Is Ortega Pressuring the US with Escalating Migration?

a seemingly never-ending flow of Cubans and Nicaraguans

A group of Cuban migrants crossing the Nicaragua-Honduras border en route to Mexico and the United States. Photo Oscar Navarette / LA PRENSA

In the first quarter of 2022, a total of 41,074 Nicaraguans and 58,417 Cubans were reported by the US Border Patrol. Most of the Cubans came via Managua.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Since the end of 2021, the migratory flow from Nicaragua trying to cross the Mexican border into the Unites States has grown rapidly. Not only are Nicaraguans fleeing the country because of the socio-political and economic crisis and state repression, but the Cubans have found an alternative in Nicaragua to try to enter irregularly into the USA.

Last November 22, Daniel Ortega’s regime eliminated visa requirements for Cubans, which has since generated a massive exit from the island. In the first quarter of 2022, a total of 41,074 Nicaraguans were reported by border patrol in the southern US, and additionally 58,417 Cubans were registered, most of them proceeding from Managua.

Experts see in the free visa for Cubans a “support” to the regime of Miguel Díaz-Canel, an “opportunistic” strategy and the intention of “pressuring” Biden administration by generating a migratory crisis on the US southern border, not only due to the exodus of Nicaraguans and Cubans, and other Central American countries, but also from other nationalities like Haiti, Venezuela, Colombia, among others.

What is Ortega after with his visa-free policy for Cuba?

The Ortega regime’s decision on no-visa entry for Cubans to Nicaragua has two purposes: to help his counterpart, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to alleviate the pressure of Cubans who have been protesting their “discontent” with the dictatorship and the serious economic crisis facing the island, and to increase political pressure on the United States, explains Tiziano Breda, analyst for Central America of the International Crisis Group.

“There is no doubt, it offers the government of Cuba —Ortega’s key ally— a way to open this sort of compression valve that is migration, at a time that, between the renewed repression that followed last year’s protests and the very precarious economic situation growing in the country that could affect stability,” Breda thinks.

With no visa requirement, Cubans are using Nicaragua as a springboard to reach the United States. File photo: LA PRENSA

At the same time, Breda believes that the regime’s no-visa policy “is surely with the knowledge that many Cubans would seek the United States as a destination for several reasons. These include historical family ties of many people who already have relatives in that country.”

According to international media, the US Customs and Border Patrol from October 2021 to April of this year, about 115,000 Cubans entered the US territory irregularly through the Mexican border, three times more than the 39,303 recorded during fiscal year 2021, and the 14,015 in 2020. The data was confirmed by Breda.

Political pressure

This migration flow “clearly increases the pressure on the US southern border, in an issue that is highly sensitive at a domestic political level in the US and which I feel has played a role in the decision of the Biden Administration to resume some kind of high-level talks with the Cuban authorities, which has also touched on the migratory issue,” adds the analyst.

An expert in international law, who prefers to remain anonymous, agrees that the migratory flow increases the political pressure on the current US government “since it is an issue that those of the opposing party usually include in the electoral debates, as in those planned for the November legislative elections.”

Migration as a repressive measure

The jurist and former advisor to the US Congress, Jason Poblete, points out that Ortega uses migration as a political tool in violation of international law and many international human rights agreements. “These crimes should be tried in an international court,” he says.

As far as the political impact, “without a doubt (the regime) is using migration to expel dissident opponents and people who do not agree with the system from the country, that is part of the political DNA of these totalitarian systems,” he adds.

Human trafficking, reference image of Nicaraguan migration. File photo / LA PRENSA

From 2020 to March 2022, at least 250,000 Nicaraguans have emigrated, according to the Inter-American Dialogue organization.

Consequently, according to the “Nicaraguenses en México” and Texas Nicaraguan Community organizations, so far in 2022 at least 25 compatriots have died on Mexican soil under different circumstances, most of them drowned in the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), border between Mexico and the United States.

Of the total number of victims, the last five were reported in the last week by the Texas Nicaraguan Community organization, four of them drowned in the Rio Bravo and one died in a traffic accident.

An economic strategy

From another angle, the regime is implementing policies with an “opportunistic” purpose, which incidentally is “a provocation,” explains Manuel Orozco, director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program of the Inter-American Dialogue.

He points out that one of these opportunistic activities is enrichment through facilitating the passage of Cubans through Nicaragua and benefitting economically.

The presence of Cubans has gained notoriety in the Mercado Oriental, Managua’s largest market.

How does this strategy work?

The free entry of Cubans into Nicaragua is “a way of waging ‘war’ on the United States, but it is also a great source of foreign currency: the revenue that comes into the country is huge. It can be leaving the country at least 10 million dollars since February,” says Orozco.

