As you read this, a convoy of buses carrying an estimated 8,000 Cuban nationals is arriving at our southern borders after departing from Costa Rica and El Salvador. The circuitous route is due to an increased Coast Guard presence in the Florida Straits, which itself is a response to record-level illegal crossings from Cuba this year.
What’s driving this exodus may not be due to completely natural factors, however. Writing in the Miami Herald, Maria Werlau of the Cuba Archive, says that what’s arriving at our door is nothing but a “fabricated crisis,” intentionally designed by Cuba to “stir humanitarian” and “anti-immigration sentiments” in America. According to Werlau, President Raul Castro has pushed the outflow to force President Obama into repealing Cuba’s remaining sanctions. The timing of the dramatic migration certainly supports Werlau’s thesis. Obama began normalization talks last summer; and, if his party loses the election this year, Raul would be forced to deal with people such as Senator Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban dissident; Jeb Bush, a Floridian; Senator Marco Rubio, also the son of a Cuban dissident as well as a Floridian; or Donald Trump.
What’s more, mentions Werlau, we’ve seen these tactics from Cuba before. Writing in last month’s Foreign Affairs magazine, migration scholar Kelly Greenhill notes that Cuba has previously used “migration-driven coercion” as a negotiation tool on three major occasions: 1965, 1994, and, most notably, in 1980 with the “Mariel boatlift.” In Weapons of Mass Migration, Greenhill’s study on the use of migration and “refugee” crises as instruments of persuasion, she shows that these engineered outflows, all directed against Democratic administrations, were embarrassingly successful each time.
In 1980, Cuba engineered a mass exodus by unsealing its border at the port of Mariel. This launched more than 100,000 Cuban citizens onto Florida’s shores in just a couple of months. The situation then is similar to what we face now. Then, Raul’s brother Fidel initially threatened the outflow to push the U.S. into liberalizing sanctions. At the time, collapsing sugar prices were destabilizing Castro’s regime — and Cuba faces the same problem today as sugar prices plummet on the NASDAQ.
President Carter initially ignored Castro’s requests to negotiate the sanctions and pled with the American people to simply accept the “refugees” with “open arms and an open heart.” His limp emotionalism failed, and following a giant public backlash in Florida and across the country, Carter finally asked Castro to seal the port in exchange for a series of concessions (outside of a full repeal of sanctions).
One of Fidel Castro’s demands during the Mariel conflict was that the U.S. “regularize,” or increase normal, legal Cuban immigration into the country. He had financial motives: Poor and corrupt states such as Cuba have always relied on remittances from their diaspora abroad. Mexico, for instance, counts U.S.-sourced remittances as the second-biggest contributor to its GDP. This is why Mexico’s leaders routinely attack the U.S. through the courts when the American public pushes for tighter immigration measures. (In August 2015, for instance, the Mexican government filed a brief in support of a coalition of undocumented parents who are suing the state of Texas after they were denied birth certificates for their children.)
1994’s Balseros boatlift was also specifically engineered to “regularize” and increase Cuban immigration into the United States. Cuba was financially struggling at that time as well, because of the decline of its main benefactor, the Soviet Union. After thousands of Cubans arrived on our shores, President Clinton conceded and increased visas to Cuba.
#share#Cuba’s first application of migration-based coercion, the Camarioca boatlift of 1965, is also instructive. There, Cuba had the additional plan of simply getting rid of anti-Castro “counter-revolutionaries” still lingering in the country, post-Batista. Notably, Castro didn’t even preface the onslaught with a threat; he simply exported the dissidents. He unsealed the border at the port of Mariel to export dissidents as well, although they weren’t the only ones who came to the U.S. As the U.S. Coast Guard’s report on the crisis stated, thousands of criminals, asylum-patients, and secret agents (hundreds of whom were assigned to smuggle drugs for the Cuban government) hit communities across Florida. Castro mocked Carter’s “open arms” policy by, as he put it, “filling his arms with s***.” (Fans of the 1983 film Scarface may have caught that it was the Mariel boatlift that brought Tony Montana to America.) Following a spike in violent crime in Florida, President Reagan forced Castro to take back thousands of the criminals.
When dissidents and economic migrants pick up and leave, the home nation generally fares the worse for their departure. According to Werlau, Florida’s Cuban diaspora is a $5 billion “cash cow” for the Castro regime that allows its military dictatorship to “continue repressing and avoiding true reform.” America restrictionists call this the safety-valve effect: Open borders allow immigrants to exit a failed country; the country’s corrupt leadership therefore can avoid much-needed domestic reforms.
#related#Cuba’s “weapon of mass migration” against the U.S. gains potency from the human-rights rhetoric of the contemporary Left. As Kelly Greenhill writes, Fidel Castro, an ever-astute observer of American politics, understood that when you set yourself up as the Mother Teresa of the planet and put poetics before closely considered policy, you become susceptible to “hypocrisy costs” — when your stated commitments differ from your actual behaviour and its results. Presidential memos about the Mariel boatlift, for instance, show that Carter-administration officials felt “compelled” to give in to Castro because of President Carter’s “human-rights policy” and our “heritage as a nation of immigrants.” In other words, Carter was trapped by his own moral preening. Obama, whose leadership often entails calling attention to his own virtue, has made himself similarly vulnerable. If he turns away refugees, no matter how fabricated the crisis, he will look hypocritical.
Lawmakers must carefully consider Raul Castro’s intentions today. Looking back at Mariel, Carter admitted that his plea to the American public to have “open arms and an open heart” exacerbated the crisis. “It made us look impotent when we accepted those refugees from Cuba,” he wrote. It helped cost him the election. Indeed, given the choice between leadership and lecturing, voters will choose leadership every time.
— Ian Smith is an attorney who works for the Immigration Reform Law Institute.