Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Right on time?

There are reports that more Cubans have been leaving the island since Fidel stepped aside. At the same time, there are rumors that the Cuban government is going to lift requirements for citizens to receive exits visas.

The timing is notable, because this has happened every 14-15 years. Fidel has used refugees three different times—1965, 1980, and 1994—as a way to deal with his own internal problems and to affect U.S. policy (a “weapon of the weak”). There’s a recent article that analyzes the 1994 balseros crisis, putting it into historical perspective.*

It remains to be seen if the same is occurring now, but in the past it has begun with a signal that an exodus may occur, which is expected to prompt dialogue between the two countries on certain issues (in 1994 it was mostly immigration policy but normalization of relations is always an accompanying goal). If dialogue is rejected, then the exodus occurs, and the dialogue happens anyway but in the context of crisis, which a U.S. president must address quickly or be hurt domestically:

“[T]he appearance of loss of control over US borders, coupled with the perception inside the US that Floria might be overrun, would be viewed by US leaders as politically costlier than the alternative of dealing with him. Thus if Castro could transform his own domestic problems into the US’s problems via exploitation of refugees, he could coerce its leaders into helping him solve them” (p. 48).

One difference from the past is that there is no defiant speech, which was Fidel’s way of signalling. If a similar situation is happening, then this may just reflect a different strategy, because Raúl doesn’t make fiery speeches.

*Kelly M. Greenhill, “Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons: A Case Study of the 1994 Cuban Balseros Crisis,” International Migration 40, 4 (September 2006): 133-164.


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