Migration Costs and Benefits for Cuba
January 12, 2012
HAVANA TIMES, Jan 12 — Referring to the expected changes in immigration
policy, a Cuban-American colleague wrote: "Not only is it absurd, but it
is totally irresponsible to think that Cuba must open the doors to its
borders wide open." (1).
Certainly no country opens "its borders wide open," but that's not
what's being discussed today in Cuba. Rather, the discussion is around
the right of citizens to enter and leave the island without undergoing
lengthy, complicated, unnecessary and expensive procedures.
My colleague reminds us that "there is a war against Cuba" and he
asserts that Washington maintains a high level of political hostility,
prosecutes international financial transactions with the island and
maintains the economic embargo.
But what I don't understand is how you defend the country by requiring
travelers to pay $150 USD for a letter of invitation to leave the
country, which also means finding a foreigner to "take responsibility"
for the Cuban abroad.
It's as if Cuban citizens were children or mentally disabled, unable to
fend for themselves. Also, since no one investigates the "inviter," this
poses the risk that the worst of criminals will end up as the
"guardians" of the most honest Cubans.
President Raul Castro said that in the area of migration reforms he
would move slowly and gradually, measuring the impact of each step. They
tell me that he was referring to its effects on national security as
well as on the "brain drain."
Therefore I think that the "Letter of Invitation" will disappear very
soon because it doesn't provide much control and nor does it prevent the
departure of professionals. Really, it only serves to generate dollars
out of the irritation of citizens.
Something similar will happen with the duration of time people will be
permitted to reside outside the country. It's hard to believe that
national security would be threatened if Cubans abroad spent more than
11 months away. This seems to be just another measure that to make money
off of discomfort.
One would have to calculate the balance between what is collected and
the political cost paid for it. I know people who started the
immigration process for economic reasons and eventually left the island
full of resentment against the government.
In the 1960s, the costs didn't vary because those who left the country
were economic and political enemies of the revolution. But now even the
government acknowledges that people are emigrating to improve their
standard of living.
Certainly the immigration issue can't be seen outside of the
confrontation with Washington. One needs only mention the operation that
took 14,000 children from Cuba without their parents in the 60's or the
fact that US visas are now offered to Cuban doctors.
They attack where it hurts. It's no coincidence that the White House
offers such opportunities to doctors and not to bricklayers. Physicians
who carry out service missions abroad are now the main source of income
for the Cuban economy.
During external conflicts all politicians argue that it's necessary to
restrict civil liberties. This is not a not a new argument and nor is it
one that's exclusively Cuban – as is well demonstrated through the US
Patriot Act signed into law in 2001.
But citizens should keep an eye out that the restrictions on civil
rights are only the essential ones, preventing politicians tempted to
take advantage of emergencies to resolve other problems of a domestic
In the case of Cuba, there are also some immigration regulations that
are not public, so Cubans never know whether the official who denied
them their exit permit was acting within the law or was going around
those laws currently in force.
My colleague's article ends by saying that "Cuba will open the door to
whoever it wants, whenever it wants and in the way it wants." This is
logical reasoning as long as when it refers to "Cuba" it means the Cuban
nation as a whole.
There is no doubt that a country has the right to legally regulate
migration according to its needs, but to speak of "Cuba" means that, in
addition to the government and the authorities, the majority of its
citizens support those measures.
I didn't do a formal survey, but none of the Cubans I know is in
agreement with the semi-secret immigration regulations, paying $400 USD
for the world's most convoluted paperwork or having to beg foreigners
for a "Letter of Invitation.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original)
published by BBC Mundo.