Cubans: Sponsor or Death, We Will Leave!

This Island contains millions of lost souls eager to escape who cannot count on a sponsor. (Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 30 January 2023 — It was the early morning of January 23 when the raft, with 28 people on board, capsized on the north coast of the province of Matanzas, Cuba. At least five rafters died and another 12 are still missing. The tragedy, which once again puts the families of this Island in mourning, occurred barely two weeks after the start of a new immigration program conceived by the United States to stop the flood of Cubans that has been arriving at its southern border.

“I need a sponsor, whatever the cost,” a neighbor who has plenty of gray hair and lacks resources told me, looking at me without blinking. Trapped in the elevator of this concrete block, the man felt safe enough to launch his request my way: “Someone to get me out of here and I will pay with work, whatever it takes.” In his apartment in a building that was built with a Soviet subsidy in the 1980s, his wife, his two daughters and three grandchildren hope that his efforts will bear fruit as soon as possible.

My neighbor, who until recently was a member of the Communist Party, now wants to find a way to “get his people out as soon as possible.” The possible escape route is the humanitarian parole program that the United States announced at the beginning of this year to benefit migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Haiti. With this measure, Washington intends to welcome 30,000 nationals of these countries every month, and reject those who try to enter its territory illegally.

But the path is not easy. To process the humanitarian permit, the beneficiary must have a “sponsor” in the United States, who has to assume responsibility for their financial situation and show the income that allows them to start the process. Although in recent years Cuban emigration has been very diverse, from different social classes and racial origins, it is evident that white and professional exiles now have better chances of having a parole approved for their relatives on the Island.

If the raft heading toward the Straits of Florida or the crossing through Central America is brutal and potentially deadly, the new permit is based on economic requirements that filter and leave out the poorest, less urban groups and Afro-descendants. This is a road for those who can have someone on that side who can show their face and their wallet. But this Island contains millions of souls in torment who cannot count on a sponsor.

The tension has ended up exploding. Those who continue to assemble the raft to face the sea are those who have no other option. Unlike my neighbor, a retired cameraman from official television, who launches his proposals to everyone who he sees and probably has a relative in Florida who will finance part of his getaway, the rafters of this minute are the ones who do not fit into one category or the other. They don’t want to stay, but no legal and pocket-friendly program allows them to leave.

In the early morning of January 23rd: 28 people with no possibility of being “sponsored,” and with no hope of having a better life in Cuba, throw themselves into the sea. The waves have swallowed the dreams of a good part of those Cubans.


Editor’s Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.


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