The Origins and Consequences of Cuba’s Emigration Crisis

January 21, 2017 |

By Alberto N Jones

Illustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — The emigration tragedy, which hasn’t stopped inflicting itself upon the Cuban people, is proof of just how tricky and hard it has been to shake off a criminal policy, which has caused a lot of harm in the form of tears, pain, blood and deaths.

This tragedy began on January 1, 1959, when the United States unilaterally changed the two countries’ existing immigration laws, allowing the Batista government’s hitmen to enter the US, without papers, who were being sought after by the law in Cuba.

US government attempts to sabotage and overthrow the Cuban government focused on the third world’s desperate need to immigrate to developed countries, which was handled by the Department of State and CIA with surgical precision, first encouraging the departure of Batista government officials and his compromised military personnel, followed by Cuba’s bourgeoisie, professionals in all fields, religious leaders, the middle class, and finally, those who would have never reached these lands, like my own mother, who invested her very few savings and never received a visa, but did receive the right to “seek refuge” in 1961.

Embassies in Mexico, Spain, South America and some Caribbean countries were persuaded to facilitate the visa process. The United States issued thousands of Visa Waivers to speed up the process and programs were created such as Operation Peter Pan, the Camarioca Boatlift and Freedom Flights, as well as the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, the Mariel Boatlift, the Cuban Rafter Crisis and today’s migration disaster.

At the Guantanamo Naval Base or GITMO, which has been illegally occupied since 1903, no Cuban had dared to enter without the “Pass” which is given by the National Security Department. Suddenly, in mid-1959, this enclave became a 117 sq.km. beachhead, where anybody who jumped the perimeter fence or swam across the bay was welcome, given shelter, food, clothes, the prized I-94 document and a free plane ticket to Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1960, GITMO employed around 2,200 Cuban civilian workers, who the military encouraged to “take asylum” with a cushy job which gave them access to once prohibited commercial, leisure and health facilities as well as free air and sea tickets to the United States and the Caribbean.  The greatest Cuban money laundering center was created, giving employees on the island 5, 10 and even 15 pesos (with no value abroad) for the dollar, taking away large sums of hard currency from the Cuban Treasury.

Sabotage, acts of terrorism, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the murders of Cuban employees and border guard soldiers as well as self-aggression attempts on GITMO, created a landscape of insecurity and war in the country’s southeast.

Aiming to restrict the massive illegal exodus of Cubans, the Cuban government introduced an unexpected contradictory law: the so-called Illegal exit law, which caused a lot of pain and tears. They also tried to make the journey harder by planting millions of cacti which were finally replaced by the second largest mine field in the world. That’s why the government was internationally denounced and labeled “the Sugar Cane Curtain”.

We’ll never know the exact number of innocent Cuban victims who have perished at sea, in the air and on land because of this conflict which has been artificially created due to the two countries political and ideological differences.

In 2013, the Cuban government lifted travel restrictions for citizens traveling abroad. The number of international voluntary workers had reached an all-time high, when the former CIA agent Emilio Gonzalez came up with his infamous Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, which stimulated thousands of doctors and other health workers on missions in the world’s most remote places to leave their poor patients behind and to settle in the United States under the false promise of making money.

For many, this became a great scam, as they were never warned about the tricky and expensive revalidation process or about the fact that financial grants for living expenses while they were taking the required courses didn’t exist, and so the only way the luckiest could survive was to become nurses, musicians or phlebotomists and the less fortunate became low-lifes, cafe employees, illegal doctors or Medicare embezzlers that the Police would go after.

The political detente between the United States and Cuba and the siren song being sent out from Miami motivated thousands to try and reach the US before existing laws were changed.

When President Barack Obama’s government put an abrupt end to the Wet-foot, Dry-foot Policy, thousands of people accused Obama and the government in Havana of causing the largest human tragedy that thousands of people are now suffering, stuck on their way to the US. These voices included those who up until yesterday were demanding that the policy be revoked because of the massive fraud that so-called economic migrants commit who only have to wait a year and a day in order to normalize their immigrant status and then return to Cuba for visits.

Nobody in their right mind could let the Cuban government off for the different levels of responsibility they have in this tragic human tragedy which continues even today, but trying to ignore the causes, origins, undeniable events which appear in Cuba’s vast historiography compilation on migration, would be a lie.

The struggle to end this tragedy once and for all has reached intolerable and unacceptable levels for us to think that it’s a distant problem. Cuba can’t take action with the unmoved and insensitive world’s indifference which tolerates this, without getting upset about the bloodbath in the Middle East and much less, the hate, xenophobia and racism that is spreading through Europe.

Cuba has a moral obligation to eliminate the causes of this tragedy which doesn’t have anything to do with politics, but to do with the lack of a sound economic future, the Cuban people’s inabilty to satisfy their basic individual needs such as food, housing, leisure, transport and others, which Cubans have often been deprived of for over a half century.

There is no other country in Latin America that has the same potential and opportunities that Cuba does to become a happier, more stable and developed country, with less of a need to emigrate, where so many Popes, prime ministers, presidents and kings of the world are anxious to take part in the creation of a more equal society in this hemisphere.

For some strange reason, trade agreements, investments and partnerships have, for the most part, been whittled down to news articles, in spite of the fact that these are the only way to heal the latest migration tragedy and its painful consequences and deaths.

