The Flight of Young Cubans

Circles Robinson

Photo: Juan Suárez

HAVANA TIMES – A few days ago I was talking with a friend about the phenomenon of mass emigration among young Cubans, anxious to escape what they consider a zero future under the current economic and political system.

While the official media makes an effort to portray the country’s youth as ready to defend “the revolutionary conquests”, and the plazas fill with young people during official activities, I know from experience that a significant number are eager to try their luck in another country.

If they haven’t yet done so, it’s merely for lack of opportunity, or because of strong family ties, especially if they have parents or grandparents who are ill.

Who should we believe?

I’ve read some articles in the official media about the serious problem of an aging Cuban population, but these analyses seem to minimize the impact of the youth emigration, indicating that it’s not so significant.

The Sugar Curtain.

It’s possible that the emigration of adults over forty is more prevalent. However, the impact of the youth leaving the country is likely worse, especially in terms of the country’s future. I haven’t seen any official data or studies that clarify this.

As I read the below article by Harold Cardenas, one of the creators of the “La Joven Cuba” web page – a site allowed by the government but somewhat more open in terms of themes and criticism than other official spaces – various images came to mind.

At the end of the documentary film “The Sugar Curtain” (2005) by Camila Guzmán, which won a prize at the Havana Film Festival, the topic is tackled graphically via a photo of the director’s High School class. One by one Guzman names each of her classmates, then the country that each one has emigrated to. The scene is prolonged because the list is so long, creating a profound impact.

Afterwards I thought about the people I worked with in Havana; almost all of their University classmates have left the country. In one case, no one at all was left, and in the end she too opted to emigrate.

Another thing that Cardenas’ article brought to mind was the number of children and grandchildren of high functionaries and leaders of the government and the Communist Party who have taken up residence outside the country.

Without further comment, I leave you with the piece published by Cardenas on February 3, inviting you to offer your own opinions about the motives and the impact of the emigration of Cuban youth

The contradiction

Harold Cárdenas Lema  (La Joven Cuba)

“And I must let you go, putting the ocean between us,
Paying the price of others who live by contradiction”
X Alfonso

I’ve thought a lot about those who have left, who one day said goodbye (or not) and marched off to other lands. I’ve thought about how many friends I’ve had to say goodbye to, of the few who are left and if they too will be leaving. I’ve thought a lot about the consequences of this, and about the contradictions, the differences and the circumstances which chance has allotted us. And it hurts.

Prisoner of a broken silence….children of the dawn

Of my childhood and adolescent friends, not many are still left here. I don’t know if I simply had the bad luck to study together with so many future emigrants, or if that so many have left is typical.  I wouldn’t know how to tell you because the statistics regarding the emigration of the youth in Cuba haven’t been made public.

One by one their chairs were left empty; so many, that today I have great difficulty identifying some of them in the photos, to the point where if they returned one day, we could easily pass on the streets without recognizing each other. They could never speak badly about their country: they left an island full of necessities but with civilizing goals that would be enviable for other countries of the region. They left an imperfect place, like that other where they ended up.

Without a set destiny and without a certain path that teaches me to not lose faith…

Left behind is the memory of that meeting we held to symbolically sanction the friend who was a militant in the Communist youth and who “betrayed us” by leaving, without ever investigating the reasons for his/her departure, or even if it was voluntary or not.

We’ve matured a lot since that time, but remembering is a way of avoiding any repetition. We are left with common secrets and a shared language that I can never go back to. The only thing remaining is the certainty that I’ll never again see that friend, and this latter fact stings especially hard.

Without distance and without remembering, in the sands of this solitude…

Those of us who have remained here have fulfilled some dreams, have others waiting for us and several utopias.  Those of us who have remained know that the other road is probably easier, but it’s another.  Living in Cuba has its advantages, something that ironically perhaps, you have to be outside the country to see. It’s like chess, a contradiction that would make you laugh if it wasn’t for the fact that your life is involved. For that reason, one day I decided to stop contemplating and to participate in the events.

In the feelings that remain, dreams that persist…

I want to live in a country to which my friends want to return, where the farewells are not definitive, where there aren’t enough seats in the classroom to hold everyone.  I want to demonstrate that utopias are not useless and that there are things worth fighting for.  And if the logic of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that each person has the right to choose their place of residence, I don’t want my island to be on the losing end, that it not be Cuba that loses that person.

