The final Cuban exodus?

Even as capitalism descends on the island, Cubans are rushing to the US.

A Cuban migrant poses for a picture as she crosses a pedestrian bridge to Laredo, US [REUTERS]
A Cuban migrant poses for a picture as she crosses a pedestrian bridge to Laredo, US [REUTERS]

Last April, the prominent accommodation rental website Airbnb took out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and other US newspapers, featuring Cuban and US flags side by side on a spherical surface under the statement “One giant leap for man’s kindness” – a play on the famous moon-landing quotation.

The cause for celebration, in this case, was the launch of rental listings in Cuba.

The campaign came in the wake of the 2014 US-Cuban rapprochement and the announcement that the two nations were on track to “normalise” relations, which had been frozen more than half a century earlier on account of the Cuban Revolution and Fidel Castro’s slighting of US business interests in the country.

Now, the US government has eased travel restrictions to Cuba as well as certain obstacles to investment, while the Cubans have become ever more accommodating vis-a-vis private-sector activity and property ownership.

People and Power – Cuba Year Zero

It’s not clear, of course, how “normalisation” is even an option – or what “man’s kindness” has to do with anything, for that matter – when the US penal colony of Guantanamo Bay continues to be illegally operated on occupied Cuban territory. A “giant leap for man’s bank accounts” might have better described the occasion.

The Cuban ‘breeze’

Airbnb is far from the only actor set to turn a profit on the island. A recent Guardian article entitled “Cuba for sale” lists various European luxury property developers that have gone after a substantial piece of the real estate pie in Havana.

READ MORE: The US in Cuba – a history of organised crime

Meanwhile, the fact that full normalisation has not yet come to pass means that “US chains such as Marriott and Hilton can do nothing but stand drooling from just 100 miles across the Straits of Florida, waiting for the embargo to drop.”

So why, then, are Cubans currently fleeing to the capitalist US in droves if US capitalism is headed their way anyway?

The Guardian also quotes one description of proposals for Havana’s old harbour as “looking like ‘Las Vegas meets Miami in the Caribbean'”.

So why, then, are Cubans currently fleeing to the capitalist US in droves if US capitalism is headed their way anyway? As the New York Times notes, hundreds of Cuban migrants are now “breez[ing] across” the US border each day from Mexico.

According to numerous reports, the present spike in the number of States-bound Cubans is a result of rumours that, because of the US-Cuban detente, the US government will dismantle a certain Cuban Adjustment Act.

Dating from 1966, this law essentially institutionalises the preferential treatment of Cuban migrants, who are granted permission to enter the US and treated to other forms of hospitality simply by turning up at the border.

A relic of the Cold War era – when the US endeavoured to stick it to Castro in every way possible for daring to successfully resist imperialist hemispheric designs – the durability of the act is in one sense a testament to the United States’ grudge-holding abilities (and particularly those of the influential Cuban exile crowd).

But the politically motivated double standard the law enshrines becomes even more glaringly unjust in the current migratory context.

A Cuban migrant after crossing the border from Colombia through the jungle as tourists stand by in Panama [REUTERS]

While many Cubans “breeze across” the border in search of economic opportunity, Central American migrants who are literally running for their lives – incidentally from violence caused in no small part by US machinations in the region – are often detained in dismal conditions and deported.

Asking for the moon

Until the rumours of impending adjustments to the Cuban Adjustment Act are either dispelled or confirmed, it seems migration patterns may hold – which brings us back to the question of why Cubans are in such a rush to evacuate the soon-to-be Cuban version of capitalism for places such as “the capitalist version of Cuba, Miami”, as one analyst described it in a CNBC article on the exodus.

READ MORE: Cuba’s struggle to cope with the tourism boom

Although the precise motivations of each individual Cuban migrant obviously cannot be ascertained, commonly cited ones include a desire for superior levels of “freedom” and material wealth than have generally been available in Cuba.

There’s no arguing that Cuba should be winning any awards for, say, freedom of the press or freedom of speech, but there’s certainly plenty to be said for the freedom from having to worry about the basic necessities of life.

The Cuban system of free, universal healthcare is just one example of the kind of things governments can accomplish when they’re not fighting ubiquitous wars to keep the world safe for capitalism or engaging in other varieties of destructive behaviour.

As it turns out, not even the soldiers who fight US wars are eligible for much attention from the state – unless you consider disproportionate homelessness and suicide levels among veterans indicative of some sort of “freedom”. The New York Times article on the Cuban “breeze” quotes a Navy veteran’s complaint that Cuban migrants are being given “instant benefits while we have American veterans living on the streets”.

And while Airbnb can rejoice all it wants over imaginary lunar co-conquests, there are plenty of people left out in the cold – and plenty of opportunities to wish there was a bit more room for decency in the present international landscape.

But that, of course, would be asking for the moon.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 


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