CubaBrief: 220K Cubans entered USA in FY 2022. Commonalities between Iranians and Cubans. Members of Congress question US-Cuba policy changes. 300 Cubans deported over weekend.

Record number of Cubans enter the United States

U.S. Customs and Border Protection have documented 224,607 Cubans left the island in Fiscal Year 2022. This is the latest in a series of large exoduses of Cuban refugees that began over six decades ago.

The main reason for this exodus is that Cuba is under communist rule. Political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt in his 2003 monograph “Population Aspects of Communist Countries,” found one of the features of these regimes is that communist governance generates “enormous streams of refugees, escapees fleeing from the new order, or driven out by some particular policy or practice promoted by the new regime.”  Cubans fled on rafts across the Florida Straits, in freedom flights, defected from sporting events, ballet troupes defected in Paris, and today many fly to Nicaragua, and trek through hundreds of miles of jungle to the U.S. Mexican border.

These refugees are fleeing Cuba today due to a number of factors: massive political repression following nationwide protests in July 2021, an economic crisis caused by failed communist central planning generating hyperinflation in the island, and the weaponization of migration from Cuba to the United States by the Castro dictatorship in order to generate a crisis to obtain concessions from Washington.

They also had help from their communist ally Daniel Ortega.

Managua announced on November 22, 2021 it would lift visa requirements for Cubans traveling to Nicaragua. This opened a new path for Cuban migrants to reach the United States, and created an even greater crisis on the U.S. Mexican border. 

Repression worsens

Meanwhile Cubans continue to protest against the Castro dictatorship, and are subjected to systematic repression. At the same time Western democracies are financing the dictatorship. The main source of funding for Havana’s regime is not Russia or China, but the European Union, and now many Cubans fear that the Biden Administration is taking America down the same path.

Iran’s pro-democracy movement resonates with Cubans

Cubans witnessing the ongoing protests in Iran and around the world condemning the brutal repression of the Islamist regime in Tehran, and listening to Iran’s pro-democracy forces, find statements that resonate with their own demands to Washington and the European Union.

Cuban engineer and democratic opposition leader Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas statement on the death of Cuban prisoner of conscience Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010: “We denounce all those governments and states in this continent and in the world together with the many institutions and persons that prefer a harmonious relationship with lies and oppression rather than open solidarity with the Cuban people. All are complicit with what is happening and what will happen.” He was murdered together with the youth leader of the movement he founded, the Christian Liberation Movement, on July 22, 2012.

Iranian journalist and pro-democracy activist Masih Alinejad outside the United Nations in New York on September 21, 2022: “I’m not asking any Western country to bring democracy for us. We the people of Iran are brave enough to bring democracy for ourselves. We don’t want them to save us; we want them to stop saving the regime.”

The Christian Liberation Movement’s “Eleven concrete actions to isolate the totalitarian and segregationist Cuban regime” drafted in the aftermath of the July 2021 national protests in Cuba mirror the demands listed by Iranian pro-democracy activists.

Yasmin Green in her article “Iran’s Internet Blackouts Are Part of a Global Menace“ published in Wired on October 19, 2022 describes how dictatorships learn from each other with regards to controlling the internet and their nationals.

“As we keep our eyes trained on the developing situation in Iran, it is critical to acknowledge that it is not an isolated event. Even since the protests in Iran began, Cuba has cut access to the internet twice in response to protests over the government’s handling of the response to Hurricane Ian. Around the world, a troubling number of nations have severely curtailed internet freedom, including full shutdowns, as their default response to popular protests. The most repressive of these regimes learn from each other, sharing technology and in some cases even personnel to establish an ironclad grip on the web and their citizens.”

Both Iranians and Cubans are battling against brutal totalitarian regimes that are willing to do anything to hang on to power, including work together, and an international community that is too often complicit with these regimes.

Both peoples seek to isolate the dictatorship, end Western democracies financial support for these regimes, recognize the opposition, and bar these dictatorships from participating in international artistic, cultural, or sporting events.

Cubans joined Iranians at the National Mall in their October 22, 2022 march to the White House.

