The ‘rationality’ of U.S. migration policy towards Cuba

Next January the United States consulate in Havana will resume services granting visas to Cuban migrants. It was suspended, along with the rest of the consular services, by the Trump administration in September 2017 with the excuse of the alleged “sonic attacks” against its officials, which has recently been denied by the State Department and the CIA after of a long debate regarding the legitimacy of the accusations. By decision of the U.S. government, the staff of the Cuban consulate in Washington was also reduced affecting services to more than two million Cubans and their relatives residing in the U.S.

In violation of the agreements signed between the two countries, from that moment on a minimum number of Cubans were able to legally emigrate to the United States, and the few who did were forced to carry out their paperwork in Guyana with all that implies in costs and the security of these transactions. As a result of these measures, at least 100,000 Cubans, many of them with their procedures started, were prevented from emigrating to the U.S. in the last five years. Visas for Cubans to visit their relatives were also suspended; the authorization of flights to Cuba were limited; as well as the sending of remittances and other forms of contact, most of which will not be restored with the new provision.

It was a cruel policy that, together with the intensification of the economic blockade, was destined to increase internal tensions in Cuba, which grew to unbearable levels with the outbreak of the pandemic on a global scale. It is not surprising then that there has been an unprecedented explosion of irregular Cuban migrants the moment it was possible to travel abroad to join the MesoAmerican route.

In the 11 months of this fiscal year, according to information provided by the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP), almost 2.5 million undocumented immigrants have been detained on the southern border of the U.S., which constitutes a record number. That 175,000 Cubans have tried it is also a record, but it only constitutes 7% of the total.

For reasons related to the domestic politics of the United States, the Biden administration has exaggerated the weight of the migratory component from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba in the current flow of undocumented migrants declaring that these countries constitute its “main concern” in terms of immigration control.

It is true that the number of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans has increased in the last three months, but it is still far from the number represented by Central Americans and Mexicans, although the government tries to underestimate this fact to highlight the supposed successes of its immigration policy in the region. The factor that really explains the absolute growth of irregular migration at the border, and the relative decrease in Mesoamerican immigrants within the group, has been the internationalization of the migratory flow, even with migrants coming from regions as distant as Europe and Africa. We are in the presence of a global crisis which is increasing interest in accessing the richest economy in the world.

Biden has also just said that, unlike other countries, “It would not be rational” to deport Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans since they come from authoritarian regimes where they are not subject to law, which gives them a supposed ‘exceptionality’ that the president is ready to exploit according to his interests in domestic politics. Biden’s ‘rationality’ is none other than the upcoming elections, especially as it relates to the state of Florida.

In order to confront the government’s immigration policy and score some points with his xenophobic supporters, the Republican Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, had the strange idea of ​​spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to send a group of undocumented Venezuelan immigrants located in Texas, to the sumptuous seaside resort of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. To make matters worse, Florida’s Cuban-American lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nuñez, committed the heresy of inferring that Cubans could receive the same treatment, and the reaction to her words forced her to deny it.

Perhaps if DeSantis had chosen some other Central American group against whom discrimination is the norm nothing relevant would have happened. In the case of Venezuelans, like Nicaraguans and Cubans, there are other political considerations that Biden is exploiting with the skill of an old fox. On the one hand, his humane treatment of these people, who are representatives of the most important Latino segment in South Florida, and at the same time appearing harsh with the countries identified as the “troika of evil” on the continent, thus placing intransigent Republicans who accuse him of being a socialist and soft on ‘communist dictatorships’ on the defensive.

For several decades this has been the discourse that supports the exceptional treatment of Cuban migrants, which, apparently, is now extended to Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, although they will not be granted the same advantages. It has been a policy aimed at generating internal instability in Cuba, depriving the country of its human capital, and using emigration to discredit the revolutionary process: Cubans do not emigrate, but rather “escape from communist hell.” At the same time, they seek to manipulate the immigration issue based on its effect on electoral politics in certain regions, especially Miami.

Foreign policy, in other words the Regime Change Project in Cuba, has been the source of the legal and economic benefits that have allowed the privileged insertion of Cubans in U.S. domestic politics, but the dialectic of the interests involved has ended for inverting priorities and thus, the migratory policy towards Cuba has ended up being a problem of internal politics, especially when dealing with elections.

However, not everything has been benefits and privileges in the treatment of Cuban migrants. In order to exploit their impact on Cuban society and their repercussion on an international scale, the United States has made these migrants hostage of its subversive policy against Cuba and conveniently turned off the tap on legal migration to promote irregular migration, as has been happening in recent years. To limit the practice, they’ve kept this flow at controllable levels, which explains the occasional recourse to migratory agreements with Cuba when the control is threatened by the excessive volume of migrants.

The reality is that the vast majority of Cuban migrants are not illegal as regards their departure from Cuba and their access to the first country of destination. They do so within the law and with all their documents in order, with the possibility of returning if they wish, even with consular protection when they have suffered accidents or their human rights have been violated. The only cases that do not fit this description are a limited number of people who, facing greater danger, throw themselves into the sea because they do not have the resources to finance their transit through the Mesoamerican land route. Paradoxically, it is these, the true persons traveling illegally, who are mostly returned when captured by the U.S. Coast Guard.

If those who transit the land route allege persecution when they arrive at the U.S. border, it is because demonstrating “credible fear” is a condition for granting asylum. It is also convenient to have a dossier of ‘confrontations with the regime,’ and it has become fashionable, especially when it comes to some public figures, to challenge the Cuban government on social networks, followed by a beer at the Havana airport before hopping on a plane heading north.

Although countries have the right and the need to regulate their migratory flows due to its human connotations and economic and political implications, deportation should be a last resort and be applied under criteria of justice and equity, without discrimination or abuse. The best alternative is to address the causes that originate the deployment of people in conditions of illegality and extreme danger, as well as to facilitate legal, orderly and safe migration as a norm of migratory relations.

In this sense, the decision to restore the work of the US consulate in Havana is welcome, although it will not be possible to control the irregular migratory flow of Cubans under the conditions imposed by the blockade. Stopping migration is not compatible with economic suffocation and the manipulation of legal norms and international agreements that should regulate it. Herein lies the main contradiction of the United States’ migratory policy towards Cuba. In this case, Biden’s rationality seems pretty irrational.