The Cuban regime has historically used mass migration perversely. The latest Cuban exodus — thousands stranded in Central America — pushes a twisted quid pro quo on the United States: halting the human flow in exchange for repealing the embargo.
For years, Cubans have been induced to leave in droves, including through Ecuador as gateway to the United States. That Ecuador has re-imposed visa requirements and Nicaragua refused passage would not happen without Cuba’s prodding.
Efforts to bolster public visibility then surfaced on cue, including a “spontaneous” protest at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Havana tolerated by authorities — inconceivable in totalitarian Cuba — until people started to join in. News circled the globe reported by international media that ignores weekly opposition protests with mass arrests.
The Obama administration has disregarded weighty implications and enabled a gigantic influx of Cubans with nominal screening. Even after re-establishing diplomatic relations, it insists that existing immigration policies will remain unchanged. Some 223,518 gained permanent residency from 2008 to 2013. In 2015 alone, at least 86,000 have arrived.
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The diaspora represents a mammoth cash cow allowing Cuba’s military dictatorship to continue repressing and avoiding true reform. In the United States, it strains resources and drains millions in federal assistance, available immediately to Cuban arrivals and subject to flagrant abuses.
Moreover, it has become a Trojan horse of influence and penetration by scores of agents, collaborators and criminals; many go back fleeing U.S. justice with booty from financial crimes worth billions.
The critical objective of this fabricated crisis is to stir humanitarian as well as anti-immigration sentiments, channeling both to support repeal of remaining Cuba sanctions. The migrants are depicted as fleeing for economic reasons, pulled by the Cuban Adjustment Act and our sanctions as obstacles to Cuba’s “reforms.” In truth, the CAA just gives the U.S. attorney general discretion to grant Cubans permanent residence one year after being admitted — paroled. Guidelines have remained exceptionally lax for admitting Cubans, even after Cuba lifted prohibitions on travel in 2013 and although most are obviously not being persecuted.
While the CAA is not linked to the Helms Burton law — what remains of the embargo — nor requires that Cubans be admitted, the distorted logic posits that both “outdated” laws must go to stop the migration. Republicans favoring strong immigration controls, core embargo supporters, are prime targets; they will also be accused of opposing Cuban immigration for political reasons, as recent émigrés are primarily Democrats.
The disinformation campaign has other targets. The program granting U.S. visas to Cuban health professionals exploited abroad — annually deriving Cuba hundreds of millions of dollars — is presented as part of the problem plus deceptively blamed for the public health crisis in Cuba.
Finally, shifting the focus away from Cuba’s dire problems aims to consolidate international legitimacy the regime gained from normalizing U.S. relations. Cuba now calculates that ending the embargo and stopping more doctor-slaves from escaping is more lucrative.
Having exported over a million of its citizens to the United States alone guarantees at least $5 billion annually. To respond appropriately, our government must insist on safe, orderly, and legal migration.
Countries hosting the migrants must treat them humanely in accordance with existing international laws and mechanisms. Automatically granting U.S. entry to Cubans to must be suspended to: a) protect the lives and safety of would-be migrants; b) avert illegality and human trafficking; and c) safeguard our national security.
A bipartisan review of our Cuba immigration policy must find fair and lasting solutions embodying our values and protecting U.S. and hemispheric security. The matter of sanctions is another story, and it merits an informed and balanced debate.
Maria Werlau is executive director of the nonprofit Free Society Project/Cuba Archive.