China sent out a call asking for its children to come home in order to build a better future for everybody.  No complex, abdication or regret should stand in the way of our country building this stronger, more united and supportive society with its children both on and off the island, like it did at the beginning of the last century.

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  • Nick

    This is a ridiculous Imperialist comment.

    Give Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba.
    Stop defending the indefensible.
    Stop your agents breaking the Geneva Convention.
    Have a little bit of respect for the rest of the non-USA human race.

    And by the way….
    Next time around, with your wonderful so called democratic elections…..

    See if you can manage to vote in someone not quite so disgusting huh?

    • Moses Patterson

      Your response is the typical socialist claptrap. Based in emotions but lacking basis in historical facts. You obviously know nothing about the Geneva Convention. One final point: In a democracy, the risk of electing the wrong person exists.

      • Nick

        You seem to be on the defensive.
        You defend the inhumane abuses on the eastern tip of Cuba which is occupied by your country.
        The Geneva Convention was broken by your agencies. From the top down.
        As well as breaking the Geneva Convention they broke U.S. Law.
        In order to break U.S. Law they carried out their hellish abuses on the occupied territory of another sovereign nation.
        Thankfully some of the decent U.S citizens sought to protest against these crimes against humanity.
        President Obama should have got rid of this situation entirely before the lying, serial abuser of women took over.
        And you defend the rise to power of your Trump by suggesting it was ‘democratic’.(He got nearly 3 million less votes than the other candidate & the most important vote that he did get was from The Kremlin).

        The only possible way you can find to try defend the torture, abuse and lack of democratic legitimacy is by lashing out at what you choose to label as typical socialism.
        Shame.
        Check out the mirror Mr P.

        • Moses Patterson

          The Geneva Convention applies to soldiers in war. Like it or not, the US presidential election is determined by Electoral College votes. There is no doubt that Putin influenced the outcome. But nonetheless Trump won. Sad but true.

          • Nick

            And when you invade a country using the most well developed war machine known to mankind you take prisoners.
            Then you call them by some euphemism.
            Then they get tortured in the occupied eastern tip of Cuba.
            I’m British. It would be absurd to deny that we were involved in this abuse.
            I don’t blame the troops. I blame the leaders and the policies.
            But you simply try to deny it.

            The Electoral College vote obviously needs to be scrapped.
            It no longer qualifies as democratic does it?
            And you’re the fella that is banging on about democracy all the while huh??

          • Ronin

            Quit your whining!!!! Trump won the race and he will be the President at least for the next 4 years. Only time will tell what kind of president he will turn out to be. And the Electoral College is working just fine, thank you. We don’t give you advice on how to run your country, and we certainly don’t need any advice from you on how to run ours.

          • Nick

            Obviously drank every drop of right wing propaganda you were weened on?
            I think there are millions of decent people in the USA who will stand up and be counted if trump goes through with the agenda he boasts of having.
            When it comes to advice…..
            Maybe we just need to find another Tommy Paine and send him over there to shake things up again??

          • Ronin

            No, more like right wing reality check, NOT propaganda. Millions of decent people did stand up and voted Trump in. Read it and weep.

            “His agenda” was what got him into office in the first place. Now that he is in office, he should be given the opportunity to improve the country.

            Of course all the sore loser are out making some noise, but seriously doubt all that noise will stop Trump from going forward with his plan of action. Only time will tell if he will be successful. Trump was obviously successful enough to have amassed all that wealth, so maybe, just maybe he will have the same success in improving the U.S. economy which hands down will make him even more popular.

            And in that process hopefully he just might engage Cuba, and maybe things will change just a tad bit for the better on the beautiful Island of Cuba.

            Yeah, sure none of that could happen with negative attitudes like yours. But having hope is never an obstacle to progress.

          • Nick

            Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t do negativity.
            I’m an optimist and always hope for the best.
            Your trump is a backward step according to the majority of US citizens who cared to participate in the 2016 Election.
            And according to most people on Planet Earth, and almost everyone in Cuba, your trump is a joke, Putin Puppet an a sad indication of how your ‘democracy’ seems to be slipping………
            I hope the USA recovers from this episode………
            Time will tell.
            President Obama engaged Cuba.
            He will always be very popular there.
            Despite his flaws, a MAN worthy of his office.

    • Olgasintamales

      You really love the Castro’s dictatorship, the lack of freedom, the repression, the destruction, the beating of the dissidents, 20% of the Cuban population in exile, the general aspect of misery, the Castro’s TV and news papers. En fin. You really love a crapy system that doesn’t work. Or maybe those mojitos name seen another reality.

      • Nick

        I have to point out to you that you are incorrect from your first angry point onward…..
        And I don’t even like mojitos….
        Do you favour what occurred at camp X Ray?
        Do you think that the torture there was acceptable??

  • Griffin

    Albert makes an absurd claim that on “January 1, 1959, …the United States unilaterally changed the two countries’ existing immigration laws”.

    The US did not change any laws in Cuba. The US did allow Cubans fleeing from the Castro’s revolution to enter the US. Some of those people were Batistianos, but most were ordinary Cubans who fears the coming communist dictatorship.

    It is also absurd to blame the Cuban Missile crisis on the US. Castro requested from his sponsor and ally, the USSR, that they install nuclear missiles in Cuba, which the Russians did. It was this act which caused the missile crisis and the US reacted to this provocation by Castro and to USSR.