Migration weaponized against the United States

Kelly M. Greenhill, an associate professor at Tufts University in her 2002 paper “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons” described a pattern to use “coercive engineered migration” to create instability in the United States and gain leverage that was first established by Castro in the 1965 Camarioca crisis during the Johnson Administration, repeated in 1980 with the Mariel Crisis during the Carter Administration, and again in 1994 during the Clinton Administration with the balsero crisis. In 2015 an air bridge was set up from Cuba to Central America for thousands of Cubans to travel through to the U.S. Mexican border, and over 123,000 Cubans entered the U.S. during the Obama Administration’s 2014-2016 Cuba thaw.

Representatives raise concerns and ask questions about changes in Cuba policy

Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), and Carlos A. Gimenez (FL-26) have expressed concern about and raised questions about changes in U.S.-Cuba policy in a letter dated October 24, 2022 and addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

On October 18, 2022, the State Department and USAID announced “$2 million in humanitarian assistance to support shelter needs for the most vulnerable communities who have been affected by the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian in Cuba,” to be funded from the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account. According to the announcement, the “humanitarian assistance will be delivered directly to the Cuban people – not through the Cuban government – through trusted, independent organizations operating in the country with a long presence in hurricane-affected communities.” The justification cited for providing this aid was attributed to Hurricane Ian damaging “an estimated 68,370 homes, of which 15,705 have completely or partially collapsed, and another 17,866 have completely lost their roofs. Additionally, the hurricane damaged or destroyed an estimated 9,000 hectares of crops in Artemisa, decreasing already limited food supplies.” Additionally, USAID stated that 43 sets of “firefighting equipment” were provided to a training station in Havana, and an additional 57 sets will be delivered at an unspecified date. According to reports, the Matanzas fire, the disaster for which IDA-funded firefighting equipment was provided, was extinguished by August 9, 2022. USAID explained that the IDA-funded firefighting equipment would replenish supplies that were damaged in combating the Matanzas fire, as none of it would be delivered in time to address that disaster.

In the meantime, we are deeply troubled that the Biden Administration has informed us that it will begin immediately returning Cuban nationals who escaped totalitarian Cuba, and that it is initiating monthly flights for the purpose. This decision seems to be a reversal from President Biden’s statement a month ago, that “there are fewer and fewer immigrants coming from Central America than from Mexico. It’s 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.” The Cuban people endure severe oppression and egregious human rights abuses. Hundreds of activists, including children, remain imprisoned for daring to speak out against the regime. Certainly the situation in Cuba has not improved in the intervening month since the President’s comment, especially in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Ian that prompted the announcement of $2 million in humanitarian aid. In fact, returning Cuban nationals to Cuba at this time would seem to be even less “rational” today.

On October 19, 2022 Politico published an advertisement placed by the Cuban exile community that explained the ongoing exodus and how it could worsen. “Cubans are fleeing from a vicious regime that does not allow them to have free and productive lives in Cuba. If they see the regime empowered by US government donations they will migrate to the US in even greater numbers.” Some in Washington believe that providing resources to the Castro regime will lessen migration from the island, but the opposite is true. If Cubans on the island see the United States legitimizing and subsidizing the Cuban dictatorship, they will lose hope that regime change is possible, and see emigrating as their only option for a better life. There has been a historic correlation between mass exoduses of Cubans to the United States, and episodes of rapprochement between Washington and Havana.

Office of Mario Diaz-Balart, October 24, 2022

Representatives Diaz-Balart, Salazar, Gimenez Express Concern Regarding Shift in U.S.-Cuba Policy

October 24, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.– Today, Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), and Carlos A. Gimenez (FL-26) sent a letter to the Biden Administration expressing concerns, and requesting answers to a series of questions regarding the Administration’s seeming shift in U.S. policy toward the regime in Cuba.

Read the complete letter here or below.

“Dear Secretaries Blinken and Mayorkas,

We write to express our concerns regarding recent decisions that indicate marked shifts in U.S.-Cuba policy, and to respectfully request, within all applicable rules and regulations, information to specific questions pertaining to these decisions.

