In addition to tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, droughts, floods, landslides, wars and lethal epidemics, there is another major misfortune that can hit a country and that has nothing to do with nature or geology: mass emigration for political reasons.
And that is what has happened in Cuba since 1959. Therefore, as year 62 of Castroism gets underway, once again the usual question arises: how many Cubans will emigrate in 2020?
Is it normal for a country to suffer a perennial exodus of its citizens to corners all over the world because in their homeland the doors to progress are closed, and they are denied the right to a better and dignified life?
Can one honestly defend socialism, which denies these universal rights, and forces millions of its nationals to emigrate?
Such is Cuba, due to a pair of Marxist-Leninist brothers who seized power in the middle of the last century, and refused to ever relinquish it. Official Cuban data indicates that from the Crisis de los Balseros (Rafter Crisis) in 1994 until 2015 some 660,000 Cubans emigrated, but experts consider believe that the figure actually ascends to one million people.
That is, the Cuban diaspora currently totals over two million emigrants, meaning that 18% of Cuba's total population has left it. While the Trump Administration has made it harder to emigrate to the US, the massive departure of Cubans to other countries, and even to the US, continues.
This is, without any doubt, a scourge that plagues Cuban society. As Martí brilliantly observed: "when citizens are forced to leave, it is their rulers who ought to."
Among other things, what the country is constantly losing its most valuable asset: its human resources. If there were no Communism in Cuba not as many Cubans would have emigrated, including many of its most educated and highly trained people: engineers, architects, professors, doctors, scientists, economists, experts of all kinds, artists, journalists, intellectuals, senior executives and thousands of businesspeople with a broad range of know-how.
Today, those who emigrate are young people who make up the economically active population (EAP), the driving force that makes the world go around.
Without the "socialist revolution," Cuba today would have some 17 to 18 million citizens. In 1958 Chile had approximately the same population as Cuba. Today it lists 19 million people. Without the Castros, Cuba's EAP would number three or four million more people, producing and consuming, its Gross Domestic Product would be seven or eight times higher, and its level of socioeconomic development would be among the highest in Latin America, as in 1958.
The dictatorship's propaganda, faithful to Goebbels' principle in Nazi Germany of constantly repeating a lie until it becomes "true", has made the majority of those who have emigrated in the last 40 years state (and believe) that they left Cuba for economic reasons, and the regime argues that Cuban emigration is the same as that from any Third World country.
False. Cuba is very poor today, but who is responsible for that poverty, and the permanent economic crisis that fuels emigration?
The reasons for emigration would be economic if Cuba were a country with a market economy, as in the rest of the Third World, from which millions of people do emigrate due to a lack of opportunities. On the island, however, there is no opportunity because there is no free enterprise. The State owns everything. Therefore, it is directly responsible for the country's economic disaster and absence of opportunities, and not capitalism, which simply does not exist in the country.
To site an example ... if India had lost 18% of its total population (1.376 billion inhabitants at the beginning of 2020) to emigration, 247 million Indians would have dispersed across the planet. That colossal figure could actually be a reality if there were a Communist dictatorship in India. And there is the difference with Cuba, an eminently political one.
Cuba once attracted immigrants
Cuba, prosperous before 1959, was just the opposite: a magnet drawing immigrants from all over the world. When it proclaimed independence in 1902 its population stood at 1.6 million. By 1930 1.3 million immigrants had reached the island, according to the former Ministry of Finance. In just six years, between 1924 and 1930, 261,587 immigrants arrived. In 1919 the island had a population of 2.8 million, according to that year's census. That is, its population had almost doubled in 17 years.
In just 28 years Cuba attracted 774,123 Spaniards, 190,046 Haitians and 120,046 Jamaicans (these last two groups, mainly to work on its sugar cane plantations, as Cuba was already the world's largest sugar producer).
There also arrived 34,462 Americans, 19,769 Brits, 13,930 Puerto Ricans, 12,926 Chinese, 10,428 Italians, 10,305 Syrians, 8,895 Poles, 6,632 Turks, 6,222 French, 4,850 Russians, 3,726 Germans and 3,569 Greeks. They all came as part of the economic boom sweeping the island, whether as investors, businesspeople, professionals or employees.
The population grew rapidly, and in 1931 Cuba had a population of 3.9 million, up 1.1 million in just 12 years. Between 1940 and 1950 Cuba exported 50% of all the sugar marketed in the world.
The sugar boom ran parallel to the gradual development of the entire national economy. In addition to immigrants from the aforementioned nations, more arrived: Lebanese, Palestinians, Jews, Romanians, Hungarians, Filipinos and Mexicans (especially from the Yucatan). In 1958 there were 12,000 applications at the Cuban Embassy in Rome from Italians eager to emigrate.
There was no reason to emigrate from Cuba. Domestic and foreign capital investments were flowing. There were obvious socioeconomic advances. Fidel and Raúl Castro, however, managed to seize power and impose Communism. Today the nation is, pitifully, falling apart, in ruins.
Before they were sad to leave, now they are eager to do so
Memorably, Fidel Castro once shouted at those he called "worms": "Let them go, we don't need them ..." Ironically, it is those same "stateless" people, at whom mobs sent by the regime threw rotten eggs, who today sustain Cuba's decrepit economy through their remittances, packages and trips to the island, worth some 7 billion dollars (in 2018), a figure higher than that confiscated from the doctors it exploits abroad, as if they were state property, and tripling gross revenue from tourism.
There is a phenomenon that clearly illustrates this drama: during the first waves of emigrants in the 60s, Cubans went away dejected, harboring fond memories and nostalgia of having lived, before 1959, in a country that was on the rise, with its strengths and weaknesses, but with economic freedom, even under Batista's repressive military dictatorship.
In contrast, those who have emigrated in the last three decades leave upbeat, hopeful. They harbor memories of an impoverished and highly repressed country. There is nothing for them to miss, so they just want to forget. And that is sad.
How many Cubans will emigrate in 2020? No one knows. What is known is that the exodus of Cubans will continue until more pressure is placed on the military gerontocracy that rules the country, it is driven from power, and the constrained power of the Cuban people is finally unleashed.