The Washington Post

Migration’s ‘root cause’ is despotism in Latin America


The woman busing tables at a restaurant in this town just across the Neisse River from Germany seemed different from the other people working there. She appeared to speak very little Polish or German. Guessing she spoke English, and might even be a fellow American, I asked where she was from.

“Cuba,” was the surprising answer. Out poured the story of suffering that had compelled her to seek a way, any way, off the island, with its grinding shortages of food, medicine and other basics. Even life in an off-the-beaten-path Central European village, where most other foreigners are daytripper­s shopping for discount Polish goods or en route to a nearby national park, is far preferable.

The worst part, she told me, was the loneliness. Her mood had improved recently, however, when two more Cubans joined her workplace.

As my vacation-time encounter suggests, the exodus from failed left-wing Latin American regimes has global repercussi­ons; of 6 million-plus who have fled Venezuela in recent years, 80 percent have ended up in the Caribbean or other countries such as Colombia, Peru and Chile, according to the Internatio­nal Organizati­on for Migration.

Inevitably, though, many people seeking relief from poverty and oppression go to the wealthiest and freest nation in their own hemisphere: the United States. Right now, escapees from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua make up a rapidly growing share of the influx at the border between the United States and Mexico.

The latest Customs and Border Protection data shows that 55,333 people from those three countries crossed in August, a 175 percent increase over August 2021. Hence, the predominan­tly Venezuelan origins of the 50 migrants Florida Gov. Ron Desantis (R) steered to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachuse­tts last week.

Migration from Central America and Mexico declined 43 percent over the past 12 months, but the flow from Cuba — nearly 200,000 — represents the biggest one-year surge since the island’s 1959 revolution.

And that’s saying something, since that 63-year history includes two dramatic boatlifts — in 1980 and 1994 — which brought 125,000 and 35,000 Cubans, respective­ly. Even more staggering, the Cuban migrants today often spend thousands of dollars each to pay for the trip — an odyssey by sea, air, land or a combinatio­n of all three — with brutal conditions and violent threats along the way.

Like the 1980 and 1994 boatlift crises, the present one may be in part tacitly encouraged by the Havana regime, which, like its allies in Managua and Caracas, is closely aligned with Russia.

It is in these government­s’ interest to export dissent and stir political trouble for President Biden — as the boatlifts did for his Democratic predecesso­rs Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Notably, the exodus from Cuba accelerate­d after its ally Nicaragua ended its visa requiremen­t for Cubans, making it far easier for the latter to reach the Central American isthmus — and continue on to the border.

Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela do not take their citizens back if they’re deported from the United States, which renders the Biden administra­tion all but powerless to deter the flow.

All of the above should inform the debate about “root causes” of migration, which, like so many of its predecesso­rs, the Biden administra­tion has promised to address. There is a related argument over the United States’ own culpabilit­y in the plight of people living under the three left-wing regimes. Washington has sanctioned each one for gross human rights violations, the most recent being Cuba’s nightmaris­h crackdown on protests that broke out in July 2021 and a similar round-up of dissidents by President Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua.

Even when the United States targets them to limit collateral damage, these measures can affect ordinary people and not just the regimes; obviously, too, millions have left non-communist countries in Latin America for a better life in the United States.

What is neverthele­ss undeniable is the historic debacle represente­d by the departure of over 6 million from Venezuela, whose population peaked at 30 million in 2015, when the main phase of the exodus began. That is a fifth of the entire country.

For Cuba, 200,000 emigrants in a year represents nearly 2 percent of its 11.3 million population. In Nicaragua, the 200,000 who have left since Ortega’s crackdown began four years ago, mostly for the United States and next-door Costa Rica, amount to 3 percent of a 6.6 million population.

U.S. sanctions, under which — for example — this country was still Cuba’s secondlarg­est supplier of food imports in 2020, cannot possibly account for so many people “voting with their feet” against the systems they live under. The foreseeabl­e failure of subjecting the economy to top-down control and denying people basic freedoms can.

The exodus is thus a tremendous compliment to the United States and other democratic capitalist countries. We should appreciate it. Meanwhile, it imposes duties: to treat migrants humanely and incorporat­e as many of them as we lawfully and realistica­lly can; and to oppose more effectivel­y the despotism that is the root cause of their desperatio­n.

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