On October 18, 2022, the State Department and USAID announced “$2 million in humanitarian assistance to support shelter needs for the most vulnerable communities who have been affected by the devastating impacts of Hurricane Ian in Cuba,” to be funded from the International Disaster Assistance (IDA) account. According to the announcement, the “humanitarian assistance will be delivered directly to the Cuban people – not through the Cuban government – through trusted, independent organizations operating in the country with a long presence in hurricane-affected communities.” The justification cited for providing this aid was attributed to Hurricane Ian damaging “an estimated 68,370 homes, of which 15,705 have completely or partially collapsed, and another 17,866 have completely lost their roofs. Additionally, the hurricane damaged or destroyed an estimated 9,000 hectares of crops in Artemisa, decreasing already limited food supplies.” Additionally, USAID stated that 43 sets of “firefighting equipment” were provided to a training station in Havana, and an additional 57 sets will be delivered at an unspecified date. According to reports, the Matanzas fire, the disaster for which IDA-funded firefighting equipment was provided, was extinguished by August 9, 2022. USAID explained that the IDA-funded firefighting equipment would replenish supplies that were damaged in combating the Matanzas fire, as none of it would be delivered in time to address that disaster.

In the meantime, we are deeply troubled that the Biden Administration has informed us that it will begin immediately returning Cuban nationals who escaped totalitarian Cuba, and that it is initiating monthly flights for the purpose. This decision seems to be a reversal from President Biden’s statement a month ago, that “there are fewer and fewer immigrants coming from Central America than from Mexico. It’s 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.” The Cuban people endure severe oppression and egregious human rights abuses. Hundreds of activists, including children, remain imprisoned for daring to speak out against the regime. Certainly the situation in Cuba has not improved in the intervening month since the President’s comment, especially in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Ian that prompted the announcement of $2 million in humanitarian aid. In fact, returning Cuban nationals to Cuba at this time would seem to be even less “rational” today.

The malignant nature of the Cuban dictatorship has not changed in sixty years. Accordingly, we are concerned that the announced aid will benefit the Cuban dictatorship, which for decades has stolen from the Cuban people and deprived them of their most basic needs. As President Biden said last year in regard to money sent to Cubans from abroad, “It is highly likely that the regime would confiscate those remittances or a big chunk of it.” We are concerned that this assistance, even if well intentioned, will serve to prop up a brutal dictatorship that will use U.S. taxpayer dollars to further imprison, censor, and oppress the Cuban people. We have no doubt that the regime will attempt to use these resources to tighten its grip on power, and we hope that you have significant and thorough safeguards in place to ensure that does not happen.

Given our concerns, and these shifts in U.S. policy toward the regime in Cuba and the Cuban people, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:

  • How will the U.S. government ensure that taxpayer dollars, used for the donated firefighting equipment and the $2 million in humanitarian aid, will benefit the Cuban people and not the regime?

  • What was the cost to the U.S. taxpayer of the 100 sets of firefighting equipment to be given to the Cuban regime?

  • Does the Biden Administration have plans to further replenish the regime’s supplies for future emergencies?

  • What measures were taken to ensure that the firefighter assistance will not benefit the Cuban military, as firefighting stations often are under the direction and supervision of the Cuban military?

  • Given that the firefighting equipment was delivered after the Matanzas fire was extinguished, and to a different region, to replenish the Cuban regime’s firefighting supplies, was it appropriately provided as “disaster” assistance pursuant to the rules governing IDA?

  • What are the terms of the agreement with the Cuban regime to provide firefighting equipment? Under what conditions will the remaining 57 equipment sets be delivered?

  • USAID informed us that IDA assistance was used in response to Hurricane Gustav in 2008. How was the $1.6 million in humanitarian aid used? What NGOs implemented the funding?

  • What NGOs will implement the $2 million in humanitarian assistance in 2022? Do they have experience in Cuba? Do they have experience in totalitarian dictatorships with closed economies? Do they have experience adhering to U.S. law pertaining to sanctions on Cuba, in addition to working in a designated state sponsor of terrorism?

  • What are the terms of the agreement with the Cuban regime in providing the $2 million in humanitarian assistance?