I’ve thought a lot lately about those who have emigrated…and it hurts.

23 thoughts on “The Flight of Young Cubans

  • Griffin, as an immigration attorney with more than 20 years experience, and many Cuban clients, allow me to say that either you have no idea what you are talking about or you are completely disingenious.

  • Put down the bong, John.

    Who will design the machines and computers? Who will make the machines & computers? Who will provide the capital required to manufacture the machines and computers?

    Technology won’t bring the end of capitalism it will continue the triumph of capitalism and democracy over the retrograde forces of nihilism and totalitarianism.

  • I meant that Spain had a socialist government when their economy collapsed in 2008, 2009. The people elected a conservative gov’t to try to fix it.

  • Again, you are 100% wrong and 180 degrees backwards.

    The US makes it very easy for Cubans to emigrate legally to America by granting 20,000 visas to Cuba citizens every year. The Cuban government makes applying for one of these US visas a very risky act by firing applicants from their jobs, subjecting them to police harassment and other forms of intimidation.

  • Griffin I don’t know what you mean by a socialist goverment, socialism means that the means of porduction are controled democratilly and owned by the whole society this has never existed in Spain, we have the highest level of inequality in Europe with some billoinarie and 3.000.000 of children in poverty who will be starved if they weren’t fed by,NGO or the public soup, and who wil never be doctor or engineer because now the education is getting very expensive,and now in Spain the goverment is right wing government PP consevative and ultraright with some tinge of ultracatholicism

  • You really do have a penchant for lying.

    The poverty rate in Miami Dade County between 2008 and 2012 is 19.1% as determined by the US census bureau. (US Census Bureau / Miami Dade County Quick Facts) that doesn’t take into account assistance received by this group. Also, as of October 2013, the unemployment rate in Spain is 26.7 percent. The youth unemployment rate however is higher. Unacceptably high to be sure, but not the rates you report.

    Why do you lie John?

  • Don’t you realize that as soon as the machines gain awareness Skynet will take controll and start eradicating the human population. But fear not a leader will rise by the name of John Connor, who will lead the humans to victory….if only the Terminator doesn’t get him first.

    You’ll have to see the move to know how it ends John.

    All kidding aside I have a few bones to pick:

    1. Moors law isn’t a “law” in the scientific sense. It’s really more of an observation, which Gordon Moor has even said may no longer be valid.

    2. Predicting AI is a little more problematic than you seem think with experts in the field estimating anywhere between 50 year to 1000 years

    Yes John technology is increasing exponentially, with marvels on the way that you and I can only guess at. But don’t be so quick to guess at the future or timeframes. The past is littered with failed predictions

  • Spain & the US both have socialist governments. Canada has the lowest unemployment rate in the G8, a growing economy, a rising standard of living, and a Conservative pro-capitalism government.

  • What people much smarter than I are saying is that Moore’s Law will produce a super-human artificial intelligence within ten years.
    This is not guesswork and the present silicon technology will be sufficient for that AI to reach beyond the 1000 petaflop human level under Moore’s Law .
    After that there will be another paradigm shift to carbon nanotubes or some other new material as is the way things work.
    By 2045 the AI will have the knowledge of a billion Earth civilizations at which point no one can say what will happen.
    All this to say that within 15 years or so, those smarter-than-us machines will replace most human workers and thereby doom capitalism .
    Yes, life as we know it will end around that time -you can add ten years if you’d like to allow for some unforeseen and highly unlikely event but it is an inevitability within that timeframe IMO .
    I’ve done a lot of homework on this subject and the facet most difficult for most to grasp is the exponential/logarithmic speed at which this is happening and the blinding speed at which the technological advances will come in the next 20 years .
    This is nothing like humanity has experienced before and all due to what computers have already enabled and the (coming) power of super-human computers and very advanced AI which will propel humanity into a new golden age .
    This rapid advance of technology while not political on its face, will change Earth’s societies in ways you cannot now imagine…….. and for the far better
    You can believe what you want. It matters neither to me nor to that future as it unfolds.
    It does make my life better knowing that I stand an even chance of living to see it.
    That I will live to see the end of capitalism is a given.

  • Your hubris is really a thing of wonder. And your ability to twist facts and delude yourself is quite impressive.
    You are simply unable to see that, wet foot, or no wet foot, for a human being to risk their life to escape your communist paradise takes a measure of desperation you simply can’t understand.

