14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 18 August 2023 — She has her suitcase packed; every afternoon she practices a little English and counts the days until she can leave. Nidia organizes her departure with total discretion. In the Ministry of Transport in Havana where she works, no one knows that she is registered in the humanitarian parole program to emigrate to the United States. Only when she has the ticket in her hand will she notify her superiors and ask for leave.
Nidia, whose name is changed for this story, is one of the many Cubans who keep their possible departure from the country secret. The parole program, implemented in January of this year by the U.S. Administration, allows a blanket of silence to be draped over the migratory process until you already have one foot on the steps of the plane.
Since she hasn’t opted for a family reunification visa or political asylum, Nidia does not need to do an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Nor does she need a medical check-up or to go to the Embassy to pick up the visa once it has been granted. Everything happens between her, her sister, who is her guarantor for the parole, and the email where the approval will arrive.
“My sister has had me enrolled since February, and it is likely that they will let me know soon because she and her husband have a very good economic situation. He is even a federal employee, so they meet the requirements for the parole very well. They requested it for me, my husband and my 16-year-old son,” she explains to 14ymedio.
Nidia is a member of the Communist Party, more as a routine than out of ideological conviction. “I hardly go to the meetings anymore, but to work in the ministry, in the position I have right now, it would have been very difficult if I didn’t have the card,” she clarifies. “I don’t want to say anything at work because they will probably ’punish’ me and send me to a position of less reliability until I leave.”
How many employees and professionals are there throughout Cuba in the same situation as Nidia? Difficult to know. As of last July, more than 38,000 Cubans had been approved for parole, and more than 35,000 had entered the United States. The figure of how many are in the process is probably much higher.
Damián is one of the lucky ones who already managed to travel last April through the new mechanism. From Jacksonville, Florida, he tells this newspaper about his last days in Cuba in his job. “I didn’t say anything to anyone,” he explains about the attitude he maintained at an official radio station where he worked in Havana.
“When I was already informed that I was approved and my uncle had bought me the ticket, I went to see the director and told him directly: ’Boss, give me the leave, I’m going to the United States tomorrow with the parole.’ The official was unfazed and immediately replied: ’You are the fifth person who has told me the same thing in less than two months’.”
There are many reasons for keeping your intentions secret. For Yoandra, a resident of the city of Camagüey and an employee of the State telecommunications company Etecsa, revealing that she is about to leave the country could be a problem for the future. “If I’m never approved to emigrate, I’ll have to continue working here, and I don’t want a sign with the stigma of ’gusana’ [worm] hanging around my neck.”
Although the privileges that Yoandra enjoyed a few years ago for working in the telecommunications monopoly have plummeted, “the conditions are still better than in other places,” she says. In her case, her husband’s aunt has requested the parole for the couple and their young daughter.
In hospitals and strategic work centers, such as the Unión Eléctrica and Aguas de La Habana, managers fear that at any time they will hear a knock on their office door and lose another worker who has come to tell them they are emigrating. “There are people who do it decently and give notice a day or two before getting on the plane, but we have had cases of employees that have only told us when they are already boarding,” complains Magdalena, a worker of the Cuba-Petróleo Union (Cupet).
There are also those “who ask for vacation or unpaid leave. They go to the United States and try to get all their residence papers there and then return without telling anyone what they were up to,” says Magdalena. “This happened to us with an employee who left for family reunification, and since she had only a few months left to retire and get her pension, she pulled that trick.”
According to the Cupet employee, “It’s not that she needed that money, which was a little more than 2,000 pesos, but she didn’t want the State to keep her retirement. In the end, she returned to the U.S. and left her magnetic card with a nephew to collect the check every month.”
Without face-to-face procedures, without showing signs that they plan to emigrate, and without the obligation to obtain certifications and get them stamped and presented to the U.S. Embassy, Cubans who are waiting for the parole can decide who to involve in their situation.
Melba has not even told her family who lives in Ciego de Ávila, because “people become vultures, fluttering over you to see what you can leave them,” she tells this newspaper. “If I tell them that I’m leaving, I’ll have them in my apartment tomorrow morning appraising everything I have,” says the 53-year-old woman and resident of La Víbora.
But the discretion granted by the parole is a double-edged sword. “On my block there are soldiers, militants of the Communist Party, and even an extremist who organized the acts of repudiation against the house of an opponent who lives nearby,” Melba emphasizes.
“A young journalist, who was one of the first to harass me on my Facebook account when I shared images of the repression against the demonstrators on July 11, 2021, also left with the parole. No one knows who is in it anymore and who is not, and it’s only confirmed when they are already gone.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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