Cuba’s Migrants: Between the Law and the Trap

By Jorge Dalton*

Cubanos stuck in Costa Rica. Photo: Alvaro Sánchez

HAVANA TIMES — Today, I would like to write about the thousands of Cubans stranded on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, people who are part of a new wave of immigrants crossing the Central American isthmus.

The figure available does not appear to be very exact but, apparently, over 3,000 Cubans are in this delicate situation. Most of them are young people who have run into countless obstacles on their way and have not reached the “American Dream” as quickly as they had planned.

One such obstacle was the recent dismantling, by Costa Rican authorities, of several bands of human traffickers that operated throughout the region, whose “best-paying” clients were precisely these Cuban émigrés, most of whom have the support of their relatives, either residents or citizens of the United States.

This new avalanche of migrants is arriving from Ecuador and is prompted by rumors that the Cuban Adjustment Act could be repealed from one moment to the next, or at least suffer a number of important modifications. This law, which favors only Cuban migrants, has been maintained for a half-century as a political instrument and a throwback to the Cold War tensions between the two nations.

As a result of the newly-established relations between the United States and Cuba, the Cuban Adjustment Act may very well be on its last legs. The law has become a kind of boomerang, a trap affecting those who created and impelled it, and now, US legislators aren’t quite sure how they can get rid of it.

These new émigrés have also run into the intransigence of the Nicaraguan government, headed by Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega, who has referred to the migrants as “delinquents” and has threatened to repress them (as he has already done).

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega. Photo:

I mention Murillo first because she is actually the one who makes decisions in today’s Nicaragua, the woman who hands down orders. Ortega is nothing but a grey, decorative figure, a kind of ornament meant to signal that Sandinismo is alive and well, when, in truth, this couple took it upon themselves to deliver the coup de grace to this, what was once also known as the “revolution of poets.”

Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega are two leaders devoid of memory and bereft of many other things. They have forgotten that some of the parents or grandparents of these Cubans now stranded on the border gave everything for Nicaragua after 1979, and such an insult and affront on the dignity and nobility of the Cuban people is unacceptable.

As of 1979 and for the duration of the Sandinista revolution (I am entirely convinced that revolution ceased to exist a long time ago), numberless, average Cuban families sacrificed many basic things to help the people of Nicaragua.

I could speak for hours about the contributions made by Cubans to Nicaragua. Some even gave their lives on this soil. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo could have shown a modicum of grace and avoided the extreme pettiness of having forgotten that important detail. With this, I am not suggesting Ortega should act against the self-determination of Nicaragua.

The thousands of Cubans trying to reach the United States expose themselves to a deadly trap, that of crossing Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, a corridor considered one of the most dangerous on the planet, where Salvadoran gangs (considered the bloodiest in the world), Guatemalan, Honduran and Mexican drug traffickers, natural born killers, and an unending chain of corruption, crime, kidnappings and extortion plague the region, with the blessing of several authorities. These are some of the mafias that reign in this, one of the most beautiful but also dangerous regions on the globe, and the ones that make émigrés from any country their daily spoils.

I am more than sure that many of these Cubans are oblivious to what awaits them and are unaware of the danger that lies in store for them when they set out from Cuba, risking the lives of their children in this long journey in search of a new life in the United States. The goal may be reachable, but it can well spell hell, even if they reach this country and secure the benefits it offers.

Thousands of Salvadorian, Honduran, Guatemalan and Mexican migrants undertake this journey every day and become the victims of this monstrous cruelty. These Central American migrants, most very poor, are robbed, raped and murdered to be deprived of their measly belongings. Later, their corpses appear in mass graves or dumpsites, when someone finds and reports them. Others are never found. This is the tragedy that is stamped on these countries, where thousands of people and entire families disappear, a daily tragedy that next to no one seems to care about in this world.

The mass media barely mention this carnage. I have the impression that the nearly three thousand Cubans stranded on the border won’t have better luck if they undertake the journey across this jungle.

Now, there is more bad news for the Cubans who insist on taking this route to reach the United States. I am referring to Ecuador’s sudden change of migratory policy, which will come into effect on December 1 and will require Cubans to apply for a visa to travel to the country.

Cubans in Costa Rica. Photo:

Though Ecuador has declared it is not closing its doors on Cubans, the message is clear: this corridor has been closed. The governments of Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica will now be far stricter about the passage of Cubans across their borders. They are part of a series of measures that different countries have adopted following the SICA meeting in San Salvador.

Looking beyond this tangle of traps and laws, we need to begin to focus our attention of the many causes behind this new wave of Cuban migrants, most of whom are young and whose destiny still remains uncertain.

We need to ask to what extent the Ecuadorian government lost control over the number of Cubans that have been arriving in the country for years, many of whom have an irregular status there. We also have to stop automatically blaming all of this on the benefits afforded by the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Alberto, Maria and their small son are three Cubans now stranded on this border, between a rock and a hard place. They sold their house and everything they owned in Cuba. They have only their hopes and the clothes they have on. They were sure they had found an “easy and safe” way to reach the United States, one that was “less dangerous” than taking to the sea and crossing the Strait of Florida. There are some who tell me that, in view of this new situation, some Cubans will once again opt to leave the country on rafts, and I honestly don’t know which of the two will be worse for my people in the long run.

(*) Jorge Dalton is a Cuban-Salvadoran filmmaker. 

6 thoughts on “Cuba’s Migrants: Between the Law and the Trap

  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. One person might covet the trappings of financial gain, others might covet the simpler life.

  • It tells me the government of the USA is both imperial and xenophobic .

  • The elephant in the room is why these Cubans and millions of Cubans before them are willing to risk their lives in the first place in order to escape all the ‘free’ education and healthcare they receive in Cuba? Why are these Cubans so blind to all those smiling Cubans that some of the pro-Castro commenters to HT love to highlight in their comments? After all, Canadians love to spend month after month in Cuba living off their Canadian pensions. Why would Cubans want to leave a place like this?

  • Wet Foot/Dry Foot became an undemocratic part of the U. S. democracy in 1966, followed by an array of similarly motivated Batistiano-directed laws — Torricelli, Helms-Burton, etc. — designed purely to harm Cuba and richly benefit Cuban exiles as well as selected Cubans already here. It is astounding to me that proponents of such acute discrimination actually profess to believe that intelligent, free-thinking democracy-lovers do not realize the grossly negative image that abominable Cuban-related laws easily mandated in the U. S. Congress presents to the rest of the world. I know many Cuban-Americans who are ashamed, but they are not among the minority of Cuban-Americans who get elected to the U. S. Congress, are they?

  • America wishes to have it’s citizens allowed to enter Cuba however it does not want Cubans to enter America. Now what does this tell you?

  • The only sane way to deal with this crisis is for the USA to grant visas to Cubans who want to travel to the US. If Cubans could get on a plane and fly to the US without problem they would not be flying to Ecuador and walking the hazardous route overland through Central America, or building homemade rafts to set out on dangerous seas to Florida.

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