"El último, que apague la farola del Morro" ("Whoever’s the last one to leave, please turn off the lamp in the Morro lighthouse.") This was a popular phrase in Cuba that I heard many times in Havana in the early 90s, after Castroism's weaning from its Soviet nurse, which had just died of natural causes.
The phrase, typical of Cuban wit, arose in the face of the flood of Cubans abandoning the country due to the privations of the "Special Period." Today, more than 30 years later, the expression is timelier than ever in the 63 years of Castroist dictatorship.
In August of 2022 alone, 20,000 Cuban immigrants arrived in the United States illegally, an average of 645 daily. In just 31 days the number of Cubans arrived that can emigrate to the neighboring country annually with passport visas under the agreement between Washington and Havana.
Through June 2022 Washington had granted 13,645 visas to Cuban applicants, and reported that it will deliver 20,000 immigrant visas by the end of the year. That is, in 11 months, between legal and illegal immigrants, 211,515 Cubans have emigrated to the United States, including 134 unaccompanied minors; that's almost 2% of the total population, at an unusual rate of 641 emigrants daily, or 27 every 60 minutes.
Cuba's population is shrinking
This many Cubans have never left the country this fast. This should be considered a record on the continent if one takes into account that Cuba is an island and no citizen can just walk out of the country, like Venezuelans fleeing Maduro's dictatorship can, or those who emigrate illegally from Mexico, Central America and South America.
This trend has devastating consequences for Cuba, both in the immediate future and in the future. To begin with, it aggravates the country's demographic crisis, where the population is waning rather than increasing. According to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), in 2021 the population of Cuba was 11,113,215, but in 2016 it was 11,239,224; in other words, in five years Cuba's total population dropped by 126,009.
And this was not because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather because mass emigration is compounded by the fact that women on the island do not want to have children. Fertility is under the replacement rate of 2.06 children per woman, which is the Latin American average, according to the UN Population Fund.
Thus, in Cuba there are more deaths than births. Recently, the ACN (the regime's news agency) revealed that in 2021 the number of inhabitants was down in 159 of the island's 168 municipalities.
A thriving business for bandits, officials and three dictatorships
What is outrageous is that it is now the dictatorship that is shamelessly driving people from the country; basically, for three reasons: 1) to relieve internal political pressure by protestors and avert possible social outbursts; 2) to feed fewer mouths; and 3) to increase the amount of money, packages and "mules" flowing from the United States to the Island, which meets needs that cannot be met by national production, due to Communism; and, at the same time, to reap profits from the business of moving Cubans to the United States by land, because those illegal Cuban emigrants pay out thousands of dollars.
"When you arrive in Nicaragua (without a visa) they're waiting for you, and from there they take you to Honduras. It costs on average about $10,000 in total, because it's not only the very expensive ticket, but also them money for the "coyotes" in each country you pass through, and to the police, if they stop you, so that they don't arrest and deport you," a Cuban who arrived in Miami in February after completing the migratory route from Nicaragua explained to BBC Mundo. Where do those dollars come from? Mainly, from the community of Cuban exiles
Although it does not seem so at first sight, Cubans are leaving their country for political, not economic reasons. The Castroist propaganda in this regard has been so incessant that most of those who have emigrated in the last 30 years actually believe that they did so for economic reasons, like millions of people from other poor countries did.
False. Cuba is certainly very poor today, but, why is it so poor? Communism. Period. Before 1959 was one of the countries with the highest standards of living in Latin America, and a magnet attracting immigrants from all over the world.
During the 57 years of the "bourgeois" republic, about 1.7 million immigrants from all over the world arrived in Cuba, and in December of 1958 there were 12,000 applications at the Cuban Embassy in Rome from Italians eager to emigrate.
There was little reason to emigrate from Cuba. Foreign and domestic capital investments were flowing into the country, and very dynamic socio-economic advances were being made; Havana was one of the most beautiful and alluring cities in the world, in Hollywood considered the Paris of Latin America. The most exclusive fashion houses had locations in the Cuban capital, like Christian Dior, which had in El Encanto its only subsidiary outside the French capital and New York.
The first waves of emigrants who fled after Castro seized power were clear that they were leaving for political reasons. They were sad because they were nostalgic about having lived in a country that was moving forward, prospering, and that they were proud of. But those who left later, especially after the disappearance of Cuba's Soviet sugar daddy, were generally relieved, as they harbored bitter memories of a country in which they suffered constant hardships that they wanted to forget.
These latter emigrants were more likely to believe that they are leaving for economic reasons, but this is not true. They would be economic reasons if Cuba were a poor country with a market economy from which many still emigrated due to a lack of opportunities, but Communism prevails on the island: the State owns everything, controls everything, impedes the individual progress of citizens, and is responsible for the economic disaster and lack of opportunities in the country.
Hunger worsens in Cuba, and its reconstruction will be hampered
The current exodus, of almost Biblical proportions, has devastating consequences for Cuba. According to an analysis by Cuba Study Group, most of the people who are emigrating are between 20 and 40 years old. In other words, the country's active workforce is leaving it, which will now generate wealth in the United States and other countries, rather than in Cuba.
This stampede of young people means that the population will be even older, and the Economically Active Population (EAP) smaller. Today Cuba has the oldest population in all of Latin America, with 23% of the Cuban population being over 60.
With fewer people working, the State has diminished resources to support retirees and to cover the expenses of public health, education, social security, the rationing book, and to make the necessary investments.
It is particularly serious and worrisome that the departure of human capital from Cuba will make it more difficult and costly to rebuild the devastated country in the post-Castro era.
In short, we are dealing with one of the worst crimes committed by the Castro Ruz dynasty. Today one of Martí's celebrated phrases is more apropos than ever: "When a people has to emigrate, it is their rulers who should go."