A Cuban Cocktail: The Adjustment Act, Remittances, Emigration and Change

Juan Juan Almeida, 27 November 2015 — The delicate subject of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica was a topic at the fifty-fourth meeting of the Central American Security Council and the Central American Integration System (SICA). It is quite clear that these compatriots of ours, driven by the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act will be modified or repealed, are leaving the island with one destination in mind: the United States.

It matters little to me if they see themselves as political or economic refugees. They are fleeing poverty that has its roots in politics. For me this is reason enough. But be aware that, if today they manage to set foot in the United States or if some other country takes them in, tomorrow they will be traveling and/or sending money back to the island. 

So I set aside my own ideological prejudices and, after much effort, managed to talk to a Ministry of Tourism official, who assured me that “the government is not encouraging the exodus of anyone and cannot stop it except through force.” He notes, “What we are experiencing is a transformation. People are emigrating today for various reasons but tomorrow they will find opportunity here. Some believe this is a transition to democracy; others do not. This crisis is only the final stage of a process in which some will win and some will lose. Look, because of this the tour operator Havanatur is making 60,000 to 70,000 CUC a day selling tickets to Cubans.”

But that is not to say the Cuban government has created this crisis to make money. Advancing such a claim would be a risky proposition, a dangerous presumption that would, if nothing else, discredit the intellect of anyone who repeats it.

There is no demonstrable evidence that Cuba is sharing in the huge profits that this lucrative form of human trafficking is generating. Furthermore, although I agree that the island’s government could not care less about the fate of its citizens, I venture to say that it is not involved in either human trafficking, much less drug trafficking. In the 1989 Cuba sacrificed an important group of people as pawns in order to cooperate with the United States and international agencies in fighting this activity.

Protocols have been signed with the United States to ensure and maintain a legal and safe emigration process, and there are severe sanctions under Cuban law for trafficking. Conditions have changed so the regime has had to learn to play within the boundaries of international jurisprudence.

I threw out the question as to why this emigration crisis is happening now and got the best response from a crafty and apparently wealthy trafficker.

“Cubans are used to lying,” he says,” and those people (referring to the refugees in Costa Rica) are also hiding the truth.”

He adds, “The reality is that on December 17 there was a new sense of national hope. People thought that there would be change and progress in three days’ time. And what happened? Nothing. We’re in the same little box, or worse. The news articles and news broadcasts were the trigger. First, Cubans see that the United States and Cuba are talking about emigration and they conclude that the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to be repealed. Then there was Raul’s trip to Mexico, which was the starting shot that set off of the race.

“It spread like wildfire. There was an agreement to block the Cubans’ path through Mexico. It’s only natural. People listen to news and gossip. ‘Emigration agreements’ is the thing everyone is talking about but at the time no one said anything about it.

“Things are bad in Cuba. People cannot see the light at either the beginning or end of the tunnel. The Cuban psyche is focused on one thing: emigration. And no one is talking about this business because everyone wants to be trafficked.”

I recall that historic but vague strategy Fidel Castro outlined in a long-winded speech given in August 1999 dealing with emigration. He made no reference to exerting pressure or attempting to overturn the Cuban Adjustment Act. Quite the contrary. He lobbied, committed resources and knocked on doors to convince the region’s leaders they should demand that their citizens receive the same exceptional and privileged treatment from the United States that Cubans received when setting foot on American soil. In other words, to use our emigrants as missiles, not to launch attacks but to change American demographics and thus influence the political decisions of a country that listens to its citizens and respects those in the minority.

“…no one is talking about trafficking; Cubans want to be trafficked.”