CubaBrief: President Biden recognizes that sending refugees back from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua “is not rational”

“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” said Chris Magnus, commissioner of CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol in an Associated Press story published on September 20th. However, there is much more going on here than refugees fleeing failing regimes, but the weaponization of migration as Charles Lane explains in The Washington Post today.

“It is in these governments’ interest to export dissent and stir political trouble for President Biden — as the boatlifts did for his Democratic predecessors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Notably, the exodus from Cuba accelerated after its ally Nicaragua ended its visa requirement for Cubans, making it far easier for the latter to reach the Central American isthmus — and continue on to the border. Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela do not take their citizens back if deported from the United States, which renders the Biden administration all but powerless to deter the flow.”

“What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. And the ability to send them back to those states is not rational,” said President Joe Biden on September 20th in remarks given in the Roosevelt Room in The White House.

This is in marked contrast to the policy announced by President Obama on January 12, 2017 in a “Statement by the President on Cuban Immigration Policy” that did two concrete things: further restricted the Cuban Adjustment Act, by ending the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy and ended the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that offered refuge to trafficked Cuban doctors.

The Obama Administration had sought to portray Cuba as a “normal” country and these steps as part of “normalizing relations.”

The argument then was that Cubans had been granted “a special privilege,” but the reality was, and remains, that there are special circumstances that led to the Cuban Adjustment Act that unfortunately are not historically unique. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act was not the first such measure, the Hungarian Escape Act of 1958 granted Hungarians refugee status. Nor was it the last, the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975 granted refugees from the conflict in SouthEast Asia special status.

President Biden is correct that today refugees from both Venezuela and Nicaragua, in addition to Cuba, need to be considered for asylum. Venezuelans and Nicaraguans are suffering under communist dictatorships that murder and repress their own people and are allied with the Cuban dictatorship in carrying out repression in these countries, and in weaponizing immigration.

Kelly M. Greenhill, an American political scientist and an associate professor at Tufts University, in her 2002 paper “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons: A Case Study of the 1994 Cuban Balseros Crisis” described a pattern first established by Havana in the 1965 Camarioca crisis during the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration to use “coercive engineered migration” to create instability in the United States and gain leverage.

In September 1965, Castro announced that any Cuban who had relatives living in the US could leave the island via the port of Camarioca, located on Cuba’s northern shore. Castro also invited exiles to come by sea to pick up family members who had been stranded on the island, following the suspension of commercial flights between the two countries during the Cuban Missile Crisis three years earlier. Two days later he began offering two flights daily from Havana to Miami. … By unleashing his “demographic bomb,” Castro demonstrated to the US government he could disrupt its immigration policy and the opening of the port at Camarioca carried with it a “lightly-veiled” threat, namely that Havana, not Washington, controlled Florida’s borders. Almost overnight, and with little warning, the Castro regime had presented the US with a major refugee crisis. President Johnson initially responded with contempt to Castro’s move, making a speech before the Statue of Liberty in October 1965, in which he proclaimed that the US would continue to welcome Cubans seeking freedom “with the thought that in another day, they can return to their homeland to find it cleansed of terror and free from fear.” However, after the numbers of those leaving the island began to escalate, Johnson quickly changed tack and began a series of secret negotiations with Castro. The result, announced the following month, was a “Memorandum of Understanding,” a formal agreement that established procedures and means for the movement of Cuban refugees to the US.

The Castro regime successfully repeated these patterns of “coercive engineered migration” in the Mariel boatlift 1980, the 1994 Balsero crisis, the 2014-2016 Central American exodus, and a large-scale exodus since 2021.

Professor Greenhill spoke at Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute on August 24, 2022 titled “Weapons of Mass Migration: Insights & Lessons from U.S.-Cuban Relations, 1965–Present”

Left out by Professor Greenhill in her presentation was that Cuba, unlike their Mexican counterparts, have a record of killing Cubans trying to leave the country.

Castro regime has a record of killing Cuban migrants

In 1993 U.S. officials charged that Cuban marine patrols repeatedly tossed grenades, strafed fleeing swimmers with automatic weapons fire, and recovered bodies with gaff hooks, within sight of the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Clinton Administration filed a formal protest to the Cuban government regarding the brutality visited on Cuban migrants. According to the U.S. protest, U.S. military guards surveying the bay witnessed five separate incidents:

* On June 19 at 2 p.m., U.S. guards, startled by the sounds of detonations, saw Cuban troops aboard patrol boats dropping grenades in the paths of several swimmers headed for the U.S. base.
* On June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Cuban troops repeated the action, then strafed the water with machine-gun fire.
* On June 26 at 11 a.m., three patrol boats surrounded a group of swimmers, lobbing grenades and spraying them with automatic weapons fire. At least three corpses were lifted out of the water with gaffs.
* On June 27 at 11:30 a.m., guards aboard patrol boats lobbed two grenades into the water.
* The same day, just before 3 p.m., a patrol boat opened automatic fire on a group of swimmers, who were later seen being pulled from the water. The swimmers’ status was unknown.

