The flow of thousands of Cubans to the United States across several Latin American borders belies recent narratives about changes in Cuban society. Why this latest exodus if the conflict between Cuba and the United States is allegedly being overcome? Why are more and more Cubans leaving for any place they can? The number of those arriving in the United States alone rose more than 70% in 2015.
Without identifying the root cause of the problem (a longstanding Stalinist regime) and without realizing that the main conflict is of an internal nature (a governance system at odds with the interests of the population) this situation is inexplicable.
The nation was deprived of its patria, its homeland
We are dealing with a State that, from the outset, gradually stripped the Cuban nation of its sovereignty and rights. The nation saw its patria, its homeland, taken away. The country was appropriated by the State, which, in turn, was monopolized by a single political party, at the service of the Castro family's interests.
From early on Fidel Castro derided as “stateless” those who fled into exile, although they often did so only to reinitiate their political and armed struggle. It was a derogatory nickname - gusanos (worms) - with which he sought to discredit his opponents. But it was precisely the regime that he established in Cuba that wrenched from Cubans their homeland. Under Castro being an apátrida, a stateless citizen, was not an option, but an inevitable plight. One in exile could carry the homeland in his heart - in his memories and intentions - but on the island the concept had been gutted of meaning. Those who live on the island, or off it, are de facto apátridas, whether they realize it or not. The Cuban nation is not governed by a legitimate rule of law. Under these circumstances the patria is merely a sentimental condition.
The tens of thousands who attempt to hastily relocate their pursuits of happiness to other countries are not mere "citizens" of a nation suffering a temporary recession, as occurs in others. They are the latest to flee from a basic internal conflict between the State and the interests of its people.
It is people - without the rights of citizens - who live on an island that they cannot consider their homeland, because they are unable, as a nation, to exercise sovereignty over it. They cannot change their government in the next elections, promote alternative policies in the press, start businesses, invest in the national economy, organize to protect vulnerable sectors, or file complaints with independent courts. Under these circumstances of structural violence and political repression it is impossible to define a project for society or undertake independent personal ventures.
The Cuban Adjustment Act is not the main cause
This new Cuban exodus was triggered, firstly, by the prolonged appropriation of their sovereignty and rights; and, secondly, by the people's dismay with the fact that the situation shows no signs of improving, even following the warming of relations with the United States. This latest letdown and disappointment - not the Cuban Adjustment Act - is the main cause of Cubans’ most recent flight to anywhere they can relocate abroad.
The Cuban elite constantly reiterates that, regardless of how its relations with its neighbor unfold, it is unwilling to grant freedoms, rights, or to recognize the nation’s sovereignty over the future course of Cuban society. Under these circumstances, the imperturbable course of Washington's new policy tends to validate in the people's eyes the inevitability of the sovereignty of the State over and against the popular will.
Indoctrinated from birth to accept the impossibility of transforming the status quo, the new US position is now perceived as confirming the thesis of the Cuban regime's invincibility. From that perspective it is logical for them to think that the only option to seek happiness and help their families lies abroad, whether in Miami, Santo Domingo, Bogotá, Sydney or Luanda.
Exiles or emigrants?
Their indoctrination, over a period of five decades, in the Cuban ideological and information bubble prevents many of those participating in this exodus from being able to see or express the connection between Cuba's economic and social circumstances and the political system that has driven them to undertake their perilous journeys. And this indoctrination blinds them from recognizing the emigration crisis as a human rights issue, ignored by the current educational system, and vigorously refuted by the propaganda apparatus. They are exiles who do not even realize that they are, referring in Marxist terms to the evolution of the working-class consciousness. However, the massive waves of Cuban migrants have come to constitute, over more than half a century, a tangible manifestation of the population's rejection of a regime that stifles its legitimate aspirations and pursuit of happiness.
For them the homeland is not the Cuban State and an island where they can decide nothing, but their patria chica, or "little homeland," composed of the relatives and friends they try to help. The homeland is interpreted in an emotional and personal way, not a legal one.
For those participating in this new exodus, "Cuba" means a handful of loved ones, traditions, streets, places, memories, culinary and musical preferences. A number of these Cubans in exile cannot understand why these people say that they will only return to Cuba when they are dead, when they are detained in Nicaragua or Mexico, but after reaching the United States and attaining resident status there, they travel back to the island. Those Cubans still believe - and even more so after 17 December and the on-going national defiance - that the status quo under Castro is invincible. Even when living abroad they are careful not to criticize the Cuban Government before strangers or in public media for fear that its intelligence apparatus will find out and prevent them from visiting the island where they were born. Their commitment to liberation is limited to the patria chica of family and friends. It is that homeland which they will strive to free from poverty, with remittances and packages, even as the island's parasitic state seizes a portion of these resources, with its excessive Customs enforcement and astronomical prices for the products on the retail market that it controls.
Likely a strategic mistake
There remain other questions. What was discussed with regards to immigration when the US Homeland Security representative visited Havana, and what secret agreements were reached when Raúl Castro and the president of Mexico met immediately after those conversations? Why did the Cuban government then ask Ecuador to make an exception to its open door policy, and require visas from Cubans? What are they seeking as they ask, at the same time, Nicaragua to block the passage of those who had already begun their journey to the United States?
The lifting of the Cuban Adjustment Act is certainly not Raúl Castro's objective in orchestrating this crisis in Costa Rican territory. That demand was not even included among the five points he presented to Washington as conditions for the normalization of relations. During previous migration crises the law has served as an escape valve for the exasperated, and a source of millions of dollars in remittances. We must assume that the true objective, despite the rhetoric, is something else.
One credible hypothesis is that Castro is preparing to fine tune a "weapon of mass migration," concentrating it in Cuba and aiming it straight at Florida, as an instrument of blackmail to obtain every possible concession from Washington before Obama leaves the White House.
If this is the case, it may prove to be a strategic mistake.
First, in an election year it would amount to an action against a US president who has promoted rapprochement between the two countries (as was Mariel for Carter in 1980, or the planes for Clinton in 1996) and undermine the aspirations of the Democratic Party in the November 2016 elections.
Secondly, Havana should be aware that today people continue to protest by leaving, but if they were not able to, their desperation might spur them to develop a consciousness as citizens - and to finally take back their homeland.