Explaining Cuba’s migration crises
Center for Free Cuba Explaining Cuba's migration crises

Below is the presentation given by John Suarez today at Georgetown University.

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.

Government organized mobs armed with clubs beat down Cubans trying to leave the island in 1980.

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.