Cuba Illegal Exit
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Why Cubans are still fleeing to America

Why Cubans are still fleeing to America
May 18th 2015, 23:50 BY H.T.

A CURIOUS asymmetry exists across the 90-mile (150km) Straits of Florida
that divide Cuba from the United States. This month American businessmen
won permission from their government to start plush new ferry services
to Cuba for the first time since the United States trade embargo was
imposed in 1960. Moving in the other direction are thousands of
impoverished Cubans in makeshift boats and rafts, risking their lives to
flee the communist island despite a five-month-old thaw in relations
with America that both governments hope will bring more prosperity to
Cuba. In the first quarter of the year the number of Cuban migrants
arriving in America more than doubled, and 2,460 have been apprehended
at sea since October. Why this gap between rhetoric and reality?

The exodus is probably being stirred by American immigration policy
itself—or more precisely by the fear that it will change if
rapprochement continues. As a legacy of the strident anti-communism of
past American policy towards Cuba, Cuban immigrants to the United States
are treated more leniently than those of other countries. If they touch
dry land in America, they can automatically apply for permanent
residency and, eventually, citizenship. But in order to prevent a
flotilla of Cuban “boat people” (such as the Mariel boatlift of 1980),
the Coast Guard returns almost all those it catches at sea to Cuba. The
American authorities say there are no plans to change the policy, known
colloquially as “wet foot, dry foot”. But the government of Raúl Castro
blames it for encouraging illegal migration and says it should be stopped.

But in fact it is the Castro regime that bears final responsibility for
the flood of migrants, because its policies—though
admittedly exacerbated by the embargo—have produced the poverty and
crippling lack of opportunity in Cuba that motivates many migrants in
the first place. A series of reforms adopted since 2011 have allowed
limited private enterprise on the island, and have sought to spur
foreign investment. Yet a gap between the haves and have-nots is
growing. As few as one-tenth of the labour force have their own
businesses; the rest work in state-owned firms earning pitiful wages.
State rations of basic staples like rice and beans add a meagre
supplement to incomes, leaving remittances as the only meaningful option
for households hoping to increase their earnings. Remittances from
abroad are currently estimated at about $3 billion a year. Cubans who
make the perilous journey to America are often on a survival mission for
their families back home.

In 2013 the Cuban government unofficially acknowledged the need for an
escape valve for its citizens when, for the first time, it made it legal
for any Cuban to travel abroad. It has also sought to bolster its
economy by sending its highly trained (though chronically underpaid)
medical staff to allies such as Venezuela, in exchange for oil. But
Venezuela’s economy is in a tailspin because of weak oil prices, and
neighbours such as Mexico are increasingly reluctant to offer travel
visas to Cubans, lest they use the country as a transit point to
America. In short, the Cuban economy is not creating new opportunities
rapidly enough to satisfy struggling Cuban households. Further opening
may eventually lead to a sharp reversal in flows, as Cuban ex-pats
return home to participate in an investment-driven boom. Until then
ambitious Cubans will place their bets on the economic powerhouse to the

Source: The Economist explains: Why Cubans are still fleeing to America
| The Economist –

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