The migratory crisis that Cuba is experiencing is pulverizing all the marks. In the last 11 months, nearly 180,000 Cubans entered the United States illegally through the Mexican border and another 8,000 tried to do so by sea. These are figures from the US Customs and Border Protection Office. Added to these are recent data from the US Coast Guard, which indicates that since October of last year, 5,421 Cuban rafters were intercepted on the high seas trying to cross the Strait of the Florida in fragile boats —and some 3,000 managed to reach the mainland—, a figure that exceeds the total number of rafters detained in the last five years. This is an unprecedented exodus: this migratory crisis is greater than all the previous ones, including that of Mariel and the Raft Crisis together: during the first, in 1980, 125,000 Cubans left the island, and in the second, in 1994, 35,000 did so.
The worst thing is that everything indicates that this bloodletting is going to continue, agree various Cuban sociologists and economists consulted, who affirm that the deterioration of living conditions and the economic hardships that are at the base of this stampede are not going to subside, but rather they may worsen even more in the immediate future. The general criterion is that the crisis that the country is going through is structural and that to get out of the gap it will take a lot of time, capital, financial aid and radical reforms that it is not clear that the Government is willing to make.
News of deportations, shipwrecks, human trafficking operations and crude testimonies of the risky adventures experienced by Cuban emigrants during their journeys by sea or by land -in this case crossing Central American borders until reaching to Mexico—in their desperate attempt to reach the US Dozens of Cubans, probably hundreds, have lost their lives by drowning in the sea, crossing the Rio Grande or at the hands of the mafias that control illegal emigration in the region. Calls from both governments to stop the exodus are growing. But people keep trying.
Last week, the United States Embassy in Havana announced an increase in border patrols by land, sea and air to stop the great wave of Cuban rafters, and assured that various agencies in charge of managing illegal immigration will coordinate for it. “The main objectives of this interagency group [sic] they are to prevent the loss of life at sea, and to interrupt illegal maritime migration using the forces of the Department of Homeland Security,” the diplomatic mission said in a statement, noting that Cubans intercepted on the high seas will be deported.
This weekend, Cuban television interviewed several rafters deported by the US who recounted how they were about to lose their lives at sea, including a young woman with a small child. The dissuasive message was clear: they said they would not try it illegally again. But it is unlikely that this recommendation will catch on with a distraught, exhausted and hopeless population.
With the situation overwhelmed, last Thursday and Friday Cuba and the United States held a “technical meeting” in Havana between Cuban Border Guard Troops and the United States Coast Guard Service to “increase bilateral cooperation” in the fight against irregular emigration, trafficking of people and drugs, as well as maritime search and rescue. According to an official Cuban statement, the meeting was held “in a respectful and professional atmosphere” and was beneficial. “The delegations of both countries highlighted the usefulness of these meetings and agreed on the importance of advancing cooperation in this area,” in addition to agreeing to “continue these technical meetings in the future,” the Cuban government reported. In April, Cuba and the United States had already resumed bilateral talks on migration issues, the first at a high level since Joe Biden arrived at the White House. These meetings had been suspended during the presidency of Donald Trump, who reversed the historic process of rapprochement between the two countries.
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The migration issue has always been key in the turbulent relations between Cuba and the United States, but now it is perhaps more so than ever. In the last six decades, various exoduses have increased the tension between the two countries at different times —from Camarioca (in the sixties) to the raft crisis (in the 1990s)—functioning as escape valves and mechanisms of pressure on Washington, coinciding with economic and political crises on the island. But the magnitude of the current disaster, which led to the historic protests against the Government on July 11 of last year, is unparalleled. 11-J marked a before and after in Cuba, and there are the migratory figures, which speak for themselves.
In fiscal year 2020, 14,000 Cubans illegally entered the US through the Mexican border. In 2021 there were 39,300, and until August 2022 – the fiscal year began on October 1 of last year and ends on September 30 – about 180,000 emigrants have entered through the southern border. According to the US authorities, if the current rate continues, 2022 could close with an absolute record of more than 200,000 Cubans in an irregular situation. Data from rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard is equally revealing. In 2017, 1,468 Cubans were detained; in 2018, 259; 313 in 2019; only 49 in 2020 and 838 rafters in 2021. In just 11 months of this fiscal year, there are already 5,421.
There is no doubt that the current migratory crisis is the greatest experienced so far since the triumph of the revolution. There is also no evidence that the conditions that encourage it have a difficult solution. The economic hardships, the draconian blackouts, runaway inflation, the shortage of basic necessities and medicines, the deterioration of health services, the exhaustion and lack of hope of the suffering Cuban population, especially the youngest , it does not seem that they are going to change in the short term. Pessimism is general, the light is not seen and many young people feel that leaving is the only option to improve. A drama that mortgages the future of the country.
The Biden government, which does not want more irregular Cuban migrants, has recently launched several measures in the direction of reestablishing the consular services of its embassy on the island —which Trump dismantled— and revitalizing the family reunification program. But Havana assures that they are insufficient measures, and blames Washington for exacerbating the flow of illegal emigrants due to non-compliance with the bilateral agreement that stipulates the delivery of 20,000 annual visas to Cuban citizens, and for the maintenance of the Cuban Adjustment Law, which It benefits Cubans and allows them to obtain permanent residence a year and one day after entering the country, even if they have done so illegally. That, and the intensification of the embargo, to which the Government of Havana blames all its ills. While both governments continue entrenched in their old disagreement, Cubans see that time passes, the exodus grows and they live worse and worse.
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