    Embargo or no embargo Cuba, like every other communist country, is a failure. Their system is one of violence and repression, but even worse is the cultural and political ennui that is the death of the soul….courtesy of the Castros

    My response was meant to illustrate 50+ years of trying to flee the Castros repressive rule. Chuck meant to imply that this “immigration” to the US is a more recent phenomenon when in reality it has been ongoing since the dawn of he Castro regime. But there are a whole lot of examples seen on a daily basis, many documented on these very pages.

    And yes, your attempts to misrepresent the reality that is Cuba does need fall on deaf ears….err Eyes. You attempt to confuse and muddy the waters with false assertions. You know very well that it is the Castro regime that has made it economically impossible to leave the island by literally holding hostage their exit visas for Cash. Before wet foot dry foot even existed the Castro regime nearly beggard my family as they worked to legally bring the remaining family from Cuba.

    ….twenty year old news indeed!

  • John, are you really saying that life on earth as we know it today will end in 15 years ()?

  • Cuba’s young see bleak future, many want to leave (Reuters)

    Fifty years later, Cubans still are fleeing the revolution (NYT)

    Cuba reports highest number of citizens leaving country in 19 years (NYN)

    Cuba suffers exodus of the best and the brightest (Guardian)

    Those are just a few headlines on the topic of Cuban emigration. To think that Cuba used to be a place people migrated to!

    Today the number of people leaving are the highest in 2 decades, and the majority are young people of child bearing age. The demographic consequences of this ongoing flight will destroy the regime and devastate the country. Unless & until the Cuban government can provide a reason for young Cuban people to stay and have children, the country is doomed.

  • …the reality sinks in…”
    You mean in capitalist countries all the streets aren’t paved with gold ?
    Spain has about a 50% unemployment rate in its younger population .
    Miami has a 35% poverty rate .
    Even master’s degrees and doctorates nowadays are no insurance for getting a good job in a capitalist world in which capitalism is slowly but inexorably sliding towards oblivion.
    Last month the U.S.G. said it generated about 75,000 jobs .
    U.S. demographics demand about 230,000 jobs be created to meet the growing monthly employment requirement of the U.S. nationally .
    There are not enough jobs in the U.S or Spain or anywhere that will be open for any immigrant without an education or experience. Cubans are no exception to this .
    Escaping socialist-style , under-attack Cuba for the glories of life under capitalism may be analogous to leaping from the frying pan into the fire given that capitalism has about 15 years left to its rule and every capitalist country will be in crisis well before that time .
    You can see the beginnings of this in the real unemployment and employment figures.

  • Cuba does not have a socialist society or economy.
    It is a totalitarian state form both governmentally and economically.
    An oligarchy is rule by the wealthy. Cuba is largely egalitarian as regards wealth and it cannot rationally be considered an oligarchy for that reason.
    It is a plutocracy or a Leninist (cadre -led) government and economy.
    Cuba’s economic system is and has been under attack by the U.S. for about 54 years now and that is the biggest problem for the Cuban economy.
    Were the Cuban’s socialist-style economy the automatic failure those on the right claim , the U.S. could end all hostilities and let the Cuban economy and revolution collapse of its own faults.
    The truth of the matter is that Cuba’s socialist-style economy works and were it allowed to operate in normalized relations with its normal trading partner and the world, it would provide an excellent example of how to run an economy and a society in an equitable manner.
    It is the fear of this good example: a model of economic democracy that has the U.S. keeping its war on the people of Cuba going after 54 years .
    In short, the problems of Cuban society come from the U.S. and not so much from the totalitarian forms currently in power in Cuba which themselves are also due in large part to the 54-year U.S. hostilities

