The Cuban Exodus – Causes and Effects
The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects
DIMAS CASTELLANOS | La Habana | 30 Nov 2015 – 11:51 pm.
The inexorable exodus of Cubans has become a crisis once again. While
thousands of countrymen are stuck at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border,
the Government of Cuba chooses to deny the main cause.
In recent months thousands of Cubans have been making their way through
Central America, bound for the United States. On November 15 the
Nicaraguan authorities blocked their progress. On November 17 Cuba’s
Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that these Cubans are “victims of the
politicization of the immigration issue by the Government of the United
States, the Cuban Adjustment Act and, in particular, the application of
what has been called the “Wet Feet, Dry Feet Policy.” On November 24 the
foreign ministers of the nations that make up the Central American
Integration System met to find a regional solution to the crisis, and on
November 26 the Government of Ecuador decided to require visas from
Cubans as of December 1.
Migration is a geographical shift that occurs when the natural or social
conditions of a given place prevent the satisfaction of residents’
needs, and/or threaten their lives. Emigrants leave their homes when
things are bad, in search of one where they are better. This is why
thousands and thousands of refugees are arriving in Europe, where no
country or region has any Adjustment Act.
As the statistics show, over the course of its previous history Cuba was
actually a country of immigrants. It suffices to point out that between
1910 and 1925 the island absorbed a third of emigrants travelling from
Spain to the Americas, in 1902 11,986 immigrants were admitted, while in
1920 the figure rose to 174,221.
The permanent exodus began in 1959, when Cubans took to ships and
aircraft, even as stowaways, turned up at embassies, and deserted their
missions abroad. First they were the white-skinned Cubans, followed by
those of all colors, adults, seniors, children and young people. There
was, therefore, a continual process before and after the embargo (1961),
before and after the Adjustment Act (1966), before and after the
diffident and partial reforms undertaken by the government of Raúl
Castro (2008), and before and after the restoration of diplomatic
relations with the US (2015). An exodus that saw critical moments during
Operation Peter Pan, with departures from the ports of Mariel and
Camarioca and the Guantanamo Naval Base.
Its long duration, the sociological diversity of the emigrants, the
damage done and the numbers still waiting for their chance to leave, are
enough to warrant an abandonment of denial and a recognition of the real
causes, which include: insufficient wages, the near prohibition on
entrepreneurship in the country or doing business with foreign
companies, the dreadful state of transport, the untenable housing
situation, the multiple obstacles faced by farmers, and the absence of
civil, political and economic rights.
In 1959 the Government established mechanisms to control Cubans who
wanted to leave. In 1961, after the exile of several members of the
Government, and the July 26th of July Movement – which included
President Manuel Urrutia – the famous “exit permit” was introduced, and
the length of time that Cubans could legally remain abroad was limited.
In that same year Law 989 was passed, which set down the “measures to be
taken with regards to the possessions or property, or any other kind of
asset, etc., from those who abandon, with unforgivable disdain, their
country.” At the same time opponents were dismissed as traitors to their
nation, scum, social rejects, and emigration was used to throw out
dissidents. The authorities still do not accept any Cuban, regardless of
his educational level, having any opposing political, economic or
From Camarioca, between the 2,979 who left on ships and those who left
in April of 1973 by air, 260,000 Cubans abandoned the island. 125,000
fled the country from the Port of Mariel in 1980. And another 33,000
departed from the Guantanamo Naval Base in 1994. During these three mass
waves a number of tragedies occurred, including that of the Remolcador
13 de Marzo (tugboat), which on July 13, 1994, with 72 people on board
and seven miles from the Havana Bay, was rammed and sunk by other
tugboats, leaving a toll of 41 dead, including ten youths.
The above is indisputable proof that, regardless of any external
factors, the root cause lies in the non-viability of the country’s
economic model and its lack of civil liberties, as a result of which
none of the measures taken since 1959 has been able to stop the steady
flow of Cubans to other parts of the world. This scenario has given rise
to an ongoing diaspora that has seen desperate Cubans leaving in every
In addition to the loss of life, the separation of families, and the
multiple tragedies, two of the side effects of the permanent exodus are:
1- The decline and aging of the population at the rate of developed
countries, but without an economy capable of sustaining them; and 2- The
impoverishment of professionals (university graduates,
intermediate-level technicians and skilled workers), which had been one
of Cuba’s comparative advantages relative to other countries in the
region. Between 1931 and 1940 9,571 Cubans emigrated to the USA; between
1941 and 1950, 26,313; and between 1961 and 1970, 208,536. According to
the US Population Census, in 2010 there were 1,213,418 Cubans living in
Florida, up 45.6% off the 2000 Census.
A solution to the emigration crisis is impossible without solving the
structural crisis in which we are immersed, which requires a heavy dose
of political will, thus far wanting.
The many measures taken by the Government of Cuba since 1959; the
regional solution intended to be provided by the Central American
Integration System for Cubans stuck between Costa Rica and Nicaragua;
Ecuador’s decision to require visas from Cubans, to stop the migratory
flow; and the accusations against the United States … these are all
aimed at the effects, but there are still no measures addressing the
causes, which are internal and structural. As a result, the exodus has
continued, with no end in sight.
Ecuador’s cutting off of Cubans, one of the measures applied to the
effects, will only lead to illegal departures by other routes, including
a return to the fragile sea vessels. The only solution is to attack the
causes, and this involves dismantling the model that is generating this
massive, ongoing exodus.
Source: The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects | Diario de Cuba –