Rising prices, unobtainable basic necessities and increasingly desperate residents: Cuba is facing its worst economic crisis in thirty years. “In reality, the country is at the center of a myriad of crises, each of which severely impacts the island’s economy”, explains Ted A. Henken, professor of sociology at Baruch College in New York. With the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism, a key financial windfall for Cuba, has come to a near standstill. “Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 95% drop in foreign arrivals. This has led to a shortage of foreign currency for the country.”specifies the specialist of Cuba.
Cuba also suffers from an international context that opposes it. Famous Cuban doctors, sent abroad through binational agreements, have had to return by the thousands in recent years when Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia canceled their contracts. A very significant financial loss to the Cuban regime, which accounts for much of the price paid to engage these doctors. Venezuela, a historical friend of the Cuban regime, has also greatly reduced its oil exports to the Caribbean island, which is heavily dependent on it.
US sanctions, strengthened under the Trump era, have complicated exports to Cuba, which supplies most of its food from abroad, creating shortages. Money transfers from abroad have also been affected. Gold “the basic economy of Cuban households is financed by the diaspora”recalls Vincent Bloch, researcher and author of Cuba, a revolution (Vendemiaire, 2016). “But since many transfers of funds go through underground banks, this problem of blocking transfers remains less due to inflation, largely due to the monetary reform implemented by the regime.” By deciding to unite the country’s two currencies in 2021 to keep just one, the Cuban president led to the devaluation of the local peso. As wages multiplied by five at the same time, prices rose to much higher levels. This is especially the case on the black market which, compounded by shortages, offers goods that cannot be found on legal stalls, at very high prices. Inflation from January to October 2021 was estimated by the Cuban government at 6,900%.
This severe economic crisis led to the demonstrations of 11 July 2021 and forced the Cuban regime to “difficult social and economic situation”† It also enhanced emigration. The US data is formal: If Cubans’ arrivals to the United States never stopped, they have recovered in recent months. Between October 2021 and March 2022, US border guards recorded the passage of at least 78,000 Cuban migrants, in addition to the 1.2 million people who migrated to the United States. And US authorities expect a record year in which 150,000 Cubans will be able to cross the border. The United States is a favorite destination for Cubans, because of its geographical location but also because of the benefits accorded to these immigrants. Thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, Cubans who have lived in the United States for at least one year have easier access to permanent residency, the famous green card†
Expect a new influx
Far from Mariel’s exodus, where more than 120,000 Cubans reached Florida by sea in 1980, Cuban migrants now pass through Central America before returning to Mexico. A route largely plotted by smugglers and facilitated by certain countries. While most states in the region require entry visas for Cubans, Nicaragua abolished this procedure in November, giving Cubans easier access to the continent. An operation sanctioned by the communist leaders. “The regime has every interest in allowing these departures to happen, it does not want this anger movement to turn into a genuine Cuban social movement on July 11th”says Vincent Bloch. “It eased a bit of pressure among the population by allowing some to leave”teems with Ted A. Henken.
Especially since the desire to leave is constant in Cuban society. “We are not witnessing a desperate emigration, but rather the displacement of people who have managed to build up some savings to go to the United States”notes Vincent Bloch. “They are people of all social classes, including the working class, quite young, with lighter skin, and who come from the urban areas of the west coast of the island,” adds Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at the University of Florida.
On Tuesday, the United States announced that it had resumed issuance “limited” of visas for Cubans in Havana, five years after the closure of the US consulate by Donald Trump. A decision that could further increase the number of departing migrants. “Let’s not forget that the United States’ migration agreement with Cuba provided for the issuance of 20,000 visas per year, which has not been complied with in recent years”, recalls Jorge Duany. Last element that will facilitate the displacement of Cubans: On May 23, the United States will no longer be able to apply the “Title 42” system, which allowed it to deport migrants to the Mexican border due to health risks related to Covid-19 19.