HAVANA TIMES — Cuban émigré Mercedes Morera Roche pleaded guilty in the United States of conducting illegal human trafficking operations between 2004 and 2011. During that time, she had taken in a part of the US $ 6.6 billion that these criminals move around the world (1).
Mercedes arranged safe passage through Central America and Mexico for migrants, most of whom were Cubans arriving from Ecuador, the only country in the region that does not require Cubans to have a visa. She would provide them with instructions, fake identity documents, safe houses and transportation.
Despite her guarantees, the Ecuador-US route is teeming with danger. In El Salvador, the Mara Salvatrucha routinely kidnaps illegal immigrants of any nationality. It is said they have carried out more than 22,000 kidnappings (2).
Cuban migrants have also met with very difficult situations in Mexico. In 2008, armed groups hijacked a bus from the Chiapas Detention Center and took with them the 33 illegal Cuban migrants on board.
In 2010, Mexican authorities rescued 6 illegal Cuban immigrants who had been taken hostage by these groups, in Cancun. The previous year, 14 others had been mistreated and beaten in an abandoned house in this city.
The number of Cubans travelling by land grew quickly after the United States approved its “dry foot – wet foot” policy, which establishes that all Cubans captured on rafts in the high seas are to be repatriated by the US Coast Guard.
The number of rafts intercepted by the Coast Guard is massive, such that the only viable option left are speedboats from Miami. Over the past ten years, nearly 90% of Cuban migrants have traveled by land. Last year, some 22,000 entered the United States through the Mexican and Canadian borders.
The trip costs US $10,000 per person, and the bulk of this traffic is financed by Cuban Americans (3). They pay for their relatives to be able to reach the border and avail themselves of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which has guaranteed residency to any Cuban who sets foot on US soil since 1966.
Cuba’s migratory figures are the most publicized, but Cubans are not the only ones who undertake these illegal journeys to the United States. Mexicans cross the border in far larger numbers, and Dominicans set sail to the US in their “yolas”, and no one much cares how many of these makeshift boats sink in the ocean every year.
In 2011, the number of Cuban-born US residents reached the figure of 1,090,563, while that for Mexican-born residents was 11,691,632 and immigrants from El Salvador – a nation with half the island’s population – were reported at 1,245,458 (4).
Miami’s anti-Castro media speak of 2 million Cuban émigrés, but they are inflating the actual figure by adding all residents of “Cuban origin”, including the sons and grandchildren of immigrants, all of them born in the United States.
Cuban immigrants have always been made a political issue, presented as persecuted individuals who are fleeing communism and given the status of refugees by the United States – despite the fact that 500,000 of these alleged “exiles” visit Cuba every year without anything happening to them.
Washington deals with the issue of immigration with a double standard. It applies contention policies on other countries, and even worked with the Dominican government to launch a media campaign that included taped interviews of people who had lost relatives at sea.
Mexico did the same thing, publishing a CD for local radio broadcasters across the country titled Migracorridos. The songs in the CD describe the dangers and risks faced by illegal Mexican immigrants in their journey to the United States.
In Cuba’s case, by contrast, it maintains an Adjustment Act that tempts Cubans to take the risk. Most of the benefits this legislation affords apply to those who do not have a visa to travel to the United States, that is to say, those who reach US borders illegally.
Cuba’s laxer migratory laws now allow citizens to travel freely, multiplying their chances to emigrate, but the only countries that open their doors to them are Ecuador and the United States. The former has become a kind of trampoline for reaching the latter.
With this state of affairs, it isn’t strange that the number of people risking their lives is growing and that more and more people are paying traffickers like Mercedes Morera, in the hopes of one day enjoying the benefits of living in a developed country.
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
- Human Rights Committee, “Special Report on the Kidnapping of Migrants in Mexico.”
- “High-Speed Escape: Greater Optimism at Home Has Not Stopped the Exodus to the United States”, The Economist.