Cuba: The Island Flees Inside a Suitcase

Every day many Cubans make the decision to leave; they get on a plane without looking back. (EFE)

By Yoani Sanchez (14ymedio)

HAVANA TIMES – In a drawer I keep a box with photos that I avoid looking at. They are images filled with the faces that have left, hundreds of friends, colleagues and relatives who no longer inhabit this Island. The escape of athletes, artists, rafters or officials accelerates as the country sinks. Right now, we live in times of a resounding crash and constant goodbyes.

The flight of 11 Cuban baseball players during the U23 World Baseball Championship in the Mexican state of Sonora, has been the most recent chapter of this bleeding, but every day many others make the decision to leave, they get on a plane without looking back, go through the jungle or cross the sea. They are expressing with their feet what they dare not say out loud: the system is a failure and the country is unlivable.

The final destination can be anywhere. Yesterday a friend announced that she is going to Iceland, another island that she only knows is “far from Cuba and they are not building socialism.” The neighbor on the corner tore up his Communist Party card and now works for a cleaning crew in Miami; meanwhile a childhood friend is organizing a marriage of convenience to emigrate to Italy.

Some regret having waited so long. “My sister warned me and I thought this was going to improve, but it goes backwards like the crab,” the clerk at a nearby agricultural market tells me. “I’d rather start from scratch anywhere than spend the rest of my life here,” she says. Two customers who down a glass of juice nod their heads after listening to her.

All those who come to the conclusion that “you have to go out and get out now” have that look of absolute resolution that is seen in the turning points of life. I have noticed this harshness in widows, in families who have lost everything after a fire and even in prisoners sentenced to long sentences. It is as if after having been stripped of everything, they understand that they have one last power left: the power over their bodies.

And this faculty of deciding to distance yourself — physically or mentally — from what hurts and angers, is what the thousands of Cubans who emigrate every year are exercising. Neither the triumphant headlines in the official press, nor the slogan-lit school assemblies each morning, nor the promises of a “prosperous and sustainable” model just around the corner deter them. They are fed up.

At the beginning, Cuba officialdom justified their escapes by labeling those who went into exile as bourgeoisie after their properties, industries and businesses had been confiscated. Later, they were called “escorias” – slag, dregs, scum – because they were the disposable by-products of the “foundry of the New Man.” Even today, they are described as weak people before “the siren songs of capitalism.”

Skillfully, Castroism has also used emigration as a valve to release social pressure. It is no coincidence that the great Cuban migratory waves, such as the departure from the Port of Mariel in 1980 or the Rafter Crisis in the summer of 1994 have been preceded by serious economic hardships and an increase in citizen discontent. The popular protests of July 11 have also been played their part in the stampede and we are already living it.

The shame that practically half of a sports delegation escapes from a competition is something that is not cleaned up with the hefty dollars in remittances sent later by the emigrants. The phenomenon only occurs in countries-prisons in the style of the communist bloc of Eastern Europe, the dynastic dictatorship of the Kims in North Korea, in Belarus … and on this Island. We are on the list of nations that feel like bars; of systems that are experienced like cages.

We expect months of saying goodbye every day, because they will not be able to put a policeman next to every Cuban who travels in an official delegation. The leaks may also touch the highest levels of power, because rats leave the ship when it sinks, not because they are “rats,” but because they are smart. They feel that it is only a matter of time before this empty shell of the system is buried by the waters of change.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

20 thoughts on “Cuba: The Island Flees Inside a Suitcase

  • Statement of fact Nick is not prevarication, indeed it is the opposite.

  • Mr MacD,
    The extent of your prevarication is admirable.
    I guarantee that many Cubans leave the country. Whether they will return to live in Cuba is up to them. I guarantee that there are foreigners who live in Cuba. For the same reason I cannot confirm who is going to stay there forever.
    And I’m not going to give you their names and addresses.
    But if I ever get the chance I will introduce you to a couple of migrants to Cuba. That way you would be able to ask them personally why the f**k they choose to live in Cuba.