  • Misinformed Consent,
    I will do this this even though I know you will ignore it .
    I am taking the time solely to point out that you choose to ignore these facts and to show that you are doing this willfully.
    You are ignoring facts because they contradict your thinking.
    Here again is what you and others who use the “shark-infested” rhetoric choose to, must ignore.
    The “wet foot-dry foot” clause of the Cuban Adjustment Act states that any Cuban and CUBAN alone who floats onto a Florida beach is automatically granted admission to the U.S.
    This law does not apply to Haitians or Dominicans or anyone else.
    Only Cubans.
    At the same time, those Cubans who apply to emigrate legally at the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba have to pay what is an enormous fee for Cubans and then wait eighteen months to find out if they are allowed in or not. . I believe that less than half who apply at this great cost in money and time are granted admission.
    So what you enemies of humanity really hate to acknowledge is that
    1) The U.S. is waging an economic war on all the Cuban people explicitly intended to make life miserable for all Cubans . It has succeeded in making life very hard for all Cubans but failed in its aim which was an overthrow of the Cuban revolution.
    2) The U.S makes it very difficult for Cubans to emigrate legally .
    3) The U.S. makes it easier and far more dangerous to steal a boat, build a raft , hijack a plane and risk one’s life to get that free admission ticket to the United States.
    4) Were the U.S. to wage an economic war on the entire region that is similar in effect to that being waged upon Cuba and make the “Wet foot-Dry foot” clause applicable to all those countries and make it very difficult to get into the U.S. legally, you would be able to walk across the decks of all the boats afloat in the Caribbean.
    Don’t you have anything more recent on balseros than TWENTY year old news ?

  • I visited Cuba recently and it was an eye opener.

    The people are beautiful and compassionate but how they put up with the political regime is beyond anyone’s comprehension. This regime creates poverty despair and terror. It is this that is driving young Cubans away.

    As a young person you are better out of a depressing regime than become subjected to it.

    I read the writings of Fidel Castro which he has published and they are by any standards simply the ravings of an old fool.

    I am willing and able to support a limited number of people to escape this tyranny.

  • Socialism leads to poverty of the society. The oligarchy that runs Cuba has few choices but to reform in order to increase the productivity and thus sustainability of the Island.

  • A poorly educated immigrant who must adjust to a new culture in the midst of an economic recession is certain to face great challenges. The mistake made by many Cubans who migrate abroad is believing that their “cubanness” has somehow made them smarter and more hardworking than non-Cubans because of the educational system and the ‘revolutionary’ work ethic. Upon arrival in Spain or wherever, the reality sinks in.

  • Cubans have always looked for a way to escape the island. They risked their very life on rickety boats in shark infested waters or swarmed Mariel Harbor looking for a boat ride out of your socialist paradise.

    Obviously we made it easier for Cuban’s, once they arrived in the States. but for someone to risk their very lives to escape Cuba says everything we need to know about the regime there. For example, in the summer of 1994, over a four-day period in late August, a fleet of 16 Coast Guard cutters picked up over 8,000 Cuban rafters. WOW What else need be said

  • they can come to Spain I saw them begging for food and accomodation for free, but they realized that even for young Spaniard is impossible to afford a decent meal or live independently, they belived in all these lies about capitalism but here in Spain their dreams about capitalism became a nightmarish reality, welcome to the nice face of capitalism, look for a roof under a bridge

  • I beg to disagree with my dear Moses Patterson, but I do believe he has missed the point.
    In order to find an accurate, objective response, we need to ask ourselves, why most Cubans are ready to leave now and not so twenty five years ago under the same government?
    We must not ignore a crucial fact, that Cubans have been encouraged, bribed, provided with unique privileges, tolerated, flown for free, working documents, Visa Waiver, allowed into the country without legal documents etc., as opposed to everyone else in this world., some of whom are in hiding for over 25 years?
    To be fair and in order to understand the dynamics that are in play in the world, we must ask ourselves: can we offer the rest of Latin America the same prerogatives Cubans have?
    Are any of our readers aware, that at the present migratory rate, Puerto Rico will have depopulated by 2025 into Kissimmee, Florida?
    Have anyone said a word about the social breakdown of the US Virgin Islands?
    Are the Castro’s brother running Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands also?
    How many million Filipinos, Jamaicans, Rumanians, Spaniards, Portuguese would be in the US in a week, if anyone dared to change their Birthplace to Cuba for a week?
    The problem is much deeper, more complex and need our goodwill, thoughts and collaboration to solve.
    Last but not least, we hear about all of the Cubans who tragically drown in the Florida straits or are maimed or die attempting to get into GITMO, but nothing is said about those in the Mona Strait, trying to reach Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic……..or what we see everyday outside of Spain, Italy and Portugal with sub-Saharan migrants.