On July 13, 1994, a group of Cubans, including children and women, tried to escape from Cuba aboard the “13 de marzo” tugboat. State Security forces, and four Transportation Ministry boats of the Cuban government intercepted the “13 de marzo” seven miles off the coast of Cuba, with water jets from pressure hoses knocked people off the deck, tore the children from the arms of their mothers and sank the tugboat. 37 people were murdered, 11 of them children.

A 1995 monograph by academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty reported that “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.”

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed by state security chief Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez in the Martí municipality of Matanzas, Cuba on April 9, 2015 for peacefully trying to leave Cuba. A group of young men were building a small boat near Menéndez beach to flee the island, when they were spotted trying to leave and were shot at by state security. Yuriniesky was left for two days in the lagoon, before being found by his brother.

On March 26, 2016 “seven Cuban migrants, all with gunshot wounds, were interdicted at sea and taken to south Florida hospitals,” reported The Guardian, adding that “the US coast guard’s public affairs office told [ the Keynoter ] newspaper the wounded were on a makeshift raft with another 19 migrants, who were not injured.

Cuban refugees, by their rejection of the Castro regime, are viewed with hostility by the dictatorship and subjected too cruel and inhuman treatment. This pattern has been repeated in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The White House, September 20, 2022

Briefing Room

Remarks by President Biden on the DISCLOSE Act

September 20, 2022 • Speeches and Remarks

Roosevelt Room

1:24 P.M. EDT


Q On the border, why is the border more overwhelmed under your watch, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: Because there are three countries that are — never have — there are fewer — fewer immigrants coming from Central America and from Mexico. This is a totally different circumstance.

What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. And the ability to send them back to those states is not rational. You could send them back and have them — we’re working with Mexico and other countries to see if we can stop the flow. But that’s the difference.

The Washington Post, September 21, 2022

Opinion Migration’s ‘root cause’ is Latin American socialist dictatorship

By Charles Lane

Editorial writer and columnist

Migrants near San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center, Sept. 19. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)

LEKNICA, Poland — The woman busing tables at a restaurant in this town just across the Neisse River from Germany seemed different from the other people working there. She appeared to speak very little Polish or German. Guessing she spoke English, and might even be a fellow American, I asked where she was from.

“Cuba,” was the surprising answer.

Out poured the story of suffering that had compelled her to seek a way, any way, off the island, and its grinding shortages of food, medicine and other basics. Even life in an off-the-beaten-path Central European village, where most other foreigners are day-trippers shopping for discount Polish goods or en route to a nearby national park, is far preferable.

The worst part, she told me, was the loneliness. Her mood had improved recently, however, when two more Cubans joined her workplace.

As my vacation-time encounter suggests, the exodus from failed left-wing Latin American regimes has global repercussions; of 6 million-plus who have fled Venezuela in recent years, 80 percent have ended up in the Caribbean or other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Peru and Chile, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Inevitably, though, many people seeking relief from poverty and oppression go to the wealthiest and freest nation in their own hemisphere: the United States. Right now, escapees from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua make up a rapidly growing share of the influx at the border between the United States and Mexico.

The latest Customs and Border Protection data show that 55,333 people from those three countries crossed in August, a 175 percent increase over August 2021. Hence, the predominantly Venezuelan origins of the 50 migrants Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) steered to Martha’s Vineyard last week.

Migration from Central America and Mexico declined 43 percent over the past 12 months, but the flow from Cuba — nearly 200,000 — represents the biggest one-year surge since the island’s 1959 revolution.

And that’s saying something, since that 63-year history includes two dramatic boatlifts — in 1980 and 1994 — which brought 125,000 and 35,000 Cubans, respectively. Even more staggering, the Cuban migrants today often spend thousands of dollars each to pay for the trip, an odyssey by sea, air, land or a combination of all three, with brutal conditions and violent threats along the way.

Like the 1980 and 1994 boatlift crises, the present one may be in part tacitly encouraged by the Havana regime, which, like its allies in Managua and Caracas, is closely aligned with Russia.

It is in these governments’ interest to export dissent and stir political trouble for President Biden — as the boatlifts did for his Democratic predecessors Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Notably, the exodus from Cuba accelerated after its ally Nicaragua ended its visa requirement for Cubans, making it far easier for the latter to reach the Central American isthmus — and continue on to the border.

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela do not take their citizens back if deported from the United States, which renders the Biden administration all but powerless to deter the flow.