The high demand on the routes between Havana and Managua has led to skyrocketing flight prices.

“Airlines have restricted ticket sales. Copa Airlines charges 1,200 dollars for two flights a week, and to come to the US you can get a transit visa via Colombia or Panama, but it is expensive and there are more restrictions. The cost is growing to more than 4,000 dollars per trip,” says Orozco.

“The revenue that the entry of a tourist leaves Nicaragua, between the departure Covid test (150 dollars), the entry by air tax, plus other taxes, can leave 500 dollars per passenger in transit. If 50 percent of those entering the United States by land came through Managua during 2022, that’s 30,000 people, leaving 15 million dollars in revenue,” maintains Orozco.

How does the no-visa for Cubans impact the United States?

The jurist Jason Poblete notes that the migratory wave is creating an imbalance in the northern triangle and is impacting other countries and “this always negatively impacts the interests of the United States, which include in their programs a stable region without problems like these that eventually affect the countries’ national security (the increase of migratory flow coming from other countries in the region).”

Orozco adds that this migratory flow affects the United States in different ways. First, it saturates the bureaucratic administration of processing what is estimated to be more than two million people in 2022. “This saturation has human and economic costs since each case is treated on a case-by-case basis, whether there is a request for asylum or not,” he explains.

Secondly, “it increases political tension between the two political parties in the country due to criticism from Republicans that Biden is not doing enough to contain the wave of immigration coming from the south,” he adds.

However, last week a federal judge in the State of Louisiana ordered the US government to continue implementing what is known as Title 42, a rule implemented by the Trump administration that de facto closed the border for asylum seekers and migrants.

Biden had suspend Title 42 on May 23rd. However, Louisiana federal judge Robert Summerhays, at the request of 24 States, issuing a temporary judicial injunction to block this action, leaving the measure in limbo.

For the White House which sees to reverse Title 42, this is a crucial issue and hopes to achieve a continental-wide immigration agreement at the Summit of the Americas in June, assures the international law expert.

What agreements can the hemisphere reach at the Summit?

The IX Summit of the Americas offers an opportunity to address the migratory flows in the hemisphere, which are not limited from south to north. “The exodus of Venezuelans to South America and the world; of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica and other countries; of the Haitians who temporarily work in Chile and Brazil and are now seeking new destinations are, among others, issues on which the heads of state and government gathered together can propose and agree on solutions,” explained the international law expert.

Therefore, he considers that it is necessary to “update the guarantees for foreigners who transit through territories and those who arrive with the intention of staying. The harmonization of the principles and asylum procedures have also to be assessed, and the movement of temporary workers.”

Orozco agrees that the migration issue is a priority in the Summit and assures that it is subordinated as a problem of democratic governance. “This will be addressed from the perspective of mitigating migration, betting on solving the causes, and agreeing on integration strategies for the more than 12 million Latin Americans who have left in the last 10 years, of which there are already more than 250,000 Nicaraguans in this group,” he points out.

He adds that there are also the causes of these migratory flows, beyond poverty and underdevelopment, such as “natural disasters, socio-political instability and violence, domestic violence, lack of opportunities and climate change.”

“The decision from the Summit will consist of assuming a preliminary plan for migration mitigation and integration. The Summit sets goals that are expected to be met in four years,” assures Orozco.

What actions can the US take?

In order to reach concrete agreements at the Summit, Tiziano Breda points out that “much will depend on how much the US Government is willing to listen and take into account the needs, visions and migration problems of various countries in the region. Costa Rica, with the Nicaraguans in particular, but also Panama with regard to the transit of migrants from South America, Asia, Africa; Colombia and many South American countries with the arrival of large numbers of Venezuelans.

The analyst points out that there are multiple migratory crisis that require a framework, a response and a regional effort. “So, if the US Government is willing to put all this on the table, and listen and support the other countries, that could have an impact in seeking a regional agreement. If instead it prioritizes its vision, its needs, I think this could affect the way in which any agreement that is reached at the Summit materializes and is implemented.”

Poblete points out that the US should put the immigration issue at the top of the list of priorities and seek ways to advance US commercial interests.

On the issue of national security “it is certainly urgent to remove from Central America negative interests such as communist China, Russia and even some European powers that are not cooperating with us in our goals for the region,” he adds.

It is also urgent that the US focus “on allies in the region neighboring Nicaragua and beyond, who have joint economic interests.”

“Truly this level of collaboration and focus has not happened in my country, neither with Republicans nor Democrats. If we would focus on our joint interests first, I am sure it would help not only Nicaragua but the region,” said the former advisor to the US Congress.

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