  • This is a hard, painful and heart wrenching reality everyday in Cuba. I have lived with it for the past 30 plus years, when those who could hardly fit within the regular labels of being burgoise or counterrevolutionaries, began the long, hard and uncertain road into the unknown.
    I left Cuba in 1980, for opposing and refusing to become part of the emerging corruption among my co-workers in the province of Oriente. Although I have no regrets and would do it all over again, the price that was imposed upon me by being wrongfully accused of the most heinous crimes against the integrity and stability of the nation, for which I was sentenced to 8 years in prison, released 4 1/2 years later, was unable to find justice and clear my name after three years of trying, left me with no other alternative but to leave.
    For everyone, my future was brighter than most migrating, because of my Cuban-Jamaican upbringing in Guantanamo, having worked on Guantanamo Bay Cuba, was familiar with the American way of life, for speaking three languages, being a Veterinarian by profession and having 90% of my family members living in the United States.
    Two months after my arrival reality hit home. Most of ones dignity, self esteem and aspirations in life, disappear overnight. From deciding what and how to do things as a former head of household, now I am subjected to the whims, mood and authority of those family members, who kindly opened their door to me, will remind me every so often, how lucky I am for having them and living in a free country.
    Because no job is degrading, it never bothered me to sweep, mop floors and take out trash. Neither did it bothered me, to be consciously exploited in my professional life, because others know, you have no where else to go. What was most intolerable was having failed six graders, giving you orders, yelling at you, trampling on your dignity at will and your constant exposure to being discriminated by a shopkeeper, store clerk or anyone else.
    Had it been in the US in 1980 as it is today, I have no doubt, I would have returned to Guantanamo before my first three months in this country. For this reason, I have refused to ever give an advise to anyone willing to leave Cuba. Whenever I am asked how is life in the US, my answer is usually has two sides if they are interested in hearing. The good side is that the US is exactly what they have seen in magazines, movies or TV for those who make it. Most have no interest in hearing the other side of the coin.
    Most Cuban Americans who travel back and forth, are responsible for re-enforcing many myths. Thousands tells their friends about Disneyworld but fail to say there are only two of them in the country and going across the gates maybe a days wages for many.
    Other survival imperatives which are seldom part of the references given to potential Cuban migrants, is how increasingly difficult it is to find a meaningful job, the high cost of living, insurance, healthcare, education, violence, racism, social security etc., which for lack of understanding, becomes a nightmare to most newcomers.
    It is painful to see, the horrific price that so many newcomers pay everyday, because of a lack of simple pre-travel advise from friends and relatives such as: learn English in Cuba, learn to drive, learn a trade for those without, suggest which are the fields with highest job demand, compile and photocopy your legal and educational documents, bring all names, address, phone, e-mail of friends and families living outside of Cuba.
    I have found solace and a reason for living, by sharing my limited knowledge with newcomers in need of help, by introducing them into the maze of paperwork, registrations, job searching, referrals etc., in hopes of paving their way and to get on their feet.
    Yet the end result is frequently not good. Too many are forced to stay in overcrowded, underpaid and poverty ridden Miami, who sooner rather than later, may end up frustrated, desponded, with tendency to develop a drinking and drug abuse culture, violence, get police record and ruin their lives forever.
    Thousands of Cuban Americans are stuck in the US tarnished by a police/jail record, that impedes them from getting a job, renting a home, voting, travel abroad and literally forced back into a world of crime.
    These are some of the reasons, that compels everyone concerned with and caring about the wellbeing of every Cuban, should demand the Cuban government expedite their job creation, fair wages, increased opportunities for those interested in opening a small business and for each person to acquire those basic life means to make living worthwhile, in order to minimize or eliminate our children from literally jumping from a plane without a parachute.
    Everyone should be welcome to stay or leave their country at will. But it will always be the responsibility of the government, family and friends, to advise, inform and prepare our children for these, sometimes irreversible life changing decisions.

  • Simply put, I don’t know a single Cuban under the age of 30 who DOESN’T want to leave Cuba. Some, if not most, wish to leave permanently. Others, because of family or less tangible beliefs in the original premise of the revolution, simply want to leave temporarily to earn money with the hope to return one day to a different Cuba. I agree with Circles, the only reason more young Cubans are not making plans to leave is simply because of a lack of resources or contacts abroad. While Castro apologists love to tout the 95% voter turnout and the “fact” that Cubans have elected and reelected their government for 55 years as proof of Cubans support for the regime, the truth is that Cubans are voting with their feet and those feet are headed towards the door as fast and as often as possible.

Comments are closed.