BY KAREN FLETCHER
The manipulation of immigration policy has been one of the key strategies used by the US rulers in their 44-year campaign to strangle Cuba's attempt to build socialism. Bolstered by its "victory" in Iraq, Washington is now intensifying that campaign, attempting to incite social unrest and an emigration crisis on a scale large enough to trigger US military intervention.
The US authorities have been welcoming illegal immigrants from Cuba since the first influx of 200,000 (largely rich and white) Cubans arrived in Miami between 1959 and 1962 — the years in which capitalist political and economic power were overthrown in Cuba.
The red carpet was rolled out all the way for this first wave of Cuban emigres. Millions of dollars were allocated to smooth their resettlement and Miami became one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.
Numbers were swelled, too, by Operation Peter Pan, a disinformation campaign that persuaded thousands of Cuban parents that Fidel Castro's government intended to "nationalise" all children over the age of five. The Catholic Church worked with the CIA on a "humanitarian mission" to transport more than 14,000 unaccompanied children to Miami. Many of them would never see their families again.
Operation Peter Pan was specifically designed to generate a powerful, permanent stimulus for emigration from Cuba — family reunion.
The US trade embargo, and its progressive tightening over the years, has also been aimed at provoking emigration crises. The embargo has been tightened at key junctures such as the collapse of the Soviet bloc — Cuba's principal trade partners — in 1990-91.
Today Miami has a population of more than 2 million people, 30% of whom are of Cuban origin. Miami is also the base for the CIA's Latin American operations, gateway for 70% of the cocaine that enters the US and home to a frightening posse of right-wing politicians including Governor Jeb Bush, President George Bush's younger brother.
The encouragement of emigration from Cuba in the early 1960s was carefully designed to build an offshore base for Cuban counter-revolutionary forces and to drain Cuba of its skilled personnel (many of the early emigrants were managers, technicians and professionals).
Thousands of Cuban emigres were recruited to "special operations" against Cuba, most famously to the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion force, but also to other, more covert, operations against the fledgling revolution and its leaders, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
A handful of those recruited in those early days now hold senior positions in the Bush administration — for example, Otto Reich, the special presidential envoy for Latin America in the National Security Council — and many others remain active in the CIA and related anti-Cuban paramilitary and terrorist organisations.
Despite the careful building of an offshore counter-revolutionary force, Cuba's revolutionary government and leadership survived the invasions, bombings, assassination attempts and chemical and biological attacks conceived and bankrolled in Washington and Miami.
But the survival of the revolutionary government has not been without cost. Cubans are forced to spend much-needed resources on self-defence and to exercise constant vigilance against the threat just 144 kilometres to their north.
Cubans enjoy First World standards of health and education thanks to the country's socialised health care and education systems, but many of their other living conditions are Third World.
While the majority remain committed to their post-capitalist society, a minority has proved susceptible to the myth of individual enrichment through emigration to the US. That economic reasons are the main motivation for Cubans to emigrate is revealed by the fact that very few seek to emigrate to other Third World countries.
Furthermore, while other Third World refugees languish in detention centres in the US, unauthorised immigrants from Cuba are treated quite differently, even if they arrive on a hijacked plane with a load of terrified hostages with guns at their heads or knives at their throats.
Once they set foot on US soil, refugees from Cuba are practically guaranteed amnesty for any crimes committed in getting there, courtesy of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Visas to immigrate to the US legally, however, have usually been unavailable. This policy is designed to make a political spectacle of Cuban emigration.
In 1980 the Cuban government grew exasperated with this policy and tired of dealing with spates of plane and boat hijackings by Cubans who wanted to emigrate to the US. Castro announced that anyone who wanted to leave could do so, via the port of Mariel. He invited US boats to come to the port and pick up potential emigrants.
At first, then President Jimmy Carter declared that the US would continue to "provide an open heart and open arms for the tens of thousands of refugees seeking freedom from Communist domination". But when the number of emigrants reached nearly 125,000, the US began to detain them in camps. Unlike the earlier, upper-class emigres, this wave of immigrants included many Afro-Cubans. There were also many people who had committed crimes in Cuba and spent time in prison.
In 1984 the US proposed a "migration accord" under which several thousand of the Marielitos would be repatriated to Cuba and the US would establish a legal migration program and grant 20,000 visas a year to Cubans who wanted to migrate legally.
Between 1985 and 1990, only 7428 visas were granted by the US authorities, although they had agreed to grant up to 100,000. Despite this, the number of illegal departures was extremely low — only 1000 over five years.
In 1991, the economic situation changed abruptly with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuba's foreign trade contracted by 85%, and its economy by 35%. Cubans suffered terrible shortages of fuel, food and other basic necessities. Attempts to emigrate to the US increased, spurred by a tightening of the US trade embargo. A spate of violent hijackings began, resulting in the death of 32 people on a hijacked tugboat that capsized.
Washington expressed concern about the possibility of "another Mariel" and Castro offered to negotiate, both on the immigration question and on the trade embargo. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher responded by saying that the US would continue to give preferential treatment to illegal immigrants from Cuba.
On August 12, 1994, the Cuban government again lifted all restrictions on people wishing to leave Cuba and invited foreign ships to pick up anyone who wanted to leave. Seven days later, President Bill Clinton, alarmed at the possible numbers of Cuban migrants, stemmed the flow by ordering that the Cubans intercepted at sea be detained in "safe havens" — many of them at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, where a large number of Haitian refugees were being held.
Clinton's decision marked the beginning of the current "wet foot, dry foot" policy under which Cubans at sea are denied automatic amnesty in the US, but those who make it to shore continue to be accepted.
In November 1999 the mother of Elian Gonzales joined the many Cubans who have died in a vain attempt to reach dry land in Miami. Elian was picked up by the US Coast Guard and brought to Miami where he was taken in by relatives in the Cuban emigre community. Elian's case put the spotlight on US policy on Cuban immigration when domestic and international public opinion forced the US government to order the boy's return to his father in Cuba.
Both the 1980 and 1994 emigration crises were accompanied by threats of military intervention by the US and the Cuban people were on alert for a possible invasion. Today, in the wake of the US war machine's relatively easy military victory over Iraq, the war hawks in Washington may well be looking to provide a pretext for attacking Cuba.
Revolutionary Cuba is again on a war footing. It has never been allowed any peace.
From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.
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