“The immigration flow has ceased,” recognized captain of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft. Meanwhile, frigate lieutenant Kate Webb, explained that the number of people found on Cuban rafts intercepted in the Key West area fell from 750 people per month to just 20.
I was wrong and I’m very pleased. I didn’t think that the end of the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy would bring Cuban migration to the US to a halt, in the same way that the lack of these benefits don’t stop herds of Mexican or Dominican migrants from trying their luck.
However, the statistics leave no room for doubt, 4 months after revoking Cuba’s immigration privileges the number of rafters have decreased by 90% and the human migration flow which ran through Ecuador, Colombia, Central America and Mexico has ceased, leaving small groups here and there.
Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and Mexico have all signed deportation agreements with Cuba and Colombia is negotiating another. The Costa Rican Director of Immigration, Gisela Yockchen, recognized that Cuban migrants “will never be in danger when they return to their country.”
This new reality has meant that Cuban citizens who want to leave the island by illegal means have now returned “to normal”, that is to say that they run the same difficulties as the rest of the “undocumented” migrants, whose lives pass by in fear of being discovered during their journey or once they are on US soil.
It’s bad news for those who wanted to emigrate, especially those who had “burned all their bridges at home” – by selling their house or car – and were taken by surprise with Obama’s decision when they were already on their way in Colombia, Panama or even at the US border.
The good news is that there will be much fewer Cubans risking their lives at sea or in the Darien gap jungle, which also means that a lot of children will also be spared these horrible experiences. Elian Gonzalez is the most famous example of this but he wasn’t an exception.
One of my first jobs for Telemundo in the 1990s was to write about the story of a baby from Puerto Cortes, in Pinar del Rio, who died of dehydration on a raft, where her mother put her, so that ships which move around the south of Cuba could pick her up.
In the early 2000s, I interviewed the family of a teenager from a town in Bahia Honda, who had disappeared at sea. The mother, in a fit of nerves, hit me demanding me that I tell her something about her daughter. I didn’t dare confess to her that the rescue team had already given up their search.
An African-American President and Democrat finally put an end to this policy and it seems that the new resident of the White House, a white man and Republican, will uphold this move. Stopping the migration flow to the US is State policy, the Cuban exception only had relevance in the context of the “Cold War”.
Revoking the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy was much-needed a change in discourse, they couldn’t continue to go on saying that Cuban emigrants are political refugees fleeing Communism and closing the doors in their face, at the same time.
The grounds for this were carefully prepared during 2015 and 2016, when several newspapers published harsh criticism of the Cuban people’s immigration privileges. The Sun Sentinel, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times opened fire and even El Nuevo Herald joined the campaign.
In a feature, Miami’s main newspaper discovered that many emigres “are no longer political refugees or victims of political persecution” and that they travel to the US “in search of a better life and they very rarely take Cuba’s political situation into consideration.”
Washington continued to repeat that no changes would be made to immigration policy but they continued to prepare “public opinion” for the drastic change. Cubans, who know very well how media and politicians are closely interlinked, pushed their journeys forwards before the US’ doors would close on them.
The immigration crisis in Central America that was caused as a result might be the last that the Cuban people are ever responsible for. Cubans will continue to leave, but now, they will mostly use legal or semi-legal channels, which are much safer than the rafts they used or the jungles they crossed.
Some are disappointed without considering that the end of this cruel migration game of “Russian roulette” might have saved them their lives. Thousands of deaths trying to reach the US prove that there was always a bullet in the chamber of a revolver and nobody knew who it would hit.
Translation: Havana Times