The Sad Ballad of Cuban Emigration

Los cubanos regresan a suelo costarricense después de que policías y soldados nicaragüenses les impidieran continuar su viaje hacia EE UU. (La Nación)
Cubans return to Costa Rican soil after Nicaraguan police and soldiers prevented them from continuing their journey to the US. (La Nación)

Another stampede of Cubans. It happens from time to time. An editorial in Costa Rica’s  La Nación offers a strong description of how the government of that country reacted: “First duty, to protect the victims.” The Costa Ricans gave them transit visas and, as they are stranded at the border, quickly built provisional shelters to feed and house them.

Bravo! This is what a civilized nation does. These are not animals. They are more than 1,700 people. They are not criminals, as a Nicaraguan Sandinista deputy unjustly labeled them. The criminals are the military and the police who are clubbing unarmed and peaceful immigrants. They are frightened individuals and families – children, pregnant women – almost all young, who are trying to reach the United States border by land, after traveling over a thousand miles from Ecuador.

Nor are they going to break the laws of the country they are heading to. In the United States a favorable law awaits them, enacted over 60 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. If they reach US territory they are granted a provisional parole and then allowed to regularize their status at the end of one year. They left Cuba legally and they will live legally in the United States. What sense does it make to stop them?

Not to mention that this measure that protects Cubans has a pedagogical utility. It serves to demonstrate that the best way to solve the problem of the undocumented is to arbitrate some formula that allows them to study, pay taxes, be productive and integrate themselves into the nation in which they are living. The notable success of Cubans in the United States is due, to a certain extent, to the fact that they can rebuild their lives quickly and fight to conquer the “American Dream.”

The same editorial, with anger and astonishment, reproaches the Cuban authorities who do not protect their own citizens. If 1,700 Costa Ricans, Uruguayans, Chileans, Spaniards, or people from any normal country in which the state is at the service of the people, found themselves in the situation these Cubans find themselves in, the government in question would have tried to protect them, the president would have publicly expressed his solidarity, and the foreign minister would have allocated resources to help them.

Cuba is different. The dictatorship has spent 56 years humiliating and mistreating every person inclined to emigrate. Anyone who leaves is an enemy. While civilized nations have institutions dedicated to supporting emigrants, without asking them their reasons for exercising their right to settle where they can and where they please, on this unhappy island the government plunders them, insults them and treats them as traitors.

So it has been since 1959, when at the airport adults were stripped of all the valuables they carried, including engagement rings, right up until today, when the Cuban government asks that of Nicaragua to use a heavy hand to stop the flow of Cubans. Nothing has changed.

The use of terror against emigrants reached a paroxysm in 1980, with the so-called “Mariel Boatlift”

The use of terror against emigrants reached a paroxysm in 1980, with the so-called “Mariel Boatlift,” named after the port from which they embarked. The political police organized thousands of “acts of repudiation” to punish those who desired to leave. They shouted insults and beat them. In a couple of cases, it rose to killing them. An English teacher died this way. His students, spurred on by the adults of the Communist Party, murdered him by kicking him in the head.

At that time I lived in Spain and gave work to a Cuban cameraman, originally from the Canary Islands, who survived these outrages. He had arrived in Madrid emotionally devastated. When he said he was leaving the country, his fellow workers hung a sign around his neck that said “I am a traitor,” threw him to the floor and made him walk on his knees between two rows of people who jeered and spat on him.

The Mariel Boatlift exodus (afterwards there were others) resulted in 130,000 new exiles, among whom there was a remarkable group of homosexuals forced to emigrate, many valuable artists (like the excellent writer Reinaldo Arenas), mixed in with crazy people, criminals and murderers taken from prison to contaminate the group and “prove” that only undesirable people did not want to live in the communist paradise. For this homophobic government a murderer and a homosexual were the same thing.

Apart from the human tragedy in the journey of those emigrants now protected by the Costa Ricans, what is happening in Central America makes us understand why this dictatorship, despite its attempt to show a reformist face, continues to believe that Cubans are slaves without rights or dignity. Pure  escoria – scum – as they often call those who, despite everything, are willing to make any sacrifice not to live in that outrageous madhouse. Nothing substantial has changed.

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