Cubans on a Dangerous Journey

por Yassel Padrón Kunakbaeva

A few months ago, a young man who now lives in Ecuador came back to my neighborhood to visit. During his stay, he urged his Cuban friends to embark on a complex and quasi-adventurous journey: “Buy a passport and a ticket and go to Guyana, things then get easier, you just have to cross over into Brazil, at the border maybe, and from there you can get on a flight to Chile. Life’s good in Chile.” More recently, I learned that the brother of a friend had reached the US: “he set out from Ecuador and travelled across all those countries, then he had to wait a bunch of months at the Mexican border, but he’s in the Yuma now”, he tells me cheerfully.

Not long ago, I learned from an Arturo López-Levi article that several American congressmen –Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among them– had brought to light the situation of some Cuban migrants in US detention centers. They found a group of women who had been put in a room without running water, where they were told they had to drink water from the toilet and that they could only wash themselves every 15 days.

This journey of Cuban migrants is long and full of dangers, and its last stop is the hellish agony of the border. They travel across jungles and borders; they put their lives in the hands of human traffickers. They are exposed to abrupt closings, like the 2015 one in Nicaragua. Finally, they end up waiting months for their turn to ask for asylum on this side of the border, and in Juárez, no less. Ciudad Juárez, one of the twenty most violent cities in the world, now accommodates thousands of Cubans, many of them living under bridges, suffering extortion, threats and kidnappings at the hands of criminals. There are so many Cubans that restaurants in the area have added congrí (traditional Cuban rice and beans) and pork chop to their menus.

It should be commonplace that a Republic –especially one which claims to be of the humble, with the humble and for the humble– must concern itself about the fate of all the nation’s children wherever they may be, in any corner of the world. It’s true we have a complex history of confrontation, in which excessive passion drove people to call those who left gusanos, escoria, contrarrevolucionarios (maggots, scum, counterrevolutionaries), among other degrading epithets. But those times have passed. Today, revolutionary humanism has brought about rectification and the view that migration is the right of every person. An attitude coherent with that view is to devote every possible attention to the fate of migrants.

The ideal course of action would be to create in Cuban society the capacity of offering opportunities to all its children, so that no one or very few would feel the need to migrate. But provided that such a scenario isn’t possible, for many reasons, including the terrible blockade imposed by the US on our country, help must be given to those who are migrating, and to those who live in other countries, insofar as it is possible.

We cannot wash our hands of them.

The US government displays the issue of migration with the usual treachery. They use it against Cuba, for political ends. They do everything, except observing the migratory agreements reached under Clinton. There’s much they could do to guarantee stable and safe migration. But it’s not in their interest. With Trump, they don’t even pretend it is, though it serves them to have that long line of Cubans passing through an unsafe Central America, the “evidence” of the failure of communism.

It’s time for Cuba to show its humanism on a higher level. This means really going against old mentalities, but Cuba could declare its support for those migrants. It could use its diplomatic influence on the region’s governments to guarantee certain conditions for them, or at least denounce mistreatment or abuse. Perhaps something is being done, away from the public eye, it’s difficult to know for sure, but that’s not the message being sent out; the message being sent out is that those migrants are being left to their fate.

Devoting attention and efforts to the fate of migrants also means thinking as a country, as a nation. That most Cubans choose to maintain a socialist project doesn’t mean that those who go seeking a better economic life elsewhere, in capitalist countries, cease to be Cubans. The Republic belongs to all, even to those who are not happy with the political project of the majority, and even to those who feel life’s too short, and that they’d do better in the United States.

(Translated from the original)