing political, economic or cultural views.

From Camarioca, between the 2,979 who left on ships and those who left in April of 1973 by air, 260,000 Cubans abandoned the island. 125,000 fled the country from the Port of Mariel in 1980. And another 33,000 departed from the Guantanamo Naval Base in 1994. During these three mass waves a number of tragedies occurred, including that of the Remolcador 13 de Marzo (tugboat), which on July 13, 1994, with 72 people on board and seven miles from the Havana Bay, was rammed and sunk by other tugboats, leaving a toll of 41 dead, including ten youths.

The above is indisputable proof that, regardless of any external factors, the root cause lies in the non-viability of the country's economic model and its lack of civil liberties, as a result of which none of the measures taken since 1959 has been able to stop the steady flow of Cubans to other parts of the world. This scenario has given rise to an ongoing diaspora that has seen desperate Cubans leaving in every way imaginable.

In addition to the loss of life, the separation of families, and the multiple tragedies, two of the side effects of the permanent exodus are: 1- The decline and aging of the population at the rate of developed countries, but without an economy capable of sustaining them; and 2- The impoverishment of professionals (university graduates, intermediate-level technicians and skilled workers), which had been one of Cuba's comparative advantages relative to other countries in the region. Between 1931 and 1940 9,571 Cubans emigrated to the USA; between 1941 and 1950, 26,313; and between 1961 and 1970, 208,536. According to the US Population Census, in 2010 there were 1,213,418 Cubans living in Florida, up 45.6% off the 2000 Census.

A solution to the emigration crisis is impossible without solving the structural crisis in which we are immersed, which requires a heavy dose of political will, thus far wanting.

The many measures taken by the Government of Cuba since 1959; the regional solution intended to be provided by the Central American Integration System for Cubans stuck between Costa Rica and Nicaragua; Ecuador's decision to require visas from Cubans, to stop the migratory flow; and the accusations against the United States ... these are all aimed at the effects, but there are still no measures addressing the causes, which are internal and structural. As a result, the exodus has continued, with no end in sight.

Ecuador's cutting off of Cubans, one of the measures applied to the effects, will only lead to illegal departures by other routes, including a return to the fragile sea vessels. The only solution is to attack the causes, and this involves dismantling the model that is generating this massive, ongoing exodus.

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