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In Cuba, an economic disaster and record emigration – Liberation

On the Caribbean island, ruled by a communist regime since 1959, the economy is collapsing and the inhabitants are struggling to get by. While departures to the United States have always been numerous, more and more Cubans are trying their luck.

Soaring prices, basic necessities impossible to acquire, and increasingly desperate inhabitants: Cuba is facing its worst economic crisis in thirty years. “In reality, the country is at the center of a multitude of crises, each of which is heavily affecting the island’s economy”, explains Ted A. Henken, professor of sociology at Baruch College in New York. With the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism, a very important financial windfall for Cuba, has been almost brought to a halt. “Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 95% drop in foreign arrivals. This has created a shortage of foreign currency for the country”specifies the specialist of Cuba.

Cuba also suffers from an international context against it. Famous Cuban doctors, sent abroad through binational agreements, have had to return by the thousands in recent years as Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia canceled their contracts. A very significant financial loss for the Cuban regime, which takes a large part of the price paid to use these doctors. Venezuela, a historic friend of the Cuban regime, has also sharply reduced its oil exports to the Caribbean island, which is very dependent on them.

Record inflation

American sanctions, reinforced under the Trump era, have made exports to Cuba, which brings in most of its foodstuffs from abroad, very complicated, causing shortages. Money transfers from abroad have also been affected. Gold “the basic economy of Cuban households is financed by the diaspora”recalls Vincent Bloch, researcher and author of Cuba, a revolution (Vendémiaire, 2016). “But since many remittances go through underground banks, this problem of blocking transfers remains less in the face of inflation, largely due to the monetary reform carried out by the regime.” By deciding in 2021 to unify the country’s two currencies to keep only one, the Cuban president led to the devaluation of the local peso. While wages were multiplied by five at the same time, prices jumped to much higher levels. This is particularly the case on the black market which, reinforced by shortages, offers goods that cannot be found on legal stalls, at very high prices. Inflation from January to October 2021 there was estimated at 6,900% by the Cuban government.

This serious economic crisis led to the demonstrations of July 11, 2021 and forced the Cuban regime to recognize a “difficult social and economic situation”. It also reinforced emigration. The American data is formal: if the arrivals of Cubans in the United States have never stopped, they have rebounded in recent months. Between October 2021 and March 2022, US border guards recorded the passage of at least 78,000 Cuban migrants, in addition to the 1.2 million people who migrated to the United States. And the American authorities expect a record year, where 150,000 Cubans could cross the border. The United States is a destination of choice for Cubans, because of the geographical situation but also thanks to the advantages granted to these immigrants. Thus, thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans who have resided in the United States for at least one year have easier access to the permanent resident card, the famous green card.

A new influx to be expected

Far from the Mariel exodus, where more than 120,000 Cubans reached Florida by sea in 1980, Cuban migrants now pass through Central America before heading back to Mexico. A route largely marked out by smugglers and facilitated by certain countries. While the majority of states in the region require an entry visa for Cubans, Nicaragua abolished this procedure in November, facilitating Cubans’ access to the continent. An operation validated by the communist leaders. “The regime has every interest in letting these departures happen anyway, it does not want this movement of rage on July 11 to turn into a real Cuban social movement”says Vincent Bloch. “It released a bit of pressure among the population by allowing some to leave”abounds Ted A. Henken.

Especially since the desire to leave is constant in Cuban society. “We are not witnessing a desperate emigration, but rather the expatriation of people who have managed to accumulate some savings to go to the United States”observes Vincent Bloch. “They are people of all social classes, including the working classes, rather young, with lighter skin, and who come from the urban areas of the west coast of the island”, adds Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at the University of Florida.

On Tuesday, the United States announced that it had resumed issuing “limited” of visas for Cubans in Havana, five years after the closure of the American consulate by Donald Trump. A decision that could further increase the number of migrant departures. “Let’s not forget that the United States’ migration agreement with Cuba provided for the issuance of 20,000 visas per year, which has not been respected in recent years”, recalls Jorge Duany. Last element that will facilitate the expatriation of Cubans: on May 23, the United States will no longer be able to apply the “Title 42” system, which allowed them to deport migrants to the Mexican border due to health risks linked to Covid-19. 19.

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