On November 22 of last year, the Nicaraguan dictator, Daniel Ortega, eliminated the free visa requirement for island nationals. From that moment on, airlines associated with the Venezuelan regime (Conviasa and Air Aruba) practically created a air bridge that takes thousands of Cubans to Managua in up to six daily flights that depart from different provinces, review Cuban newspaper
According to a Univision report, this airlift is managed by a network of tour operators, travel agencies and charter companies. The flights are carried out with planes ranging from a 250-seater Airbus 330 to a 50-seater ATR turboprop. By a rough estimate, the flights carry between 600 and 1,000 people a day, and as of August generated an estimated $750 million in revenue for the companies involved.
The result of this situation is that in the US fiscal year 2022 (October 1, 2021-September 30, 2022), 224,607 Cubans arrived in the US, an average of 615 per day. That figure is almost six times the number of Cuban migrants received in 2021 (39,303), and 16 times those received in 2020 (14,015).
Between January 1 and November 30, 2022, 277,594 Cubans arrived in the US, 760 as a daily average.
In the end, it all started from a political maneuver by Diaz-Canel, which opened an escape valve in the face of the economic crisis of recent years and the considerable increase in protests. Throughout history, the Cuban regime has dealt with these crises by opening borders so that everyone who can leave the island. The first time it did so was in 1965, through the port of Boca de Camarioca (5,000 left Cubans). In 1980, with the Mariel exodus, 125,000 left the island, and in 1994, with the so-called rafters crisis, 30,000 people left the island.
This leak has been much larger than the previous ones, but very little media coverage. In the end, most of these migrants leave Cuba legally. Once they arrive in Managua, they move through extensive networks of people smuggling. These organized crime businesses have taken advantage of the migration crisis to obtain between 3,000 and 5,000 million dollars a year in Mexico, experts estimate.
The next country on the route is Honduras. There, more than 72,000 Cuban migrants entered irregularly between January 1 and December 23, 2022 (these are only those that the authorities have detected). The majority were young people between the ages of 21 and 30 (20,251). They were followed by adults between the ages of 31 and 40 (17,498). Of the Cubans who entered Honduras between January 1 and November 16, 2022, 4,785 were girls, 4,556 boys, 21,607 women, and 31,302 men.
Then the Cubans must reach Guatemala. Hundreds of expulsions of island nationals who enter irregularly have been reported in that country.
Mexico is the penultimate country on the Cuban route before reaching the US. Migrant detentions have skyrocketed there. Due to this, applications from Cubans seeking to stay in Mexico increased by 115% this year, displacing Venezuelans and Haitians who in 2021 led the list of refugee requests.
In Mexico there have been multiple cases of kidnappings, extortions, deaths and accidents of Cubans. The flow is so great that they gather in huge groups before crossing the border into the US. This month the record for the largest group was broken, when more than 500 Cubans crossed into Texas at once.
Other migrants start the route from other American countries and must cross the dangerous Darién plug. A total of 5,530 Cubans crossed the Darién jungle until the end of November, according to the official report published by the Panamanian immigration authorities.
Cuba is this year in fourth place among the countries with the highest number of migrants crossing the dangerous jungle. It is only surpassed by Venezuela, with 148,953 migrants, Ecuador, with 21,535, and Haiti with 16,933.
Historically, the Cuban regime has blamed the US for not offering visas to those who wish to migrate legally. But the agreements signed between the two governments in the 1990s were fulfilled in 2022 by the US side, since the US delivered 23,966 visas to migrants in 2022, 3,966 more than promised.
On the other hand, since many Cubans cannot afford these expensive routes through Central America, they try to reach Florida illegally aboard mostly rustic boats. In the US fiscal year 2022, some 6,182 migrants from the Island were detained at sea by the US Coast Guard, an average of 17 per day.
In recent months these outings have increased even more. Between October 1 and December 22, 2022, the USCG detained 3,724 Cubans at sea, an average of 44 per day. These numbers have not been seen since the 1990s.
The Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory located south of Cuba, is another of the migratory destinations pursued by rafters. In 2022 around 400 Cubans arrived in the Cayman Islands in generally rustic boats after sailing more than 100 nautical miles. The regime alleged since May that the resources assigned to migration issues had been expended in an accelerated manner to serve Cubans.
Due to the enormous insecurity that surrounds these companies, many times they end up capsizing. Dozens of missing and dead have been reported in the Florida Straits, including women and minors. For example, at the end of November, in less than a week, two shipwrecks occurred, leaving a total balance of ten survivors, six dead and 20 missing.
The current immigration crisis is not only destined for the United States. Thousands of Cubans have arrived in Spain in recent months. Here settle young professionals who obtain study visas, others for tourist packages, Cubans with Spanish nationality, or people who leave the Island for visa-free countries and then arrive across several countries.
Many Cubans traveled to Russia to settle or as a starting point to reach other destinations. As a result of that country invading Ukraine, most of the Cubans who were there were stranded due to the suspension of flights. Some were arrested and were locked up for months under appalling conditions.
Taking into account the current spikes in rafters detained at sea and Cubans arriving via the US southern border, we can conclude that the end of the current migration crisis does not seem to be near. As long as the growing inflation and scarcity do not abate, no one will want to continue living on the Island.
FOUNTAIN: With information from Diario de Cuba