With the Arrival of 171,080 Cubans to the US, the Biden Administration Breaks a Historical Record

The bus terminal in Managua, Nicaragua from where the buses leave for the north of the country. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 16 June 2022 — The migration crisis that Cuba has suffered since the end of last year is exceeding the worst forecasts. According to data recently published by the US Department of Customs and Border Protection, in the last eight months, since the beginning of the US fiscal year, on October 1, 2021, a total of 140,602 Cubans have entered US territory by land, a a figure that already exceeds the Mariel Boatlift exodus of 1980, when 125,000 people reached the United States in seven months.

Just last April, calculations foresaw that at the end of the current fiscal year – which ends on September 30, 2022 – some 150,000 people would enter the United States. As of that April, 102,168 Cubans were detained by the Customs and Border Protection Office, most of them after making a trip by land that started in Nicaragua, according to a senior official speaking anonymously to The New York Times.  

If, with three months to go until the end of the fiscal year, the trend remains the same as last May, when more than 25,000 Cubans reached the United States, the total will rise above 200,000, an unprecedented number. The Biden Administration  already, in fact, has received the largest number of Cubans in history: 171,080 since the beginning of the term.

The numbers in May, it is true, decreased slightly, coinciding with the first talks between the US and Cuba related to the migration crisis and the decisions to, on the one hand, establish transit visas in third countries and, on the other, to reinforce surveillance on the route through Mexico.

And the “third country” par excellence on the route to the north, since President Miguel Díaz-Canel agreed with Daniel Ortega to establish a “free visa” for Cubans on November 30, is Nicaragua. This Thursday, the Nicaraguan newspaper El Confidencial published official data revealing that in December 2021, the first with the new regulation in force, 6,178 people from the island arrived in Managua, 1,118.5% more than the previous month, when 507 arrived.

But as of the previous November the disproportionate and vertiginous increase was already noticeable. The visa exemption came into force on the 22nd, but in those days the jump was just as considerable despite the fact that the numbers are not so impressive. In October, only 42 Cubans had arrived in Nicaragua, so, a month later, those 507 already mentioned, accounted for a 1,107% increase.

The figures do nothing but quantify what is evident: thousands of Cubans flee through what is already known as the “volcano route” to escape the lack of freedoms and the always chronic, but aggravated, misery of the Island. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega has lent his partner, the Cuban regime, a base for departure to the United States that, for many analysts, fulfills the triple objective of pressuring Washington to negotiate in exchange for reducing the flow of people who crowd the border, serve as an escape route for a mass of dissatisfied people that threatens to explode against the regime and capture foreign exchange through the emigrants.

It is not the first time that Nicaragua has lent itself to this mission. In January 2019, Ortega introduced flexibility for the first time to obtain a tourist visa for Cubans. The consequence was the first large mass flight through that point. The Nicaraguan borders received 44,829 Cubans that year, 64 times more than the previous year, when only 701 arrived. In percentage terms, an increase of 6,295%. If the pace of December is maintained throughout this year, something that judging by the perception from the Island could be more than viable, that figure could pale in 2022.

Caption: Infographic from ’Confidential’ with the border data corresponding to 2021, where the peak of Cubans who arrived in December can be seen. (Confidential) ##Although there are no statistics on the translation of those numbers into arrivals in the United States at a time when, with Donald Trump in office, the figures were reduced to a minimum, it was tangible that many of those travelers returned to Cuba. With a more favorable international economic context, Managua at that time was less of a point of departure, compared to now, and more of a a commercial center for Cubans who filled their suitcases to fatten up the island’s informal market.

The forecast was that 2020 would show a similar pattern. In the first quarter, 15,357 Cubans arrived in Nicaragua, but the pandemic changed everything, in a comprehensive way. In November the borders were reopened and 97 people arrived from the Island; a month later 1,588 arrived, a peak that would take a long time to repeat itself.

In 2021 the profile was already different. The pandemic, which experienced its worst moment in Cuba that year, slightly contained travel, which remained scarce but stable throughout the first 10 months. Although there were moments of rise, such as January with 311 or April with 133, others left really low figures, such as August 18 or September 5. The great leap occurs with the exemption of visas, which opens the possibility of not going shopping in Nicaragua to return to the Island.

Now, with tourism at a minimum, with the population suffocated by high prices – prices very often set in foreign currency – and the US border more open to emigration, Cubans sell everything and flee via Nicaragua.

However, the road has suffered complications, since there are no direct flights between Havana and Managua and some countries began to require a transit visa, including Panama, the main transit area thanks to its Copa airline.


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