The Drama of Cubans in Central America: Culprits & Accomplices

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Cubans near the border. Photo:
Cubans near the border. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — The drama Cubans are going through in Central America is a multifaceted issue that cannot be summed up with a simple explanation. Therefore, I won’t attempt to offer an exhaustive explanation here and limit myself to highlighting what I consider to be the most shameful aspect of this situation: the complicity of the Cuban government and those who remain silent about the incident.

The painful image of Cubans fleeing from Nicaragua’s riot police, carrying helpless children, beaten with nightsticks and enveloped by acrid tear gas, is but the publicized fragment of a story that has been unfolding for months and years.

Having lost all hope in Cuba, unable to secure visas to travel to the United States and fearful that the Cuban Adjustment Act will soon be repealed, our compatriots are trying to reach US soil through all imaginable means.

They continue to do so through the traditional route afforded by the Strait of Florida, which is always dangerous and heavily monitored. They increasingly try their luck with passages to the Dominican Republic, in attempts to reach Puerto Rico through the perilous Paso de la Mona, but Dominican authorities have blocked this corridor and have begun to deport them. Mexico proves as impenetrable – or more so – than the United States itself.

As a result of this, for months, Cubans have been attempting to reach the Rio Grande by cutting across jungles and wastelands, leaving from Ecuador, where entry requirements are laxer. This is the story of desperate people – there’s talk of hundreds who undertake the journey every day – who confront all manner of harsh conditions, physical and moral abuse, robberies, kidnappings and rape, people who disappear, sometimes for good, and whose families try to track down using the Internet.

To reach the United States, Cubans must cut across half a dozen South and Central American countries, all of which, to a greater or lesser extent, have granted these caravans safe passage – de jure or de facto – for a few days, enough to see these people head out the country through the next border.

But, all of a sudden, the Nicaraguan government, under Daniel Ortega, decided to block their passage through their territory. They did so by force, sending a detachment of riot police carrying many lethal toys to meet the Cubans. A Cuban woman described the situation succinctly: “they launched tear gas at us, they beat us, they beat the pregnant women, the children, we’ve been severely mistreated, and they even shot at us. We’re not doing well, we need people to help us.”

It is very hard to believe that Daniel Ortega is playing strictly legal cards. He’s never done so, and he’s not doing so now, not in a country, incidentally, that has always oscillated between illegality and the absence of law altogether, to the benefit of an increasingly rich elite (of which the Ortega family has become a distinguished member) and the detriment of a majority that barely gets by.

Ortega is using Cubans to fan the flames of a conflict he has sparked off at the border, in connection with a few strips of land he claims belong to Nicaragua and not Costa Rica, land which would favor the construction of an inter-oceanic canal financed by China. So he accuses Costa Rica of doing what everyone has been doing over recent months: letting Cubans pass through.

Daniel Ortega, however, is one of the Cuban government’s prodigal step-sons. He is a wealthy and corrupt leader who emerged from the ruins of a revolution that overthrew one of the worst dictatorships in the continent, and for which thousands of Nicaraguans gave their lives. He gets many things from Cuba, including medical brigades that help prop up his impoverished health system, and he himself receives first-rate medical attention, free of charge, for a disease rumored to be degenerative. He also enjoys less altruistic services, such as security agents who watch his back and protect him from his many enemies. It would therefore be naïve to think that Ortega is beating Cubans down with nightsticks without the support of the Cuban government.

A political enterprise that proves highly profitable for Raul Castro’s government is being developed on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It is an international problem that can easily be linked to the Cuban Adjustment Act and that, therefore, could prompt the United States to reconsider the law and, with it, the entire legal framework of the blockade/embargo. The lifting of the embargo entails a unique opportunity for Cuba’s political elite, in the process of becoming a new bourgeoisie. If, to achieve this, they have to present the world with desperate Cubans – so desperate they are willing to defy jaguars, coyotes and armored guards – that is the lesser of two evils. The Cuban government has long been oblivious as to the meaning of political prudency.

Let no one be too surprised by this. The Cuban government has always toyed with the fate of its migrants. It regards migration as a kind of political wildcard it can use to justify oppressive policies, and as a petty cash box it can rely on to clean up the economic mess it has caused.

It is quite possible, let us not forget, that the trips and businesses of Cuba’s elite and its children – recall Mariela Castro’s European tours and Antonio Castro’s Greek adventures – may today be financed by the remittances and steep consular payments that Cuban workers around the world are transferring to this pimp State. What it does today is what it has always done: beat down desperate émigrés to secure collateral benefits.

What we are seeing isn’t something that can be filtered by ideology or politics. It is not a dilemma between the Left or Right, pro or anti-imperialists. It is a dilemma having to do with the humane and inhumane. Faced with such a dilemma – by the image of women fleeing from the police, carrying their horrified children – I can assume no other position than that of absolute condemnation of the Cuban government, for its complicity in this assault on its citizens, citizens it is supposedly duty-bound to protect.

As for the others, those who remain silent or muster mere, perfunctory sympathies, I don’t even condemn them. I simply feel very, very sorry for them.

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