Another stampede of Cubans. It happens every so often. An editorial in Costa Rica’s La Nación firmly describes how that nation’s government reacted: “Our first duty is to protect the victims.” The Costa Ricans issued the Cubans transit visas and, because the Cubans are marooned on the border with Nicaragua, they quickly built temporary shelters to feed and house them.
Bravo! That’s what a civilized nation does. These are not animals. They are people, more than 1,700 of them. They are not delinquents, as a leftist Nicaraguan legislator unfairly described them. Delinquents are the soldiers and policemen who beat up unarmed and peaceful migrants. These travelers are scared individuals and families — children, pregnant women — almost all of them young, who try to reach the United States border by land after trekking from Ecuador.
Nor will they break the laws of the country to which they march. In the United States they’ll find a favorable law, passed 60 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. Once they walk onto U.S. soil, they will be granted temporary parole and, one year later, will be allowed to normalize their situation. They left Cuba legally and will live in the U.S. legally. What’s the sense of trying to thwart them?
The measure that protects the Cubans demonstrates that the best way to solve the problem of undocumented migrants is to arbitrate some formula that will allow them to study, pay taxes, be productive and integrate into the nation where they live. The remarkable success of Cubans in this country is due, in a way, to the fact that they can rebuild their lives quickly and struggle to reach “the American Dream.”
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The same editorial, tinged with anger and amazement, recriminates the Cuban authorities for not protecting its citizens. If 1,700 Ticos (a friendly nickname for Costa Ricans), Uruguayans, Chileans, Spaniards, or citizens of any normal country whose government is at the service of the people found themselves in the situation these Cubans are in, their government would have tried to protect them, their president would have publicly expressed his solidarity, and their Foreign Ministry would have assigned resources to help them.
Cuba is different. The dictatorship has spent 56 years humiliating and mistreating every person who’s been willing to emigrate. Whosoever leaves is an enemy.
That’s how it’s been since 1959, when, at the airport, guards stripped departing adults of all their valuables, even their engagement rings. Today, the Cuban government asks Nicaragua to use an iron fist to stop the flow of Cubans. Nothing has changed.
The use of terror against the emigrants reached a paroxysm in 1980, during the so-called “Mariel exodus,” named after the port where the emigrants boarded boats. The political police organized thousands of “acts of repudiation” to punish those who wished to leave.
At that time, I lived in Spain and hired a Cuban cameraman of Canary Islands origin who survived that infamous treatment. He arrived in Spain emotionally devastated. When he said that he would leave Cuba, his colleagues hung a sign from his neck saying “I am a traitor,” flung him to the ground and forced him to walk on his knees between two lines of people who spat on him and mocked him.
The episode of the Mariel exodus (others occurred later) ended with 130,000 new exiles, among them a notable group of homosexuals who were forced to emigrate. Many of them were extremely valuable artists, such as the excellent writer Reinaldo Arenas, who were mixed with madmen, delinquents and murderers removed from jail to contaminate the group and “demonstrate” that the only undesirable persons were those who did not wish to live in the communist paradise.
Aside from the human tragedy these emigrants are experiencing, even while protected by the Ticos, everything that happens in Central America enables us to understand why that dictatorship, despite its efforts to show a reformist face, continues to believe that Cubans are slaves without rights or dignity.
Nothing substantial has changed.