The alarming increase in illegal immigrant smuggling from Cuba to the U.S. has resulted in hundreds of Cubans drowning en route to a better life. The ill-fated Elian flotilla was merely one of many. Just last month 30 fleeing Cubans perished when their boat capsized in the Florida Straits.
Encouragingly, both Cuban and American officials talk regularly and genuinely want to crack down on the despicable practice of trafficking in human smuggling. The devil, of course, is in the details.
Obviously, America’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy is a critical factor. In effect, this allows most Cubans who reach American soil by illegal means to avoid repatriation and eventually apply for U.S. residency.
Havana’s spin, reiterated recently by Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, is that this Solomonic solution is to blame for the spike in human smuggling and subsequent tragic deaths.
Wrong. Disingenuously wrong.
Despite America’s 40-year legacy of a counter-productive, Cold War-era, embargo-driven policy toward Cuba, this charge won’t — or at least shouldn’t — stick. Granted, America has made it too easy to be scapegoated by Havana, but “wet-foot, dry-foot” isn’t, ultimately, responsible for all these tragic deaths at sea.
Ultimately, it is the life these people are fleeing from — even more than the promise of a better one — that is the driving force behind their perilous escapes.
No one has forced Fidel Castro to suffocate meaningful democracy and barely experiment with the demand-economy principles the rest of the world lives by. Those with ambition to better themselves are out of luck. The legal-tendering of the dollar has carved out whole new classes of relative “haves” and “have nots.” Global-village communication is a graphic reminder to many Cubans of all that they don’t have.
After two generations, the Cuban people know they can’t take revolutionary rhetoric to the bank and can’t take ration cards anywhere other than sparsely stocked, peso-only shops.
America’s policy toward Cuba has been nothing to be proud of for forty years. Havana’s policies toward its own people, however, have been shameful. And tragic.