Cuba and its Immigration Policy: Lessons to Learn

from Jose Ariel Contreras & others

Alberto N. Jones

alberto2HAVANA TIMES — It took only a few days for the new immigration regulations to come into effect for all-star baseball player and national hero Jose Ariel Contreras to show up at Havana’s international airport tearful, thrilled and grateful for having been able to return to his homeland.

A painful ten-year wait separated from his family was the undeclared penalty for his having committed the unpardonable crime of slipping away from his team while outside the country.

This tragic experience and those of thousands of others is forcing us to reflect, analyze and draw bitter lessons, ones that explain such human decisions without us having to stigmatize, ostracize or reach a priori conclusions.

Cuba has made significant advances in recent years in its efforts to heal the artificial divorce between the nation and its emigrants. Still, much more needs to be done in the shortest time possible to pull up by the roots the thicket that has unnecessarily cast a shadow on our history.

The complexity of immigration everywhere in the world is characterized by a one-way flow, which in most cases is from economically weaker countries to more affluent ones.

Mario Santillo, the director of the Center for Latin American Migration Studies in Buenos Aires, has studied and illustrated this dynamic in his work “Balance de las migraciones actuales en America Latina” (The Current Balance of Migration in Latin America”).

The principal destination countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2001 (relative to their populations) were Costa Rica, with 311,000 (7.7%); Argentina, with 1,531,940 (4.2%); Panama, with 82,000 (2.9%); Uruguay, with 89,000 (2.7%); and Chile with 153,000 (1.0%).

alberto1The 2001 Canadian census reflected 38,460 people born in Salvador; 36,225 from Mexico; 24,495 from Chile; 17,125 from Peru; 15,505 born in Colombia; and 12,015 from Argentina. Its figures didn’t include Cubans, whose number was statistically insignificant.

The 2000 US census reflected the existence of 20,640,711 people who immigrated from Mexico; 1,241,685 Cubans; 764,945 Dominicans; 655,165 people from El Salvador; 470,684 Colombians; 372,487 Guatemalans; 260,559 people from Ecuador, etc.

These figures demonstrate that the rate of immigration from Cuba is in line with that of other countries in the region – despite there having existed specific programs designed to promote both legal and illegal emigration from Cuba to the United States.

Operation Peter Pan, the Camarioca boatlift, the “Freedom Flights,” the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Mariel boatlift, the “Rafter Crisis,” and the US “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” policy. There is also the ongoing attraction of the Guantanamo Naval Base as a refuge to reach by climbing a fence or swimming the bay and be declared refugees, received as honored guests, and provided with food, shelter, a flight to the United States and health insurance and employment authorization.

How can one explain then that Cuba was stigmatized for decades as a great prison from which everyone wanted to escape and most were willing to risk their lives in such an attempt?

Is it possible to believe that no Cuban official was aware of these statistics, which could have prevented the country from implementing absurd and draconian laws, ones like the Salida Ilegal del Pais (Illegal Exit from the County Act, or SIP) and the subsequent imprisonment of many individuals?

Cuba has made significant advances in recent years in its efforts to heal the artificial divorce between the nation and its emigrants. Still, much more needs to be done in the shortest time possible to pull up by the roots the thicket that has unnecessarily cast a shadow on our history.

Alternately, what would be the exponential factor for multiplying the number of immigrants from other countries of the region if the same laws issued by the United States in favor of Cubans were applied to other Latin American countries and the Caribbean for just one week?

Another secondary finding concerning the Cuban immigration process in the world is that — because of their higher level of education — on the average they manage to establish themselves more rapidly in their host countries, as well as ascend higher socially and obtain higher incomes than their Latin America counterparts.

The examples of Jose Ariel Contreras, Carlos Acosta and others who have been fortunate enough to make fortunes in their new environment was not sufficient to minimize their patriotism, dispel their longings for their country or diminish their moral commitment to their community.

Recognizing the serious mistakes made in the past in the heat and struggle for the country’s survival, to now open our arms and our doors to our children overseas, as “the Apostle” [Jose Marti] would have said, are urgent and un-postponable measures for strengthening our national, historical, cultural and family ties.