  • How will the U.S. government monitor the delivery of aid to ensure that it helps the Cuban people, and does not end up benefitting the regime or sold in military-run stores as has happened in the past? (For a recent example, see They denounce sale in MLC stores of alleged products donated by Mexico | Cuba DNA (adncuba.com))

  • How is the U.S. government determining the most urgent needs on the island? Is it relying on independent sources, press reports, or direct observation? Or is it determining needs on the island based on the regime’s requests and data that it provides to the U.S.?

  • What factors will be considered in determining whether to provide further assistance?

  • Has the Cuban dictatorship requested additional assistance?

  • Has the United States received anything in exchange?

  • Will the vessels carrying humanitarian donations be subject to the regime’s landing fees, or port taxes?

  • In migration talks earlier this year, which party(s) requested the repatriation of Cuban nationals to totalitarian Cuba?

  • How will the U.S. government monitor repatriated Cubans who might face retribution, as required under the Migration Accords?

  • How is it more “rational” today to return Cubans to oppression and human rights abuses of totalitarian Cuba, in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s devastation, than it was one month ago?

  • Why are Cuban nationals who are attempting to enter the U.S. being provided with I-220a forms, potentially depriving them of a status that would allow them to adjust under the Cuban Adjustment Act?

Thank you for your attention to this matter of utmost importance, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,”

https://mariodiazbalart.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/diaz-balart-salazar-gimenez-express-concern-regarding-shift-us-cuba


The Hill, October 24, 2022

Latino

Coast Guard returns more than 300 migrants to Cuba over weekend

by Rafael Bernal – 10/24/22 12:39 PM ET

The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 319 Cuban migrants intercepted at sea over the weekend, according to the agency.

The Coast Guard stopped 185 Cubans on Friday, 94 on Saturday and 40 on Sunday. In total, the service says it has intercepted 921 Cubans since Oct. 1.

The interdictions mean the Coast Guard has started fiscal 2023 on track to outpace the 6,182 repatriations carried out the previous year.

The news comes as thousands of Cubans seek to leave the island, which is going through its deepest economic crisis since the so-called special period after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Cubans had historically traveled to the United States by boat, but economic, diplomatic and political considerations have changed migration patterns from Cuba to the United States.

According to numbers from the Department of Homeland Security, more than 220,000 Cubans were encountered on the Southwest border in fiscal 2022, compared to the 6,182 encountered at sea.

Still, the rise in Cubans attempting the relatively short but markedly dangerous sea voyage rose sharply with the end of the pandemic.

Illegal border crossings hit annual record: government data DHS says its Venezuelan Title 42 expansion is working

Administration officials warned that Cubans are now treated the same as migrants from other countries, since the repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that gave Cubans who landed on U.S. territory a fast track to permanent residency.

“The policy commonly known as Wet Foot, Dry Foot, was repealed in 2017,” said Lt. Matt Miller, of the Coast Guard’s seventh district. 

“[Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas stated in a press conference last year that folks illegally migrating to the U.S. by sea will not be allowed to stay. Choose a safe and legal means of coming to the U.S.,” added Miller.

https://thehill.com/latino/3701774-coast-guard-returns-more-than-300-migrants-to-cuba-over-weekend/

Presentation at Georgetown University, October 13, 2022

Explaining Cuba’s migration crises: It is a feature of communism

By John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba

Over 200,000 Cubans left the island during 2021, and through 2022. This is the latest in a series of large exoduses of Cuban refugees that began over six decades ago.

The cause of the current migration crisis? Cubans are fleeing Cuba due to a double whammy: massive political repression following nationwide protests in July 2021, and an economic crisis caused by failed communist central planning generating hyperinflation in the island. Nevertheless, both increased repression and an economic downturn are not enough to explain the new outflow.

Havana reasoned that it could weaponize migration from Cuba to the United States in order to generate a crisis to obtain concessions from Washington. They also had help from their ally Daniel Ortega.

Managua announced on November 22, 2021 it would lift visa requirements for Cubans traveling to Nicaragua. Sebastián Arcos, of Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute in an interview with José Díaz-Balart of NBC News explained how this would open a new path for Cuban migrants to reach the United States, and create an even greater crisis on the U.S. Mexican border. 

