By Jesús Arboleya Cervera
The PEW Research Center, a renowned institution that specializes in demographic research in the United States, has just published a study on the evolution of the population of Cuban origin in that country during the first two decades of this century (2000-2021).
As usual, these studies refer to people who voluntarily identify with this ethnic condition, say Cuban-Americans, and include both immigrants from Cuba and their descendants born in the United States.
The results highlight the considerable increase in this population: from 1.2 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2021, a 92% growth in the period. Half of the current population was born in the United States (1.2 million) and the other half are immigrants, of which 51% have lived in that country for more than 20 years.
It is then possible to calculate that the balance of Cuban immigrants in the first two decades of this century was around 294,000 people, 14,700 per year, below the previous average, due to an almost four-year suspension of the migration agreements by the US government and the effects of the pandemic on the restriction of international mobility.
This reality changed radically in 2022, one year after the investigation was completed when the irregular migration of 224,607 Cubans took place. According to the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), another 135,090 entered in the first semester of the fiscal year 2023 (October-March), although as of January the component of irregular immigration decreased drastically as a result of the restrictions imposed by the United States government on the border and the implementation of the Humanitarian Parole Program, which grants 30,000 monthly visas distributed among Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Apparently, unless other unforeseen events occur, the implementation of this program and the reopening of consular services at the US embassy in Havana should stabilize the migratory flow to that country in figures of around 30,000 migrants per year, which confirms the forecasts by the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana (CEDEM) at the beginning of this century.
We are not in the presence of a phenomenon exclusive to Cubans. Pew also reports that the Latino population grew 90% in the same period, from 32 to 62 million, and for some countries, it tripled (El Salvador and the Dominican Republic) or even quadrupled, as was the case for Guatemala and Honduras, despite the fact that none of these countries enjoys the advantages offered to Cuban immigrants. In fact, the population of Cuban origin fell from the third place that it occupied in the demographic scale of Latinos at the beginning of the century, to fifth, representing only 4% of this population — where Mexicans predominate by a wide margin.
The preferential treatment received by Cuban immigrants, together with indicators that demonstrate the superiority of the human capital that emigrates from Cuba, explain the better social indicators that Cuban Americans show compared to the rest of the Latino population.
According to Pew, 30% of Cuban Americans over the age of 25 are college graduates, while only 20% of the Latino population have this condition. The average income of Cuban Americans (35,000 USD) is also higher than the average for Latinos (30,000 USD) and the poverty indicator is lower (14%), compared to 18% of the Latino population. 56% of Cuban-Americans own their homes as compared to only 51% of other Latinos.
Although these indicators place Cuban Americans below the North American social average, they make them the Latino group that benefits the most from the system and this is also reflected in political representation, where they enjoy a privileged position compared to the rest, partly due to the functionality they have had in the policy against Cuba.
Contrary to the widespread opinion regarding the better command of English on the part of Cuban Americans, it is precisely in this aspect where they are uniquely disadvantaged within the Latino group. While 72% of the Latino population is fluent in English, only 64% of Cuban-Americans are.
This could be explained by two factors: first, by the immigrant component of the Cuban-American population, which amounts to 53% of the total, while in the case of Latinos it only reaches 32%. Secondly, due to the high degree of concentration of Cuban Americans in the state of Florida (64%) and, particularly, in the enclave of Miami (41%), where the opportunities are open for those who are not bilingual, although in jobs generally less paid.
The current migratory phenomenon is global in nature and responds to structural problems of capitalism, where emigration is a component of the movements of capital and labor required by the system. It is conditioned by the asymmetry in the economic conditions of the countries, the technical facilities to emigrate, and the development of a culture that encourages emigration, as an individual solution to existential problems and the lack of life expectancy in the countries of origin.
In the Cuban case, this logic is strengthened because US policy is not aimed at mitigating excessive migratory impulses through international assistance policies, as is the case in other countries, but rather at increasing domestic tensions — through the economic blockade and other sanctions — and whose goal is to promote regime change in Cuba.
The main difference of the Cuban migratory phenomenon, compared to other countries in the region, is its political connotation. From Cuba, people do not emigrate, but rather “flee,” as emphasized by the prevailing media matrix, and they do so mostly to the aggressor country, which entails political and ideological implications that do not exist elsewhere.
Such a peculiarity conditions Cuban migration policies and restricts the ability to mitigate the most negative consequences of the emigration of its citizens, through the full use of economic, scientific, and cultural opportunities, which are also present in this phenomenon.
It also raises problems of a subjective nature, both for Cuban policymakers, influenced for years by the criteria of identifying emigration as allies of the enemy, as well as among the emigrants themselves, who sometimes assume extreme positions of opposition that they did not have while living in Cuba, both to rationalize the decision to emigrate against the grain of the patriotic discourse and to adjust to the political demands of the environment to which they aspire to insert themselves and on which their privileges depend.
The possibility for emigrants to participate in the discussion of the new Constitution of 2019 and the Family Code, approved in 2022; promoting investment in the country, approved years ago but now barely implemented; reductions in consular costs; greater openness and promotion for cultural and academic exchanges; the meetings of the main Cuban leaders with Cubans residing in various countries; an official speech where the national condition of these people is highlighted, as well as the call for a new conference of the Nation and Emigration next November, have been measures taken recently, which give continuity to the policy of acceptance and dialogue with emigrants, raised by Fidel Castro more than 40 years ago.
But this is not enough, faced with the reality that almost a third of the Cuban nation — if we take into account the descendants — lives outside the country, Cuba has no other alternative than to promote the integration of these people into its national life, through the implementation of inclusive policies that promote the transnational condition of their emigrants, through an organic participation in Cuban society, without undermining their existential interests elsewhere.
An emigration linked to its country, committed to its independence and sovereignty, as well as a contributor to the development of its people, constitutes a strategic need for the Cuban nation, precisely because the majority lives in the United States.