Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Cubans waiting in Panama.

HAVANA TIMES — The last group of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica – of the original eight thousand – was transported out of the country a few weeks ago. Perhaps some people thought Ecuador’s new visa requirements for Cubans and San Jose’s decision not to offer migrants any more transit documents would put an end to such migratory flows.

Nothing proved further from the truth. Another significant group of Cuban migrants has already formed in Panama. There are two thousand people, plus the thousand or so others who stormed a border control point some days ago and have already reached Costa Rican soil, despite instructions not to allow them passage. The crisis begins again.

The Costa Rican government wants to prevent a new exodus at all costs and insists on deporting those who cross its borders illegally. The previous experience exhausted their natural quota of solidarity, which, it must be stressed, bordered on the magnanimous. But it also involved considerable expenses and they now claim they are in no condition to cover these again.

Now, Panama is the one stuck with the hot potato and, to date, the country’s Executive has expressed a commitment to aid the Cuban migrants. Of course, in the short term, while a solution is sought, the figure will grow.

It is worthwhile recalling what sparked off this humanitarian crisis in the first place. Cubans charted their own migratory route through Central America and this didn’t cause much of a stir, it was barely reported on by the media. Only the Cuban-American media in South Florida covered the news.

It’s true these migrants were exposed to unscrupulous people, no few vicissitudes and that more than one terrible incident must have befallen them. Any death or violence experienced is no doubt regrettable. But they were reaching their destination and the journey proved less dangerous than crossing the Strait of Florida on a raft.

At any rate, Cubans, particularly the young, have only one thing in their heads: to flee Cuba in order to have a better life. They know the United States welcomes them with residencies and that living standards there are high. As a simple worker, you make the same or more what a successful self-employed person in Cuba does. They make it there and see almost immediate improvements. They have a lot to gain and very few chances of attaining anything close to that in our own country. They don’t think it twice and set out on the adventure.

It’s a risky enterprise, true, but coming to America in those old steam ships among hundreds of thousands of other Europeans looking for fortune was far worse. They came in the millions and founded these nations that flourish this side of the Atlantic today. Some shine more than others, but we’re still here. Brazilian explorers who pushed back their country’s borders until turning it into the giant it is today, at the expense of the less adventurous Spaniards who contented themselves with reaching the frontiers set by civilized natives, also ran great risks.

To migrate, even under precarious conditions, is a personal decision and I respect it. Particularly when a country has the kind of deep-rooted problems Cuba does. To address those problems here would be repetitive and tedious. It would be marvelous if we had safe mechanisms that would allow anyone to migrate where they wanted. But such a solution is impossible and counterproductive. Incredibly, it is the solution our government proposes.

Cuba cannot solve its problems by legally depopulating the island of anyone who does not wish to continue to support the Castro revolution. I believe, as is natural to assume, that the Castros and their revolution are the ones that ought to solve this problem, which they themselves created. They prepared the people for prosperity and they do not give them the opportunity to develop. It all results from imposing a dysfunctional system that is saddled by myriad internal obstacles and prohibitions that undermine free, individual economic initiative.

To say nothing of the political system they impose on us: it’s got us bound hand and foot, unable to change anything and dependent on the willingness of a handful of entrenched leaders. To wait for pressure to be applied by alternative civil society and the results of the struggle led by the opposition, that’s a lot to ask. It actually seems the government becomes stronger through this opposition. The latter’s catapults haven’t even left a mark on the walls of the fortress and they have been flinging stones at it for decades. Perhaps the combat strategy ought to be changed, don’t you think? Personally, I loved Obama’s advice and I think it necessary to apply them every day.

Nicaragua, probably in complicity with our own government, was the first to shut down its borders. There weren’t many problems and the explanations [of national security] offered seemed like exaggeration. As I see it, it was strictly a maneuver to apply pressure on the US government regarding the Cuban Adjustment Act, in the midst of Cuba-US talks. It was also our government’s fear of losing too much human capital, which is now its main source of income, after the country’s industries have been destroyed.

Costa Rica helped but now it is forced to close off its border, for obvious reasons, different from the less convincing ones used by Nicaragua. Panama will cooperate, but it will later do the same San Jose is doing today. Then, it will be Colombia’s turn, if definitive measures aren’t taken first and that escape route isn’t completely shut down.

One thing is certain, if Cuba doesn’t change, Cubans will continue to migrate. The metaphor of the balloon is apt here also: the air is compressed and there will always be an orifice where it can seep out. But, how sad it is to see our country become news for such a shameful phenomenon. Only we can change our destiny, but the struggle is tough and it must be well directed. Only then will be build a new country.


7 thoughts on “Cuban Refugees Back in the News

  • I didn’t fail to mention it. I choose to leave it as a side excuse. Few, if any, of the Cuban athletes who have defected say they want to leave because of the embargo. Likewise for the balseros who survive crossing the Florida straits. To Cubans who have been forced to live under Castro tyranny, the embargo is not the problem.

  • Maybe a few. But the grand majority were Spaniards escaping their own revolution. Lots of Jamaicans and Haitians as well. None of whom want to move there today.

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