Cuba, which had a net population loss of 83,991 this year, is about to lose more residents starting next month. Most of them will end up living in South Florida.
Cuba now has 11,163,934 inhabitants; at the end of 2011, it had 11,247,925.
The two main reasons for the decrease are that fewer people want to give birth to babies on an impoverished island that has no prospect of improvement, and that some 38,000 Cubans on average have been moving out of the island each year.
Faced with the stark reality that his country is full of unhappy people and that his bankrupt government can’t provide for even their basic needs, dictator Raúl Castro has come up with a desperate plan to further reduce the population.
In a purported “liberalization” of travel rules to take effect on Jan. 14, Castro has thrown open the doors of the island gulag to just about every Cuban who can get a tourist visa from any country that will issue them, including the United States.
There’s no real “liberalization.” The Castro regime will retain the absolute and unreviewable authority to prohibit the departure of many people, in violation of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Technicians, professionals, members of the armed forces, doctors, scientists, and “vital” athletes and coaches will be among those not allowed to leave.
You don’t have to be an immigration expert to foresee that most Cubans who can obtain visas are not going to return to the island. Or that most of them will leave with the intention of making their way to the United States, directly or indirectly.
A stealth influx of Cubans to the United States is thus about to be launched by Castro, although lacking the drama and numbers of 1980’s chaotic boatlift to Miami from the port of Mariel.
For instance, a Cuban who can obtain a tourist visa next year to visit Mexico or a Central American country will almost certainly try to cross the Mexican frontier into the United States, and then seek permanent resident status under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966.
Under that law’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy, any Cuban who is not stopped from entering the United States while at sea and who actually enters the country is allowed to stay as a permanent legal resident after a one-year stay.
President Barack Obama has not yet announced whether the rules for Cubans to receive U.S. tourist visas, or the numbers of such visas to be issued in Havana, will change in response to Castro’s new policy.
Obama also has not disclosed whether he will seek modification or outright repeal by Congress of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act — or whether he intends to take any other action in response to Castro’s strategic move.
There are about 1.8 million Cubans living in the U.S. today, of whom 1.2 million live in Florida. Expect a considerable increase of Cubans living in the state during 2013. And a further decline in Cuba’s population.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami.