The current balance of the Cuban migration phenomenon
The tightening of the United States economic blockade; The arrival of the pandemic, as well as the delays and errors committed in the application of the reforms announced by the Cuban government itself two decades ago, have placed the country at a disadvantage in facing a crisis of enormous proportions, where the increase in emigration has been one of its most dramatic consequences.
US authorities estimate that nearly half a million people have emigrated from Cuba to the United States in the last two years; a smaller, but significant number has also emigrated to other countries. This is the largest migratory wave in the history of the nation, with implications for the demographic balance, the economy, and the social and political stability of the country.
Sixty-eight percent of migrants are under 40 years old, with emphasis on those over 20 years old, people of full working and reproductive age, a fifth of them well-qualified professionals or technicians, which emphasizes the contradiction between the level of preparation of Cubans and the inability of the national labor market to meet their needs, including the life expectancies of these people.
As is usual when migratory processes are analyzed, the causes that have caused this increase are very diverse and each case presents individual characteristics that distinguish it. However, it is possible to identify the events that have catalyzed the magnitude of this phenomenon under current conditions:
One of them is the disorders caused by the pandemic. Not only its brutal impact on the country’s economy, disabling fundamental sources of national income, while skyrocketing expenses related to confronting the disease. Also the psychological disorder caused by the suffocating social isolation that the control of the pandemic advised, particularly for young people, who saw the natural development of their lives disrupted and their existential aspirations questioned.
As a way out of the crisis, one of the global consequences of the pandemic was to trigger the desire to emigrate in many places, so the Cuban case is nothing more than an expression of a phenomenon that also tends to reproduce itself on an exponential scale, as a result of the construction of support networks and the articulation of a cross-border culture, which is facilitated by the development of means of transportation and communications. Another consequence was the increase in rejection of government policies, paradoxically, especially in those countries where governments opted for the most restrictive measures on movement and contact between people. Very few governments, regardless of whether left or right, have survived post-pandemic electoral processes.
Although the treatment of the pandemic, especially the development of its own vaccines that served to control the disease, has been recognized as a success of government policy, Cuba was not immune to both reactions, incorporating an ingredient of political dissatisfaction, which had decreased in recent years. To the point that numerous investigations highlighted the tendency to place new emigrants among the groups most likely to maintain harmonious relations with the country.
The pandemic came to add to the intensification of the US economic blockade and other measures aimed at increasing political tensions in Cuba, once Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States in 2016. Among these measures was the suspension of legal channels to emigrate established in the 1994 agreements, which caused, even before the pandemic, additional migratory pressure, which increased the search for alternative ways to satisfy this purpose. The Biden administration assumed this policy as its own until the explosion of millions of undocumented migrants at the border, including a considerable number of Cubans, forced them to take palliative measures in the case of Cuba and other countries.
In 2013, a very comprehensive immigration reform had been approved, which facilitated the process of emigrating–in short, a citizen’s right–but under conditions that favored a more circular and transnational nature of emigration, which served to avoid the alienation that was perceived when leaving the country until that moment. It was a step in the right direction, since Cuba, if it wants to mitigate the most negative effects of the migratory phenomenon, has no other alternative but to try to integrate emigrants into national life. However, hesitations on the part of the Cuban government when implementing some complementary measures, necessary to promote this integration, limited the scope of the policy, since, in the best of cases, they have had to be applied in a crisis situation.
The reduction of the costs of legal procedures required by emigrants, especially the price of passports; advances in the policy aimed at facilitating their investments in the country; the participation of emigrated artists in national cultural events; the inclusion of emigrants in the national consultations for the drafting of the Constitution and the Family Code, as well as the dissemination of a more inclusive official discourse, highlighted by the highest authorities of the country in the IV Conference on the Nation and Emigration, held in November 2023, have been decisions taken in recent years to amend some of these absences.
However, there is still much to do, most of all, to overcome the resistance latent in some strata of the national political forces, including sectors of the government itself and the Communist Party, which still link the act of emigrating with betrayal of the homeland. On the other hand, the Cuban government must resolve the existing contradictions between various regulations that govern the treatment of emigrants, often issued by ministries and organizations independently, and what is established both in the policy announced by the government and in the country’s Constitution itself, approved in 2019.
Ultimately, emigration constitutes an issue linked to the national economy and its relationship with the rest of the world. Its main cause is the asymmetry between the living conditions of the country of origin and those that the receiving countries can offer. Improving the economic situation constitutes, therefore, the indispensable premise to reduce the volume of emigration and its conflicts with Cuban society, even to maintain ties with the country of those people who decide to live elsewhere. This should be the essence of Cuban immigration policy and the nation’s relations with its emigrants.