Experts, activist weigh in on ‘staggering’ Cuban migration crisis

Attorney: ‘We’re not prepared for a rafter crisis’

MIAMI – Amid an onslaught of migrant landings to start 2023, the Cuban exodus has reached crisis proportions, experts and officials say, and it’s showing no signs of abating.

Hundreds of Cuban migrants have landed in the Florida Keys over the past several days, forcing the unprecedented closure of Dry Tortugas National Park.

Miami immigration attorney Willy Allen, an expert on Cuban migration, calls the scale of migration “staggering.”

Another expert says it’s an exodus of record proportions.

“We’re witnessing right now the largest single wave of Cuban migrants in the history of Cuban migration, even before the revolution,” Florida International University Professor Jorge Duany, an expert on Cuba, said Wednesday.

Close to 300,000 Cubans have reached the United States, mainly through the southern border, since October of 2021. That doesn’t include the close to 8,000 Cubans intercepted at sea during the same time frame.

“That’s a depopulation of the island,” Allen said.

In fact, an estimated 2% of the island’s population has left in this latest exodus.

They’re departing a country in deep economic turmoil, which experts say fueled mass protests in 2019, followed by the pandemic, Trump-era sanctions and an inefficient, state-run, centralized economy.

“All of this is the perfect storm to create the kind of pressure that leads hundreds of thousands of people to leave Cuba in a couple years,” Duany said.

Orlando Gutierrez, with the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, said Cubans are “fleeing from repression” and “fleeing from the collapse of the Cuban economy through the mismanagement of the Communist Party.”

Gutierrez, Allen and Duany all agree: the Cuban government is allowing the exodus as a way to pressure the U.S. government into changing its policy towards the island.

It’s happened before, with the 1980 Mariel Boatlift and the 1994 rafter crisis as two examples.

“The only way to stop this massive exodus is for conditions in Cuba to change and for there to be freedom politically, economically, socially and culturally,” Gutierrez said.

Allen describes Cuba as a collapsed society, with ramifications stretching to South Florida.

“It worries me that we’re not prepared for a rafter crisis in Cuba,” he said.

About the Author:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.