  • There are only three given ways in which people can become permanent residents of Cuba. However it is not possible for a foreigner otherwise to apply for immigration. dani is correct in saying that there are those who marry Cubans, and have homes there as I have. But the maximum period permitted at any one time, is six months. Yes, former Cubans may return and some do, but they can scarcely be described as immigrants. So where are the immigrants? The implication that somehow there is even a minor balance between those who leave Cuba and others arriving is bogus. Does any reader here know of a single immigrant with the rights of Cuban citizenship? Perhaps Dr. Ernesto Guevara de La Serna Lynch was unique – and even his citizenship which he eventually renounced, was described as “honorary”. Will Cuba accept refugees? If not, why not?

  • Mr MacD.
    Many people leave Cuba searching for greater prosperity elsewhere. Many people leave lower ranked Capitalist countries for the same reason.
    The amount of people who choose to leave their home countries and live in Cuba is only a small fraction of those going the other way.
    Olga stated that ‘absolutely no-one’ from other countries goes to live in Cuba.
    It is a matter of fact that they do. It is an absurdity to suggest otherwise.
    I personally know non Cubans who live in Cuba. I know people from outside Cuba who are firmly settled there. What do you want me to do?
    You want me to somehow guarantee that they’re gonna stay there forever??
    Get them to sign a sworn document stating that they are going to remain in Cuba until they draw their last breath???

    There are foreigners living in Cuba. To try and argue otherwise is a pointless non-argument.

  • Just answer the question Nick ! You stated: 100% verifiable fact. So verify ! Don’t prevaricate.

    What I am “on about”, is that I think your statement is misleading. OK, in pursuit of their functions, employees of Sherritt International and employees at Foreign Embassies, go live in Cuba temporarily, but you suggest that people are going to live there permanently. Who? Where? When? Why?

  • Anti Imperialist you seem to be trying to disagree with me?
    For what purpose?
    I stated that people go from other countries to live in Cuba (which they do).
    I also stated that far more people leave Cuba to go live elsewhere (which they do).
    These are both facts.
    Are you disputing these facts or not?
    For whatever reason, you seem desperate to disagree with me but it seems that what you’re actually doing is agreeing. So I’m not really sure what your point is?

  • Exactly Nick, Carlyle is spot on. You make comments without having a clue. In my seven years living and working in Cuba I can tell you that for every foreigner coming to live in Cuba, the imperfect socialist paradise, there could be a thousand Cubans leaving or wanting to leave, willing to go anywhere despite all the evils of the capitalist systems. Yes there are foreign students on study grants but they leave as soon as their student residency ends. The fact is with its aging population Cuba could use a slew of immigrants, especially young ones since so many Cuban youth want out. Is that happening? Are people from less advantaged countries being allowed to settle in Cuba? What have you seen regarding this on your many trips.

  • That is a hugely strange question Mr MacD.
    Are you suggesting that I may possibly have some kind of access to some kind of official Cuban government figures regarding who is or isn’t currently in their country?
    Are you suggesting that when one vacates one country to inhabit another then one must swear some kind of allegiance of permanence?
    Are you suggesting that there is some kind of mythical indestructible subsection of the human race that is inhabiting planet earth on some kind of permanent and infinite basis?

    What exactly are you referring to Mr MacD?

    Coz I ain’t got the slightest clue what you’re on about……..

  • Perhaps Nick would be helpful and provide the number of “People who do go to Cuba and live there.” Is that permanent residence, or those like myself who spend prolonged periods in the country? Do please verify the fact, with immigration figures.

  • I’m afraid you are incorrect Olga.
    People do go to Cuba to live there.
    That’s a fact. I can assure that this is a 100% verifiable fact. You are only suggesting otherwise as a way of backing up your viewpoint. But what you say is factually incorrect.
    Far more people choose to leave Cuba. That’s also a fact.
    The majority of people emigrating to the world’s richer countries are from the world’s poorer countries. That’s a fact too.
    So called democracy and so called totalitarianism are factors in the movement of people but not the only factors.
    There are plenty who emigrate from ‘democracies’ to oil rich ‘totalitarian’ states.
    Coz the pay checks better at the end of the month.

