By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — About a year ago, it was but a rumor. Then it became a known fact that one could travel from Cuba to the United States easily via Ecuador.
Many of us Cubans are afraid to pay for passports and other travel requirements. Traveling seems like a far-fetched possibility and we are afraid to spend money on preparations only to be told we can’t at the last minute. Coming up with the money, see, is a real ordeal and we are forced to sell our homes, furniture, clothing, everything! That is the reason any journey implies something definitive for Cubans, equivalent to leaving the country for good.
This fear, however, tends to fade when a small crack opens up and many want to take advantage of it. This is what happened when Ecuador offered visa exemptions as part of its free circulation policy. That said, the crisis in Costa Rica has now set up obstacles and, since December 1st of last year, Ecuador requires Cubans to secure a visa. More than 8,000 Cubans are stranded on Costa Rican soil and another group is in Panama, to say nothing of those who have already arrived in Ecuador and are ready to cross the border.
This is not a novel phenomenon. This is also what happened when Cuba’s Camarioca port was opened in 1965 and 30,000 people left the country in a single month. Later, in 1980, 125,000 people left Cuba through the Mariel port over six months. Later still, in 1994, a large wave of Cuban migrants reached US shores during the rafter crisis. Around 32,000 people sought asylum at the Guantanamo Naval Base alone.
To say nothing of the half a million Cubans who signed up for a lottery draw that began to be organized by the US Interests Section in the 90s, offering winners US residences, the many who have moved to the United States legally through the 20,000 yearly visas program, the more than 260,000 who left in the so-called “freedom flights” between 1965 and 1973, the hundreds of thousands who have left on speedboats and other vessels over the past fifty years (particularly the last two decades) or the thousands of professionals from the field of sports, culture and health who have abandoned their work teams abroad. The list is indeed long.
Cuba is like an inflated balloon and we are the compressed air inside, ready to gush out in a steady jet when an opening appears. It’s sad to say and acknowledge this, but that is the ugly truth. The revolution, despite its noble aims, despite its well-known social achievements, has also had negative consequences and this, the fact Cubans now live in a diaspora, is one of the worst.
It is not in the least bit unfair to chalk up this phenomenon (now of worldwide proportions) to the revolution, for, before 1959, our country actually received immigrants from all the world’s continents. If a Cuban had a child abroad, they would run to the consulate to register them as a Cuban, for patriotic pride. The descendants of immigrants were Cuban through and through and even foreigners in Cuba wanted to be Cuban. Now, white and black Cubans alike go out in search of Spanish ancestry to apply for Spanish citizenship. If a Cuban woman has a child with a foreigner in Cuba, she requests her husband’s citizenship and just about everyone wants to leave the country. We have gone to the opposite extreme.
Every day, we are told of people who have left Cuba: doctors, neighbors, butchers, a friend’s son, and so on and so forth. It’s mostly the young. You go to a school and 99% of the teenagers dream of leaving the country or marrying a foreigner. That is what the picture looks like today. No one sees any future here and, if any future is visible, it is moving so slowly that no one is willing to wait for it.
It’s not hatred towards the revolution, its disillusionment. Too many economic failures; poor leadership; a bad system; far too many obstacles everywhere; too many prohibitions still standing, and scant, next to no power granted the people to have a say in improvements. We rely 99.9% on a tiny and exclusive group of people who earned their right to govern the country more than 56 years ago in a guerrilla war and they hold absolute power, propped up by laws and legitimated by international recognition. In view of such a situation, if a people is forced to leave its country of origin, others should help them.
Nicaragua is a country that Cubans, particularly the older generations who know how its history is connected to ours, are fond of. Our people, however, lacking any horizons, set out and take on all dangers in search of a better life, seeing the Cuban Adjustment Act as a means of escape and Nicaragua’s closed borders as a barrier. It doesn’t matter what the arguments or intentions are: for Cuban migrants, the United States is a friend and Nicaragua is now an enemy.
The solution sought by SICA member countries, to transport the migrants by air to countries beyond Nicaragua, is commendable, but it only attests to the Costa Rican government’s commitment with our government, not with Cubans. I believe Nicaragua should reconsider its stance. It is of course painful to see how our country is drained of the most valuable segment of its population, but there’s no future in Cuba, nor any means of working to create one, and we must therefore respect our people’s right to seek a future abroad.
Many abroad may have faith in the updating of Cuba’s economic model, but I believe this mass exodus is telling proof that we here do not. Ecuador and Central America are but another hole in Cuba’s hyper-inflated balloon and the Nicaraguan roadblock is but a frail patch, for the air is highly compressed and will shoot out inevitably. The die is cast.