By Pilar Montes (Photos: Orlando Domínguez)
HAVANA TIMES — Mafalda, this precocious and intelligent girl who appears in cartoons, already said it: “the future today isn’t what it used to be.” The future is something that worries everyone: young people and the elderly, rich and poor people.
In my parents’ time, their future could be led down a certain road. Even those who graduated with a university degree knew that what they had learned would be of use to them for years and, with a bit of luck, until the age of retirement.
Those in a worse-off situation, field laborers and unskilled workers spent a lifetime of need, slaves of the present.
But, already in the 20th century, many things changed in the world: two world wars, the great financial depression and then spiraling crises. So much death and devastation made many people more compassionate, but it also made others a lot more ambitious and selfish.
Charity and solidarity with the poorest was decimated. The greed of rich countries was covered in sheepskin, but they essentially sucked out natural resources from the underdeveloped countries.
The wealthy began to loan money with high interest rates which put the progress of those most in need at risk. On the other hand, their prosperity attracted thousands of trained professionals from surrounding nations, which became known as the “brain drain”.
Violent deaths didn’t end in the second half of the 20th century, the result of regional conflicts which still continue to plague Africa and the Middle East in the 21st century.
The displacement of people en mass from regions in conflict and victims of starvation and natural disasters were added to those who, for financial reasons, were looking for a better future for their families.
Because of its island and underdeveloped country status, there has always been a migration flow from Cuba to the United States. Before 1959, Cuban emigrants traveling towards the US were treated just the same as any other foreigner.
This changed when the US government convinced itself that the revolution that triumphed in Cuba was a liberation war which was led to take on a path that was independent of foreign influences.
The answer was an aggressive policy which included funding and logistical support for an invasion of mercenaries recruited among the Cubans who had fled to the United States in January 1959.
The failure of acts of sabotage, the support lent to armed groups in the country and other subversive variants forced Washington to modernize its strategy towards an economic, commercial and financial blockade.
Today, Cubans find themselves in the four corners of the Earth, about 2.5 million according to some sources.
The largest Cuban community abroad lives in the United States. It is the fourth Hispanic community in that country, after the Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Salvadorans.
However, unlike the others, Cubans who immigrated to the United States after the Revolution had additional incentives such as free food coupons, housing allowance, English language classes and medical attention until they received their work permits.
When talking about the obstacles Cuban people face to travel, few people remember now that in 1965, the Cuban government announced that the Camarioca port in Matanzas would be open for 45 days so that those who wanted to join their families abroad could. During this time, what came to be known as the Camarioca Boatlift, about 5,000 Cubans left.
Not long after, as the result of an agreement between US President Lyndon Johnson and the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the so-called Freedom Flights began, twice a day, five days a week from December 1st 1965 until April 1973, when they were canceled by President Richard Nixon. A total of 260,561 Cubans left on those flights.
Seven years later, a large group of people who wanted to emigrate to the United States stormed the Peruvian Embassy in Havana, causing a diplomatic incident. What became known as the Mariel boatlift allowed 125,000 Cubans to leave, between April 15th and October 31, 1980.
The “13 de Marzo” Tugboat was hijacked at Havana Bay (August 13th 1994) by people trying to emigrate to the United States. This paved the way for the “rafters crisis”. After the tragedy that occurred with the tug boat, the Cuban Coastguard were ordered to allow anyone who wanted to go to leave, only acting to rescue the shipwreck survivors.
However, six days later, President Bill Clinton’s administration ordered their Coastguard to intercept Cuban emigres at high sea and decided to transfer them to the US naval base in Guantanamo. A total of 32,326 Cubans were taken to Guantanamo in this way.
It must be said that the exodus of the emigres who left by sea resulted in the death of an estimated one in every three Cubans who tried to cross the Florida Strait in dangerous homemade rafts, as they didn’t receive visas from the United States to travel by safe means.
Attracted towards the danger of uncertain emigration, falling into the hands of and becoming victims of human traffickers, relatives of thousands of men, women and children could never recover the bodies of their loved ones drowned in the waters of the Florida Strait, due to Washington’s criminal policy.
Later, land migration routes opened up from Central America and further away, in South American countries, to the US border, with the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy.
As of January 14, 2013, Cuban citizens had the right to request a passport, and didn’t lose their assets if they wanted to leave the country. This change came from reforms in the 1976 migration law.
Every Cuban citizen now has the right to apply for a passport to travel abroad; their departure depends on whether they are granted a visa by the destination country. However, in the case of the United States, that government is granting fewer and fewer visas to applicants.
Another channel that has allowed many Cubans to travel freely has been them obtaining Spanish citizenship, for having parents or grandparents born in Spain. It is estimated that approximately 150,000 Cubans now have Spanish citizenship.
And the antidote?
Manuel Calvino, a Cuban psychologist and university professor, recently mentioned the wish of many Cubans, especially young people, to emigrate in the face of the uncertainty their futures hold, on his TV show “Vale la Pena” (It’s worth the trouble).
Calvino explained that many people see the future as something that comes to a person or they view it with their present outlook. But, that is just naive, especially in these times of anxiety and conflict.
The professor then gave a more certain and positive interpretation: that of building a future, doing whatever you can so that the future resembles ones expectations as much as it can.
Personally, I would suggest that we update our knowledge which, still being a professional, changes constantly, going up the professional and social ladder with projects and innovations.
Of course, Cubans need to remember this small commandment of “changing everything that needs to be changed” every day. Leaders need to keep their ethics and exemplary nature and everyone needs to always think about how they can be more efficient in their field of work.
Because it’s worth it.