Caught in the middle of the Cuba conundrum

“Lift the Cuba Travel Ban,” The New York Times Editorial Board declared a few days ago — summing up the sentiments held by a clear majority of Americans (including, it seems, their President Barack Obama.)
Barring unforeseen events or a drastic political shift, the complete “normalization” of the relationship between the United States and Cuba at this point seems inevitable, and is now a question of “when” rather than “if.”

Investors, entrepreneurs and travelers in the U.S. are salivating at the prospect of unlocking the secrets of their heretofore mysterious Communist neighbor to the south, while the Cuban government appears increasingly open to (if not desperate for) an influx of American dollars and resources.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted this spring found that nearly all Cubans believe the normalization of their country’s relationship with the U.S. would be to Cuba’s benefit, and nearly all think the U.S.-Cuba embargo should end. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of Cubans said they felt optimistic about their and their family’s future.

That, in a nutshell, sums up the “promise” of Cuba. And then there’s the “peril”:

According to the same poll cited above, more than half of Cubans said they would like to leave Cuba and go live in another country. (Of the Cubans who said they wished to expatriate, more than half said they wanted to go to the U.S.)

Of course, that’s just one survey, which, as the poll sponsors readily concede, was conducted under arduous circumstances, with challenges including infrastructural limitations, security concerns and an environment that represses political dissent.

We in the Cayman Islands, however, don’t have to rely solely on polls to gauge the opinions of Cubans. Indeed, we don’t even have to ask a single one of them. Each of the 54 Cuban migrants currently being housed in Grand Cayman’s Immigration Detention Center, as well as the hundreds of Cuban migrants who have arrived in Cayman waters in the past year and a half, might not have contributed to any opinion poll, but they for certain were “voting with their feet,” so to speak, by loading themselves onto ramshackle contrivances that could hardly be called boats, and risking their very lives to the whims and furor of the open sea, all for the distant chance of achieving what is to them a dream that could hardly be imagined, but to us in Cayman is something we take for granted — that is, personal freedom.

The Cubans we are hosting, obviously, did not think freedom is something they could expect to come to Cuba anytime soon, even with all the talks of a U.S.-Cuba thaw, so they set out to grab freedom for themselves. We at the Compass, and we would venture to say most people in Cayman, have the utmost respect for their courage and motivations, and understand their desire to escape from a country they may love, but still consider a prison.

We like to think that if our country had the means, and the space, we would welcome all such refugees with open arms and offers of opportunity. But the reality is, as a small territory of about 58,000 people, Cayman cannot possibly hope to accommodate all the thousands, or even millions, of Cubans who would seek sanctuary here if they could.

And so Cayman is stuck, able neither to provide the proper level of humanitarian assistance to people who come seeking it, nor to avoid totally the costs associated with existing in the corridor of a massive human migration.

The situation we have now — where we bid fond farewells to those Cubans whose craft appear worthy enough to carry them to their destination, and where we rescue and repatriate those Cubans whose fates would otherwise be sealed — is far less than the ideal, but perhaps remains the best we can do in this imperfect reality.



  1. What a silly fear mongering article. The Cuban freedom seekers we get here are on their way somewhere else. Once Cubans can freely travel, why would they want to come here? If anything, Cuba opening up would likely dry-up the flow of migrants we see.

  2. This article misses the basic understanding of what is motivating Cubans to flee in anything that floats.

    The wet foot, dry foot policy of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 says essentially that anyone who fled Cuba and entered the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. One foot on US soil is all that it takes to qualify for US residency.

    I suspect that the majority of Cubans fleeing Cuba now are desperately attempting to get on US soil before the relationship between the US and Cuba "normalize" and the wet foot, dry foot policy is removed.

    Their act of desperation is for US residency not one of fleeing oppression in Cuba. Every Cuban that I know loves Cuba, they are just looking for more opportunity and Cayman doesn’t offer opportunity so we are not their destination.