Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García

The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.
The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.

Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2016 — Yoandry, 29, vowed that he would emigrate fromCuba in 2016. The best strategy was not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Last year he sent in a form to participate in the global lottery offered annually by the United States government. “To have an American visa is like winning the lottery. But in the end I chose other paths,” commented Alvarez on leaving an airline reservation office.

Yoandry and his wife ruled out the maritime route. Crossing the dangerous Straits of Florida with its unpredictably ocean currents and sharks, is not exactly an agreeable adventure.

The couple looked at three possibility. A marathon through a South American country and Central America, crossing frontiers led by coyotes; paying a sum that could vary between seven and ten thousand dollars to a corrupt Mexican immigration official, or traveling through Europe to get to the longed-for ’American dream.’

“We didn’t rule out giving ten to twelve thousand dollars to a human trafficker with a powerful boat that goes to the Florida keys. But in a religious consultation, the [orisha] Itá said don’t go by sea. With the closing of the borders in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, with people stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, and the extradition agreements between the Cuban government and Mexico, it is hard to pay through that region,” said Yoandry, adding:

“So we chose a tourist route via Italy. It was the embassy that informed us about tourist visas and, incredibly, we had no problems. After filling out the various forms, we bought two tickets to Rome.”

For two years now, a Cuban tourist agency had offered a nine-day package tour to several Italian cities. It costs the equivalent of four thousand dollars per person, with stays in two and three star hotels with breakfast included.

“But, and this was important for us, the embassy gave us a visa for a month, good for the rest of the European Union countries. After the nine days, a friend living in Germany bought us two tickets on a train to Barcelona and from there we traveled to Madrid. Through social networks I men Cubans who are helping me to get work under the table. Then I hope to contact a guy who has connections with Mexican officials and get a tourist visa to Cancun,” says Yoandry, who together with his wife traveled with 11 thousand dollars and ten boxes of cigars to sell in Spain.

Consuelo, 35, explored a longer journey. “I filled out the form for the 2017 United States visa lottery. I don’t have family in that country and it is an excellent possibility. But you have to have a lot of luck to win a visa. And when people decide to emigrate they are desperate and they can’t wait for good luck.”

In the summer of 2015, Consuelo traveled to Russia, one of the few countries that doesn’t demand a visa from Cubans. In Moscow she bought printed fabric to resell in Havana.

“In Moscow there is a network of Cubans who take you to the cheapest stores. I looked into the possibility of buying a trans-Siberian train ticket that would take me to a point close to the Russian border with Alaska. But this is heavily guarded and even in the summer terribly cold. You have to have several strategies to leave. Now, thanks to a religious project, I am going to Canada soon. And from there I’ll hop over the border with a single step,” says Consuelo.

It is incredible how Cubans have done detailed research, created networks and designed protocols for emigration plans with the objective of leaving Cuba. According to some official statistics in the last 20 years 660,000 Cubans have emigrated from their country.

For Diana, a demographer, the data isn’t correct. “Don’t play with the ticket list. Just for family reunification, since the 1994 migration agreements with Bill Clinton, the US consulate in Havana has awarded at least 20,000 visas a year, which gives us a figure of 440,000 people at a minimum. And only in the last two years, almost 100,000 people have gone to the United States via underground routes.”

Diana believes that the real figures approach or exceed a million people. An authentic human drama in a nation where there is no civil war nor huge natural disasters as in Haiti.

Fermin, 41, has no one in the United States and no money for a foreign trip. He makes a living under the table, eats poorly and drinks too much cheap rum. With a friend, last week he was outside the US embassy in Havana. “I paid 20 Cuban convertible pesos to one of those guys who works filling out the paperwork. Then you wait. Luck is crazy and it can touch anyone,” he said, sitting in a Havana park.

US embassy officials in Havana clarify that the lottery program is not exclusive to Cuba. “It awards 500 visas on the island the person doesn’t necessarily have relatives in the United States,” said an official who said he didn’t know the number of Cubans signed up for the lottery.

The timeframe for the new lottery is 1 October to 7 November 2016. Like previous lotteries it has a global character, is administered by the Department of State and offers permanent resident visas to those citizens who meet the simple, but strict, requirements to qualify.

The requirements for participation are simple: be born in Cuba and, at a minimum, have a high school diploma or two years of work experience. The candidates are chosen at random by computer draws. The registration for the 2017 Diversity Visa is made only through the E-DV website: On 2 May 2017, confirmed applicants must go back to the site and check if their application was accepted.

But, as they say, Cubans who decide to emigrate do not put all their eggs in one basket. They try through Central America, South America, Europe or the visa lottery. They throw themselves into the sea in a rubber boat.

The ultimate goal is to reach the United States.