Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Emigrating seems to be on everyone’s lips nowadays in Mayari, Holguin. It is the most recurring topic of discussion in homes, on the street, between passengers in a shared taxi, at work or at school.
Almost everyone wants to leave and many of them are preparing their departure to follow in the footsteps of groups who have already embarked on this journey, whose daily report about “where they are” encourages others to want to take on the same adventure.
Every ten days, more or less, a group leaves the city and heads for Havana so they can catch a plane to Panama, and then make their way towards the Mexican border. According to word on the street, once you get there, you’re given a letter of safe-passage or temporary visa to travel through the country. With this document in hand, they cross the giant country without any fear of being arrested and reach the US border, where they wait for an interview so they can apply for political asylum.
Then. they are held in an Immigration Center on the US side until all the paperwork for “temporary residency” is done while the asylum application is processed so they can get residency. People here are saying that they can stay at this center for up to three months, depending on the social worker you have and how diligent they are.
A carpenter friend of mine left a few months ago and was at the US-Mexican border on the Mexican side for three days waiting for an interview, and then spent 49 days at the immigration center on the US side. Another neighbor was only there for 33 days and a dear friend of mine from the neighborhood was there just over 20 days, maybe because she was traveling with her daughter.
The route Cubans are taking now is through Panama, thanks to the government in this country recently giving tourist visas to Cubans who want to travel to their country, thereby encouraging shopping tourism in the Colon Free Trade Zone. Cuban entrepreneurs are already an important source of foreign currency for Panama and so it was in their best interests to make travel requirements more flexible in this case. And, Cuba has had to adapt its import regulations but that is another issue and still hasn’t had any positive feedback.
The reality is that far from helping along traveling entrepreneurs’ applications, the Panamanian Consulate has now been receiving hundreds of Cubans’ applications for a tourist visa, but very few of them are real as the vast majority really want to emigrate. Similarly, national offices (at least in Mayari) are absolutely rammed with never-ending lines: at civil registry offices because Mexican authorities are asking for a birth certificate or because Cubans need to correct mistakes in their documents in order to apply for a passport. At the Ministry of Interior they need get a document verifying whether you have a criminal record or not; and then comes the passport applications.
People are selling up everything they have in order to leave or collecting as much as they can so at least one family member can leave and help out the rest who stay behind. There isn’t any faith in the country’s future and leaving has become the only attractive and hopeful option.
Our streets are still full of pot-holes, there aren’t steady supplies of food or any other basic item, with long periods of shortages like we are now experiencing. Farmers are afraid of new taxes and small business people are demotivated with the new series of regulations that have been put into effect, which far from being more flexible only tighten the noose already around their necks and put limits on growth or their proper functioning.
To put the icing on the cake, the new Constitution and the new president are only talking about maintaining the status quo. People interpret this as: more of the same and they have no other choice but to emigrate.
Because we don’t even have the most basic conditions here in Cuba to launch a civic and peaceful struggle, which is what we need to promote the change that our country so desperately needs. Only the most daring (almost suicidal) of us stay to push for this change, on different fronts. In a kind of patriotic sacrifice which takes away our peace of mind and threatens our freedom. Many people find it less dangerous to float on a raft in the sea or to be at the mercy of human trafficking mafias crossing jungles in Central America, than to demand for their right to a dignified life and democracy here in Cuba.
Meanwhile, our Government pretends like nothing is happening. The National Assembly hasn’t uttered a word about this huge problem, they are instead more concerned about how to stop wealth from accumulating in successful independent business owners’ hands or whether it wasn’t clear enough in the Constitution that they are still striving for Communism.
And, our media aren’t saying anything either, government journalists still haven’t heard about this great stampede of migrants. They are too focused on giving the YES vote in the constitutional referendum propaganda or publicizing Diaz-Canel’s projects and trips, to see whether they can stir the same platonic hopes that they fed and deceived our parents and grandparents with in the past. These people who today are unable to meet their basic needs of a week with their monthly pension, and who feel cheated because the paradise they were promised never came.