The truth lies between the extremes

The Cuban government's official explanation for the large number of Cubans that want to leave the country is that the U.S. embargo laws have so damaged the Cuban economy that people are forced to look elsewhere for economic reasons, and that if it weren't for the embargo everything would be great in Cuba and hardly anybody would want to emigrate. The opposition groups in the States tend to explain it as purely the desire to escape Communism. My own impression, from dealing with people face to face for many years there, is that the truth lies between the extremes.


There is one thing that makes the situation of Cuban emigrants different from those from all other parts of the world: by special U.S. law any Cuban who succeeds in placing one foot on dry American soil is automatically granted permanent residency and the right to work. Illegal immigrants from all other countries can be deported once caught, even if they have worked here for years. So the Cuban government claims that the U.S. is encouraging Cubans to risk the voyage in makeshift rafts, or to highjack boats or planes, by promising them residency if they survive the trip.

Many obstacles to overcome

During my time as employee of the Catholic Curch in Cuba, a lot of people came to the parish office looking for help to emigrate, they found sympathy but no help from priests or bishops who by the way have no influence to get anyone a visa. And although US goverment promised 20,000 visas, the number of Cubans who requested visas to go to the States was far beyond the number to be granted each year, so people would clutch at any straw to try to get one. First, they have to apply for one of the visas, and fulfill the U.S.


requirements. Then, if selected, they have to fulfill the Cuban requirements. Getting a passport, producing photocopies of needed documents (where private photocopiers were almost non-existent), getting the required physical exam (which has to be paid for in dollars), and then getting enough dollars to actually buy a ticket: each step is a major headache. Unless the person has family overseas who could help financially with dollars, it's almost impossible.

The Communists try to force the most talented dissidents to leave

Another frequent problem has to do with the young women who wanted to get married to a visiting tourist so as to leave with him.

Catholic marriage is a very serious lifetime sacramental commitment, requiring thoughtful preparation, so they leave the parish office disappointed after speaking with the priest. Sometimes the relationships are genuine, and other times they're arranged specifically to get out of Cuba. Any tourist with a few dollars to spend can have his pick from a number of beautiful, educated young women all looking for the escape that marriage offers.

The Communists, in fact, would encourage or even try to force the most talented dissidents to leave. Despite all the obstacles, many heroic Cubans have opted to stay and continue the struggle for reform.


Although I have much sympathy for those that decided to leave, at the same time, I feel the pain of that loss. There is incomprehensible proof of patriotism in every Cuban heart that still desires to return someday to his or her beloved homeland.