All of the above should inform the debate about “root causes” of migration, which, like so many of its predecessors, the Biden administration has promised to address. There is a related argument over the United States’ own culpability in the plight of people living under the three left-wing regimes. Washington has sanctioned each one for gross human rights violations, the most recent being Cuba’s nightmarish crackdown on protests that broke out in July 2021 and a similar round-up of dissidents by President Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua.

Even when the United States targets them to limit collateral damage, these measures can affect ordinary people and not just the regimes; obviously, too, millions have left non-communist countries in Latin America for a better life in the United States.

What is nevertheless undeniable is the historic debacle represented by the departure of over 6 million from Venezuela, whose population peaked at 30 million in 2015, when the main phase of the exodus began. That is a fifth of the entire country.

For Cuba, 200,000 emigrants in a year represents nearly 2 percent of its 11.3 million population. In Nicaragua, the 200,000 who have left since Ortega’s crackdown began four years ago, mostly for the United States and next-door Costa Rica, amount to 3 percent of a 6.6 million population.

U.S. sanctions, under which — for example — this country was still Cuba’s second-largest supplier of food imports in 2020, cannot possibly account for so many people “voting with their feet” against the systems they live under. The foreseeable failure of subjecting the economy to top-down control and denying people basic freedoms can.

The exodus is thus a tremendous compliment to the United States and other democratic capitalist countries. We should appreciate it. Meanwhile, it imposes duties: to treat migrants humanely and incorporate as many of them as we lawfully and realistically can; and to oppose more effectively the despotism that is the root cause of their desperation.

Associated Press, September 20, 2022

US officials: Border crossings soar among Venezuelans


SAN DIEGO (AP) — The number of Venezuelans taken into custody at the U.S. border with Mexico soared in August, while fewer migrants from Mexico and some Central American countries were stopped, officials said Monday.

Venezuelans surpassed Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality after Mexicans among migrants crossing the U.S. border illegally. U.S. authorities stopped Venezuelans 25,349 times in August, up 43% from 17,652 times in July and four times the 6,301 stops recorded in August 2021.

At the same time, it was the third straight month that fewer immigrants from Mexico and Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Those nationalities have dominated the mix for decades.

Overall, U.S. authorities stopped migrants 203,598 times in August, up 1.8% from 199,976 times in July but down 4.7% from 213,593 times in August 2021.

Authorities stopped migrants 2.15 million times from October through August, the first time that measure topped 2 million during the government’s fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It was a 39% increase from 1.54 million stops the same period a year earlier.

Border crossings have been fueled partly by repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for getting expelled under a pandemic-era rule that denies a right to seek asylum. Even so, the numbers are extraordinarily high.

Migration from Cuba and Nicaragua remained high, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Cubans were stopped 19,057 times in August, down from 20,096 times in July but up from 4,496 in August 2021. Nicaraguans were stopped 11,742 times, down from 12,075 in July but up from 9,979 in August 2021.

It’s the latest sign of rapidly changing migration flows as U.S. authorities wrestle with unusually large influxes overall.

While no single reason can be pinpointed, it is extremely challenging for the U.S. to expel migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba under the pandemic rule known as Title 42, which U.S. officials invoke to deny people a chance at seeking asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. U.S. relations with all three countries are strained, making it difficult to send them home.

“Failing communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba are driving a new wave of migration across the Western Hemisphere, including the recent increase in encounters at the southwest U.S. border,” said Chris Magnus, commissioner of CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol.

Mexico accepts migrants expelled under Title 42 if they are from Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, in addition to Mexico. While the pandemic rule applies to all nationalities in theory, people from those four countries are most affected.

The Biden administration is leaning on other countries in the Americas to absorb more people fleeing their homes.

About 6.8 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since an economic crisis took hold in earnest in 2014 for the country of 28 million people. Most have gone to nearby nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, including more than 2.4 million who are in neighboring Colombia.

Venezuelan migration to the U.S. plummeted early this year after Mexico introduced restrictions on air travel but has increased in recent months as more come over land through the notoriously dangerous Darien Gap in Panama.

Nearly 7 of every 10 stops of Venezuelans crossing illegally during August occurred in the Border Patrol’s Del Rio, Texas, sector, making it the busiest of the agency’s nine sectors on the Mexican border. Migrants were stopped more than 52,000 times in the Del Rio sector, many of them around the city of Eagle Pass, with El Paso, Texas, a distant second with about 29,000 stops.

The trend of more Venezuelans is reflected in daily headlines. Roughly 50 migrants that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew to the upscale Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard were all Venezuelan, as were five of the six people whom U.S. authorities found drowned in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in early September. The sixth was from Nicaragua.

Title 42 encourages repeat attempts because there are no legal consequences for getting caught. In August, 157,921 migrants crossed at least once, with 55,333 from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua and 56,979 from Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries.


This story has been clarified to reflect that the figures from the U.S. government show fewer Cubans and Nicaraguans were stopped in August than July, but that migration from those countries is still much higher than last year.