Waiting for January 14 / Ivan Garcia #Cuba

'The Raft' (La balsa), installation of the artist Armando Mariño.
‘The Raft’ (La balsa), installation of the artist Armando Mariño.
General Raul Castro’s new migratory regulations have aroused enthusiasm in many Cubans. Like the gold rush in the nineteenth century. Or the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

We agree: migratory reform will not bring democracy, political tolerance and respect for human rights. Things will remain the same in Cuba. More or less.

The Special Services will continue to be particularly hard on dissidents. Military employers will continue to expand their economic power by controlling an 80% bite of the strategic sectors that generate hard currency.

But if you visit the island and speak frankly with the Cubans, you will notice that many have burned their bridges waiting for the starting pistol, on January 14, 2013.

In a Havana neighborhood, five people feel that 2012 will be their last year to Cuba. Rosa already sold her three-bedroom home in Vibora Park for $22,000. “Thanks to the efforts of friends, with the money I can get a temporary residence in Costa Rica. I have a job offer. I hear it’s a beautiful country, not for nothing is it called the Switzerland of America,” she says, expectantly.

Antonio is another story. “I signed the document authorizing my daughter to travel to Chile for two years with her mother. We will be apart, but she has a work contract at an IT company. The agreement was that if she can establish herself, she will earn money for my ticket plane,” he says. At least Antonio didn’t demand money to authorize the travel of their minor daughter, which is common in these parts.

Even elderly people opt for a future far away. Rodolfo, 60, a German translator, has a married son in South America. But his dream is to look for a few euros in Germany. He has good contacts with German businessmen and in mid-2013 expects to spend some time “clicking” in the land of Goethe.

Norberto, meanwhile, is determined to sell his car, a 1957 Chevrolet, and with the money he can afford a six-month stay in Angola. “According to Angolan friends, job opportunities abound. I know Portuguese, I have technical skills in construction and could work in any of the projects being carried out in Luanda and Cabinda.”

Niurka has it harder. She is an engineer, and the new immigration measures look very closely at professionals. “With money and gifts I got my release from my job. I studied in Moscow and I have many Russian friends. I hope to travel with my husband, who also graduated in the USSR. We know Russian. We have been told that Russia now abounds in the new rich.”

Please do not try to spoil the party for these habaneros, talking about how hard life the life of an immigrant is, or about the bestial crisis raging through Europe. Or think they are Party functionaries or walking idiots who blindly believe what is published in the official media.

The economic crisis affecting many nations today is no invention of the newspaper Granma. But when a person has sold all his possessions, he does not want to hear bad omens.

While waiting for January 14, people are still making plans. For two convertible pesos, Internet you can download the list of countries that do not require visas to Cubans. Or you can copy from Wikipedia the customs of peoples considered exotic.

And many on the Island are now looking at countries that historically have not been the traditional destinations of the diaspora. Spain and the United States are still coveted options. But Spain is scary with its suffocating economic crisis and 40% youth unemployment.

The United States, meanwhile, is the natural destination. If you ask any potential emigrant to choose which country they want to live in, eight in ten say our northern neighbor. But few in Cuba believe that rigid U.S. immigration authorities will grant visas to Cubans, knowing that because of the Cuban Adjustment Act they would not return home.

So those with the possibility of travel have widened their horizons. And they’re thinking they will land in Serbia, Brazil, South Africa or any small island in the Caribbean.

In any event, many in Cuba excitedly await Jan. 14. The Government has announced that more than 200 offices dedicated to immigration procedures will be opened throughout the island

It’s like a Mariel Boatlift. But legal.

Ivan Garcia

10 January 2013