All of this could become a reality with mechanisms for the repatriation of immigrants, residency for retirees, cultural and scientific exchanges and participation in the socio-economic development of the country.



6 thoughts on “Cuba and its Immigration Policy: Lessons to Learn

  • Grady, Only if by “I think it is more reasonable to believe…” what you really mean is “My delusions are more real to me than facts…”, then your comment makes sense.

    But if you ever actually speak to a real live Cuban you will find they don’t share your American Leftist obsessions.

  • Grady, do you just make this stuff up in your head? How many Cubans do you actually talk to? I live with one and talk to her family and a host of Cubans friends nearly every day. I have Cuban friends who left Cuba in ’62 on a private jet and even one who came by raft last year. You have no idea what the f#ck you are talking about when you say what you believe Cubans think. Most Cubans love their country but HATE what the Castros have done to it. Once again, you should visit Cuba in person before you opine about what Cubans believe. Don’t just stay a week and spend your time in Varadero either. Stay a month, live in Cayo Hueso or Cero municipality in Havana. Live on 5 cuc a day. Shop at the agro near your casa particular. Eat perro calientes for lunch or the pan con lechon and wash it down with the 2 cup refrescos. Take the P5 bus. Live like a Cuban and then get back to me!

  • Ha, ha, ha… Dear Grady, Cubans just give a f… about, Palestine, Iraq, Nicaragua, the US plans, etc. And nobody believes the embargo “tale”. They just want to succeed in their lives (which is completely impossible in Cuba). You can go to jail in Cuba for criticizing the government, so not many people will dare to speak their mind. As a Cuban I can tell you, most of Cubans do hate the Castros (the leaders of the Robolution, if you know what I mean), they just don’t have another choice.

  • I think you project your own bourgeois hatred for “the Castros” into most Cuban expatriates. While it may be true that the earlier emigrants held such a seething hatred, I find it difficult to believe that most now feel the same.

    I think it is more reasonable to believe that most Cuban immigrants into the US have a seething hatred for the US embargo against Cuba, US support of Israeli suppression of the Palestinians, US subversion and invasion of weaker countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, US interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and the whole list.

    You, Moses, seem to be in sympathy with whatever the US government leaders and string-pulling backers feel about any subject, including about the leaders of the Cuban Revolution.

  • Every time you write, Alberto, whether an HT article or a comment on an article by someone else, we all broaden out knowledge. Thank you so much. Best wishes.

  • Mr. Jones, Cuban immigrants to the US, as you write, do tend to be better educated and therefore better prepared to rise economically and socially. However, this is also due to the fact that they tend to be ‘whiter’ than their fellow Latin American immigrants. As you know, as an afro-Cuban, this physical characteristic has value in a Euro-centric society such as the US. Secondly, one reason the emigration statistics for Cuban emigres, while in line with other Latin American countries, tends to be overblown, is because fewer Mexicans, Costa Ricans, Colombians, etc. arrive in the US to join in the chorus of their countrymen who are set upon the destruction of the government of their homeland. Other Latin American emigres do not hate their government with the same fervor that Cubans hate the Castros. As a result, Cuban statistics are overblown and emphasized.Finally, America’s greatest marketing tool is our ability to receive emigrants, extend OPPORTUNITY, and then without prejudice, allow them to return to their native countries and brag about their lives in the US. Your comment is that immigration is largely from poor countries and to wealthier countries. That is partially correct. It is more exact to describe the direction of immigration is from countries with less opportunity to countries with more opportunity. The Castros are very aware of this and as as result chose to deny Cubans who left to seek their fortunes in faraway lands the freedom to return to Cuba to brag about their new lives. As you know, every Cuban now knows that Jose Contreras earned $65 million in those ten years of forced separation. They know how big his house is and how many cars he owns. What impact this will have on a young Cuban ballplayer who dreams of fame and forturne, no one knows. The only reason President General Raul permitted Contreras to return and others like him is because he needs the hard currency that he brings more than he fears the impact of rich (and not so rich) Cubans visiting the island and encouraging further emigration.

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