  • Nick but you know what? Nobody absolutely no one would choose to go to Cuba where education is “free” and medical assistance is “free” Cuba in 1958 was the fourth most prosperous country in the Western Hemisphere now is a disaster thanks to a family that at all cost is trying to stay in power under the make up of a socialist government. What ever the Cubans get after more the 60 years of failure is going to be better. Trust me.

  • Mr Patterson,
    There are legions of people leaving failing and impoverished capitalist countries in the hope of a life in one of the world’s richer countries.
    These legions of people, in many cases risk their lives to escape the grinding poverty which they experience in their failing capitalist home countries.
    I know that are constantly exposed to this cradle to grave propaganda which is a multi billion dollar industry in the USA, but this desperate movement of people ain’t no joke.
    It’s not a pretext for trite, in-denial, pro-capitalist comments in Havana Times.
    Each and every year many people, trying to improve their opportunities, lose their lives in their efforts to escape the grinding poverty of their failing capitalist home countries.
    You would do well, Mr P, to pay more attention to the reality rather than be repeatedly suckered by that expensive propaganda you are swamped with.

  • Trust Dan to express the views of the Castro regime, when fact is described as slander. Was it not Curt who criticized HT for being biased?

  • Moses – Your comment is interesting. You fail to see that the escape vs. immigrating characterization is a tool of the Western Media, i.e. what used to be called propaganda in the old days. Nothing to do with Cuba. Glad to see that at least subconsciously you see that Cuba has been slandered for decades.

  • It is telling that when a Cuban athlete leaves Cuba without permission, he is escaping but when an El Salvadoran leaves El Salvador, he is emigrating. That should send a loud message to the Castro dictatorship about the perception of Cuban citizenship.

  • The usual slant on the story.
    The fact is that the majority of people trying to migrate to the richer capitalist countries are from the poorer capitalist countries. They are trying to flee failing capitalist countries.
    It is increasingly bizarre how these articles and comments keep banging on about Cubans looking for a more prosperous life elsewhere without alluding to these straightforward facts.
    People wish to leave Cuba for a richer countries. That is the plain truth.
    But way more people wish to leave failing capitalist countries for richer countries. That is also the truth.
    Some commentators only wish to present half of the truth.
    I wonder why?

  • Once I asked a young participant at a communist political event in South America this: why don’t communist countries let their people travel or emigrate freely outside their countries? He said he had asked that same question once to a senior party organizer, and was told that if you let them emigrate, they’ll be exploited under capitalism. So, to spare them that fate, don’t let them travel.

    Here’s a joke I heard in Cuba itself: someone asks a young person what he wants to be when he grows up. His answer: a foreigner. (How sad)

  • Yes, its the “system”in Cuba that is the problem. No one else is making the dangerous journey to the Rich North to look for opportunities. The Haitians, the Guatemalans, the Salvadoreans, they all contentedly stay home in their (Capitalist) systems. Barely any here in the US. Great article Yoani.

  • The aged remain. For them, it is too late, they are resigned to existing without hope. The generations who are leaving are those who are needed to build the future, but now they will help to do so in other countries where there energy and abilities will be welcomed and rewarded. Many had clung on to the hope that they might eventually know freedom and that change would occur in Cuba.

    The response by the regime acting under the instructions of Diaz-Canel, to the demonstrations of July 11, to send the MININT thugs and goons on to the streets to beat, arrest and detain the “counter-revolutionaries” demonstrated yet again that for the people of Cuba, nothing changes.

    Sixteen years ago, there was an international baseball tournament held in Alberta, Canada and Cuba entered. Within three days, four members of the Cuban team absconded. the Chairman of the organizing committee to his astonishment, then received a direct call in English, from none other than Fidel Castro, who he said, raved about the organizing committee’s responsibilities, in response to which he was told that the Chairman was not responsible for the laws of Canada. He then added, that the Cuban team was selected by Cuba and that was where the responsibility lay. Castro terminated the call.

    Only a couple of years later an international ladies baseball tournament was held organized by the same committee and again Cuba entered. This time, five of the Cuban team absconded and the Chairman awaited a call from Raul Castro, but it never came. One wonders whether AMLO has received a call from Diaz-Canel?

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