Mr. Arcos is not clairvoyant. Havana has successfully carried out this tactic repeatedly.

Kelly M. Greenhill, an associate professor at Tufts University in her 2002 paper “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons” described a pattern to use “coercive engineered migration” to create instability in the United States and gain leverage that was first established by Castro in the 1965 Camarioca crisis during the Johnson Administration, repeated in 1980 with the Mariel Crisis during the Carter Administration, and again in 1994 during the Clinton Administration with the balsero crisis. In 2015 an air bridge was set up from Cuba to Central America for thousands of Cubans to travel through to the U.S. Mexican border, and over 123,000 Cubans entered the U.S. during the Obama Administration’s 2014-2016 Cuba thaw.

Cuba is under communist rule. Political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt in his 2003 monograph “Population Aspects of Communist Countries,” found one of the features of these regimes is that communist governance generates “enormous streams of refugees, escapees fleeing from the new order, or driven out by some particular policy or practice promoted by the new regime.”  Cubans fled on rafts across the Florida Straits, in freedom flights, defected from sporting events, ballet troupes defected in Paris, and today many fly to Nicaragua, and trek through hundreds of miles of jungle to the U.S. Mexican border.

Not all make it. A 1995 monograph by academics Holly Ackerman and Juan Clark, “The Cuban Balseros: Voyage of Uncertainty” reported “as many as 100,000 Cuban rafters may have perished trying to leave Cuba.”

Millions fled communist rule in Cuba, but they were not alone. Two million fled communist rule in the Soviet Union. Two million Chinese fled to Taiwan to avoid communism in China. 12 million Germans fled to Austria and West Germany to avoid life under communism, and East Germany built the Berlin Wall to keep those still there from leaving. Millions fled from North Korea to South Korea after the 1945 partition. Two million fled the arrival of communism in Ethiopia. More than a million South Vietnamese fled when North Vietnam took them over, imposing communism on the rest of the peninsula. Millions are also fleeing Venezuela today.

Cuba migration is not static. There are moments when Havana allows Cubans to leave, and encourages them, but at other times the Castro regime shuts the door on the possibility of leaving. Like their East German counterparts, they use deadly force to stop them.

In 1980, Fidel Castro began by insulting those seeking refuge as “scum” and “worms”, and he took children and youth out of school to take part in acts of repudiation. According to Carlos Alberto Montaner, the students killed a teacher that they had discovered running away. Forty Cubans who simply wanted to leave Cuba were lynched.

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. 

On July 13, 1994, a group of Cubans tried to escape aboard the “13 de marzo” tugboat. State Security forces, and four Transportation Ministry boats intercepted the tugboat 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.

Yuriniesky Martínez Reina (age 28) was shot in the back and killed by state security chief Miguel Angel Río Seco Rodríguez in 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 and shot at by state security. Yuriniesky was left for two days in the lagoon, before being found by his brother.

This phenomenon is not due to economic sanctions, but a feature of communist rule.

In 1962, President John Kennedy placed an economic embargo on Cuba.  Over the next 30 years the Cuban dictator ridiculed U.S. sanctions prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Fidel Castro, speaking at the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in December 1975 bragged “at first their (the United States) cancellations were quite annoying … but when luckily, we did not depend on them for anything, neither in trade, nor in supplies, nor in anything. If we are already victorious now, after victory, what can they threaten us with? With canceling what … what? “

Fidel Castro in an April 1985 Playboy interview said: “The United States has less and less to offer Cuba. If we could export our products to the United States, we would have to start making plans for new production lines … because everything that we produce now and everything that we are going to produce in the next five years has already been sold to other markets. …  The socialist countries pay us much better prices and have much better relations with us than we have with the United States.” 

Castro’’s annual campaign against the embargo at the UN General Assembly began in 1992 when Soviet subsidies ended, but by then there had already been several large scale exoduses that could not be attributed to sanctions impacting the dictatorship.

There is only one permanent solution to solve this migration crisis: an end to the communist dictatorship in Cuba via a transition to democracy and the rule of law.

Thank you very much.

https://www.cubacenter.org/publications/2022/10/13/explaining-cubas-migration-crises