14ymedio, Pedro Corzo, Miami, 17 September 2022 — El Instituto de la Memoria Histórica Cuba contra el Totalitarismo y Plantados hasta la Libertad y la Democracia en Cuba [The Cuban Institute of Historic Memory Against Totalitarianism and plantados (political prisoners) for Freedom and Democracy in Cuba] recently organized a conference on the different migratory waves driven by Castroism, which was coordinated by businesswoman Carmen Gómez de Toro, with the participation of several people who told their dramatic experiences.
During the event, the solidarity of the Cuban exile was highlighted through the work carried out by the Miami Medical Team, el Hogar Cubano de Caracas [the Cuban Home of Caracas] and the la Casa de los Balseros de Cayo Hueso [the House of the Rafters Key West]. They emphasized that the regime has resorted to all possible ways to expatriate its citizens.
The dictatorship has used emigration as a political and economic instrument since it took power in January 1959, causing, due to the insecurity that was established in the country, the first massive migratory wave in the history of Cuba and, later, by the systematic repression associated with an abhorrent material and moral poverty.
That first wave of exiles ended in 1962. It was mainly composed of a significant number of government officials of the overthrown Fulgencio Batista regime and the majority of the ruling class, businessmen and professional sectors, who never trusted the revolutionary proposals. In addition, there was the peculiar “Operation Peter Pan,” a contingent of 14,000 young people and children taken out of the Island in a large humanitarian operation with the assistance of different charitable organizations in the U.S. and pro-democracy activists, some of the latter of whom ended up in prison.
The second exodus, in 1965, was made from Camarioca, near Varadero. Closing that boarding point, Washington and the dictator negotiated the departure of Cubans through an airlift. Between 1965 and 1973, the so-called Freedom Flights transported about 300,000 people, with two daily flights for five days a week, all paid for by the U.S. at a cost of 12 million dollars. It was “the largest air operation to transport refugees in the history of this great nation.”
Before being allowed to leave Cuba, many of the participants in this group had to work in the Johnson and Jacqueline Brigades*, a punishment imposed on those who wanted to leave Castro’s paradise. These people, regardless of their qualifications, had to work in the fields and cemeteries until they received their exit permits.
A particularly cruel migratory current was the Mariel Boatlift. This scandal placed the Castro regime in the place it deserved, because people kept voting with their feet. The emigrants were humble people, some educated under totalitarian power.
Some scholars attribute the motivation for a large part of the population to leave the country to the visits of Cubans returning the Island in 1979, banned by the regime for almost two decades. The fact is that the income forced from foreign diplomatic headquarters in Havana increased, the most scandalous of all being that of the Embassy of Peru, an event that led to the Mariel exodus.
The events of Mariel moved the country and further split society. The most orthodox henchmen of the dictatorship, following orders, organized massive rallies of repudiation, humiliating numerous people and injuring many, who, when they visited hospitals to be helped, saw more than one doctor deny them assistance. The repudiation rallies, known since 1959, became more cruel and popular than in the Castro past.
At the end of the 1980s, the inexhaustible exodus created a new tide known as the Rafter Crisis that reached its climax in 1994. Thousands of people left the country on rustic and fragile rafts that, curiously, the authorities watched being built without preventing it, when in the recent past they had sunk boats with refugees, throwing sandbags at them from helicopters. The number of missing on these journeys is incalculable, and the late Arturo Cobo made a wall of mourning to remember them in the Home of Key West.
In the 21st century, the cravings for freedom paired with material needs continue to motivate Cubans to leave their island, with the U.S., for the majority, the final goal. In 2022 alone, more than 140,000 Cubans have entered this country, overcoming infinite hardships.
*Translator’s note: See more here. Partial auto translation: “They were forced to work in jobs outside of their usual duties, mostly in agricultural work for shifts that averaged 14 or 16 hours a day. These individuals were compulsorily housed in barracks that were in terrible sanitary conditions. Surveillance and control in exchange for recognition of the right to leave the country, they served a sentence that fluctuated between three and five years.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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