Russia is one of the destinations that hundreds of young Cubans are choosing to escape the poverty that prevails in Cuba. Although many of those who embark on this "adventure" do not talk about politics, they do agree that the main cause of the current wave of Cuban migration, of which they are part, is rooted in political decisions that have plunged the country into the most severe economic crisis in the last 60 years.
Many of these young people, although adopting positive attitudes towards their situations, endure the pain of broken families and the obligation of having to resort, in Russia, to illegal procedures to avoid returning to Cuba.
Barely 25 years old, Hayled H. Moreira said that, in order to deal with the ordeal of having to leave his parents, he has focused on the fact that "the best moments must be seized, and those are during one’s youth." Although his story is less dramatic than those of other emigrants, it reflects aspects of the relationship between young people and a Cuba with which they do not feel "identified."
"My motivation transcends feeling bad about many of the things that happen every day, which are a consequence of the bad decisions that the government has made, which have had a painful impact on society. Young people by nature are enterprising, and open to exploring other cultures and other ways of identifying themselves. Personally, if it were possible, I would travel the whole world, something you can't aspire to do, living in Cuba," Moreira said, pointing to his economic situation.
"It is true that there are many young people who go to Russia to do business. They travel to the other end of the world to bring back things that practically do not exist in Cuba. But the vast majority stay in Russia because they want to improve their economic situations, which, on the island, is impossible, even by investing in a private business. Everyone has the right to prosper, and for his family to enjoy a little more affluence, to be able to live with a modicum of comforts that you are able to generate with your talent or your work," he said.
Thanks to a community of young Cubans settled in Russia, those who decide to migrate to this country have at least a notion of those circumstances that can minimize the risk of being victims of fraud or violating laws that can lead to deportation or a definitive ban on accessing Russian borders.
The Russian Federation does not require a visa for Cuban citizens, but only grants a 90-day stay. After that period the visitor must leave the country. Leaving the borders and re-entering represents an unaffordable expense for most of these young people who, in order to embark on this migratory route, whose final destination is to enter any nation of the European Union, were forced to sell all their properties and goods.
A young Cuban who has been in Russia for a year, and who asked to be identified only as Ernesto Ariel, revealed that he is part of a network to help "place" Cubans who arrive from Cuba "practically fleeing." The network offers everything from jobs and rentals to recommendations of cheap stores, quieter neighborhoods, and which airports to avoid to enter Russia, "because at military airports they demand a return ticket."
The coveted stamp
Much sought-after is the stamp that Russian Customs and Immigration authorities put on passports as proof that one has left Russian territory within the required three months, and re-entered for another three. Faced with the prospect of paying for a ticket and remaining illegal, many Cubans pay 25,000 [approximately 300 euros], thus committing a serious crime if caught by Russian authorities.
"There will always be risks. I think every migrant accepts that aspect. Some come to Cuba every three months, the maximum time you can stay in Russia, and after one or two weeks at the most, they return. Others have stayed at the risk of being discovered by the Russian Immigration authorities, but the solidarity network minimizes that risk. My intention is to collect as much money as possible to get a visa to any EU country, where it is easier to establish residence. But Cuba will never be a land where I want to drop anchor," explained Ernesto Ariel, who stated that every day "I cry for having had to leave my family." His mother health’s has suffered due to her depression, brought on by her inability to see her only son anymore.
"In Cuba, there is simply no life for anyone. We have always had among migratory waves, but nowadays not even family remittances from abroad make it possible for an average family to make ends meet. In just one year, the network of young Cubans who come to settle in Russia has tripled, creating a web of help that really motivates you. If you arrive with a recommendation, in just a week you have a job, which can reach the equivalent of 600 euros a month, and a place to live. But no prosperity makes up for not being with your loved ones."
On December 2, a communiqué issued by the Russian consulate in Havana warned Cuban citizens that they must comply with the requirements that the competent Russian authorities demand in this pandemic situation. Upon arrival in Russian territory all foreigners coming as tourists must substantiate the purpose of their trip (regardless of the existence of a visa-free regime or not), for which they must have the following documents: a valid passport, return ticket, accommodation reservation for the duration of the stay, guaranteed economic solvency during their stay, valid medical insurance in Russia, with Covid-19 coverage; and a negative PCR test.
In addition, upon arrival, a form must be filled out with personal data and information on the trip. However, the statement pointed out that in all countries border control authorities have the power to allow or deny entry into the national territory by foreigners for whatever reasons they deem legitimate.
"A scenario ripe for tearing families apart"
Aurora Oliva Martin has two children, and for the second time she is going through what she describes as "handing my children over to life." Her eldest daughter, Karla, has lived in Spain for more than 15 years, so she has yet to physically meet her two granddaughters.
"Just two weeks ago I said goodbye to El Chino [her other son], who decided to go to Russia to try his luck. Although I'm happy because Cuba no longer offers any future for young people, I am utterly disconsolate. El Chino told me that he will never come back, at least not under the current circumstances in this country," said Oliva Martin, a Mathematics graduate.
"My son is a chef, hardworking and responsible. He never had any plans to leave Cuba, because he is that kind of boy who is content with little and is well liked in the neighborhood. However, he wanted to form a family with his girlfriend, a social worker, and they came to the conclusion that in this country it is totally impossible to make any life plans, and much less to form a family. They both left, leaving behind two broken families, as his girlfriend, to make matters worse, is an only child."
Olivia Martin adds: "The only fear I have is that, because of the economic question, they will have to take the risk of paying illegally to extend their stays, or remain illegal once the three months are up. So far everything is going well for them, as their friends in the collaboration network already had a job and rental lined up for them. The latter was a two-hour drive away, so they turned that down and are temporarily staying with friends who live close to work."
"I don't forgive this government for having spawned, over all these years, a scenario conducive to tearing families apart," said Oliva Martin.
Also an only child, Katherine suffered separation from her mother to try her luck through Russia, from there hoping to cross to EU countries where she can obtain "at least a permanent residence." Her story "is not a happy one" but the option of returning to Cuba is, for this young woman, unacceptable.
"The first thing is to arrive and go through the airport only with the one-way ticket, because there is a lot of discrimination against Cubans; something that nobody talks about, and I don't know why. Then you have to deal with scams between Cubans. We have not been the only ones who were 'welcomed' by a fellow Cuban in an 'altruistic' way, and it was just a way to steal from us," said Katherine, who managed to enter Russia through a contact without presenting her return ticket.
"Then there is the issue of work. With tourist status you can't work, or get a work permit, even if you observe the time period allowed by law. Therefore, if the police catch you, you run the risk of deportation. We are usually paid no more than 1,800 rubles a day [approximately 22 euros] for 12 hours of uninterrupted work, and often, at the end of the day, we’re never paid. That's why I demand daily pay, not weekly or monthly."
According to Katherine, a job for Cubans with tourist status is between 5,000 and 10,000 rubles [60 and 120 euros] and, if it's a job you can do from home, as much as 15,000 rubles.
"Rentals are extremely problematic, as many Russians refuse to rent to Cubans. Therefore, we depend on other Cubans who act as intermediaries, and generally charge the same amount as the rent as a commission. That is the harsh reality we face here in Russia. I suffer these things every day, and also separation from my mother, but I prefer all this to living in Cuba ... my mother supports me, this being my only consolation," Katherine shared.