Emigration – The Great Cuban Obsession
Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García
One of the 8,000 Cuban migrants who, in January 2016, were stranded in
Costa Rica and eventually were airlifted to El Salvador, where they
managed to travel to Mexico and from there could cross the border and
reach the United States, the ‘promised land’. Taken from El País.
Ivan Garcia, 13 August 2016 — Like many Cubans who emigrate, Ariel
celebrated by buying a case of Domincan-made Presidente beer and two
bottles of aged Havana Club rum the day before his flight to Cancun.
Only his father and a couple of his friends knew of his plans. Weeks
earlier, his wife flew to Miami legally as part of a family
reunification program. Ariel, who did not want to wait two or three
years to reunite with his wife, saved enough money and contacted a
variety of people, who arranged his trip to Mexico.
Within three days he had crossed the border and after a thirty-six-hour
drive arrived in the sun-drenched city to reunite with his wife.
These are the stories with happy endings that inspire Cuba’s would-be
emigrants, who hope to scrape up enough money to make the leap.
The current wave of Cuban emigrants is different from those of the past.
In the 1960s those who emigrated were mainly business owners whose
properties had been confiscated by the Castro regime and military
officials in Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship who were fleeing prison or
the firing squad.
1980 would mark the beginning of a stampede by Cubans who, in spite of
being indoctrinated by the military dictatorship, were escaping
poverty, the tedious litany of alleged American military threats and the
social polarization of those who think differently.
The emigration wave of 1994 was more of the same, with Cubans fleeing
the Castro brothers’ ideological and economic madhouse. Even at a time
when leaving the country illegally carried long prison terms, there were
always people willing to fling themselves into the sea on anything that
would float in search of freedom and the chance to try their luck ninety
miles to the north.
All told — after Fidel Castro’s takeover, the radicalization of the
military dictatorship, insane economic policies and overbearing social
controls — close to two and a half million Cubans have opted for exile.
With the advent of a new period of economic austerity and the
unpredictability of the immediate future, thousands of Cubans have
decided to pack their bags. After leaving Cuba legally, a large
percentage now travel overland, taking advantage of changes in
emigration laws adopted by the government of Raul Castro in 2013.
In the last two years, as many as 150,000 Cubans have left either
legally or illegally. Some decide to emigrate to Europe with the help of
an Italian, who might be someone’s grandfather. Or they claim Spanish
citizenship under the Historical Memory Law.* From the vantage point of
the Old World, they can survey the scene, returning to Cuba every two
years so as not to lose certain rights they have as Cuban citizens.
The latest group is waiting for the end of the Castros’ strongman rule
to decide their future. Others are leaving, never to return. Ten years
after the timid reforms by Raul Castro’s regime, the quality of life for
most Cubans remains the same as or worse than it was in 2006
The poorest of the poor — a man like Heriberto, who collects empty soft
drink and beer cans in the Tenth of October township — are not
emigrating due to lack of funds. “If I had money or a house to sell, I
would have done it right away. It’s better to be a beggar in Miami than
in Havana,” he notes as he carries a sack full of cans.
A not insignificant number of small family business owners are making
plans to travel or to emigrate. Carlos, a sociologist, has noticed that
“people who make money and who have successful businesses are deciding
to emigrate or see it as a distinct possibility. It is an indication
that they are not confident about the reforms. Personal experience tells
them that the government could reverse course at any time.”
Jorge Luis, a taxi driver, believes that, “for the state, private
businesses are a necessary evil. They could dismantle them at any moment
with a combination of high taxes, administrative harassment and audits.
The government is not interested in advancing private enterprise. That
is why the goal for many people like me is to make money and then
emigrate with the entire family. ”
Diana, the owner of a prosperous restaurant business, regrets not having
been able to emigrate much sooner. “Things are complicated now,” she
explains. “I have three children and family members I would never leave
behind. But my plan is to be able to establish myself outside of Cuba.
There is no future here; this will not change.”
Colombia’s deportation of the first group fourteen Cubans, announced
through the official press in a memo from the Foreign Ministry, does not
mean most emigration plans will be cancelled.
At least that is what Diego thinks. Ten months ago he asked for a
lighter work schedule so that he could spend more time buying and
selling dollars. “I made an exploratory trip to Russia to check out the
possibilities of getting to the United States through the Bering
Straights,” he says. “In the end I decided to go through Mexico. With
all the corruption there, you can get anything if you pay cash. So in
September I will be flying to Mexico City.”
And he will not be going alone. Accompanying him will be his wife and
ten-month-old infant. Braving the dangers that come with a journey led
by unscrupulous and violent human smugglers, many Cubans put themselves
at risk on this migratory adventure, traveling with the elderly, small
children and pregnant women.
Neither the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act nor the massive
deportation of Cubans from Ecuador and Colombia will deter Cubans
determined to leave their homeland. The fact is people will always try
to escape from a country where life has become unbearable.
*Translator’s note: A 2007 Spanish law that, among other things, grants
certain rights to descendants of the victims of the Spanish civil war
and the subsequent Franco dictatorship.
Source: Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García –
Translating Cuba –