In recent months, the headlines of influential media outlets have repeatedly launched a strong idea: “serious migration crisis in Cuba.” Being undoubtedly the great migratory flow that the country lives, Most of the analyzes have not approached with sufficient rigor a phenomenon that, for its correct understanding, requires taking into account the multiple aspects that condition it.
According to data from the last year provided by the US Customs and Border Protection Office, on the Mexican border, the number of Cubans who left the island for US territory was 220,000, a figure much higher than the more than 39,000 from the previous year and 14,000 from 2020.
For its part, the Coast Guard intercepted more than 5,000 Cuban nationals trying to reach Florida by sea, an amount only reached in 2016 and in the 1990s, in the crisis of the rafters.
The increase in flow is very significant, so it is necessary to identify the reasons for such an increase. In the first instance, it must be emphasized that various variables are combined, some of an internal order and others of an external nature. Some of the latter are not present in the migratory movements from the rest of the Latin American countries to the US. The Cuban case is of transcendental importance, so we will address these variables first.
covid and lockdown
When we talk about external order variables, we are referring to two types: on the one hand, those of a global nature and, on the other hand, those that depend on Washington. The global ones have been two fundamentally. First, the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic and, later, the inflationary spiral resulting, among other issues, from the war in Ukraine.
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The other external variable that has a large-scale impact and that the rest of the neighboring countries do not suffer is the US blockade and, especially, its tightening from the beginning of 2017, during the government of Trump. The more than 240 new measures approved by the former US president marked a radical change with respect to the opening process that Obama opened and, above all, with the passage of time (five years to date) they have achieved their main objective: to hit forcefully the already fragile Cuban economy and, consequently, have intensified the migratory trend.
All the aforementioned measures have caused and promoted the economic collapse of the country, affecting two strategic areas for the island. On the one hand, the main Cuban economic sectors and, on the other, basic services. A group of measures has been aimed at suffocating the three big economic engines (medical services abroad, tourism and remittances) in order to drastically reduce the country’s foreign exchange earnings.
The results of this policy have been successful for the US strategy, since the aforementioned sectors have recorded substantially lower revenues than in previous years. Medical services abroad have been suspended in some countries due to pressure exerted against their governments by the White House.
(Suggested reading: Cuba’s battle against a Castro-era ‘vulture fund’ for defaulted debt.)
The amount of remittances to relatives that are sent from the US has also fallen significantly, as a result of the limit imposed by Trump in 2019. Tourism, in addition to the pandemic, has been affected by the fines imposed by courts Americans to different companies that do business in Cuba (at the end of December, a Miami judge sanctioned the Carnival, MSC SA, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian cruise ships, for a value of 450 million dollars, for illegally using a port in Havana confiscated from a US company by the Castro regime, in 1960, in light of the Helms-Burton Act of 1996).
The other flank, as we mentioned before, has been that of basic services. Punitive measures against fuel supply companies stand out, which have restricted the country’s energy capacity, impacting not only industries, but also public transportation and electricity service, thus punishing the population with long lines and innumerable blackouts (the Lines to get gasoline or blackouts also intensified after the fire in the main hydrocarbon center in the province of Matanzas, in August 2022).
At the same time, US sanctions have also affected –more than usual– the arrival of medicines, medical supplies and inputs for food production, further increasing citizen discouragement.
To understand the magnitude of these measures, it is necessary to highlight the effect they have had on countless companies in many countries, which have decided to suspend their commercial and financial relations with the island. Two of the new measures (the reinclusion of Cuba on the list of “State sponsors of terrorism” and the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act) serve as an example to understand the break with Cuba of companies that, even despite the blockade, had historically had economic relations with the country.
As regards internal order variables, some of the latest economic reform measures have been identified as important reasons for widespread social unrest. We are referring to the incorporation into the free market of some basic products in the shopping cart that were previously protected. This has also happened in a context of high inflation, which has substantially reduced the purchasing power of the most vulnerable population groups and, in turn, has produced an increase in social inequality in a society in which there is still The egalitarian imaginary carries great weight.
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To conclude, it is difficult to make forecasts, since the Democratic administration headed by Joe Biden was supposed to annul a good number of Trump’s measures; however, to date he has not.
On the other hand, it is clear that the new young generations, in a country with a high level of educational training, will continue migrating in search of better material living conditions, just like their peers in the vast majority of countries in the region.
The difference could come if the current privileged treatment of the US towards Cuban migration, thanks to the validity of the Adjustment Law, ended with the repeal of the aforementioned law and, much more, if the blockade against the country ended (a horizon that with Obama began to glimpse).
This, obviously, would not suppress the migratory flow, but at least it would make it necessary to analyze Cuban migration with standards more similar to those of Latin America as a whole.
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