Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2016 — Yoandry, 29, vowed that he would
emigrate fromCuba in 2016. The best strategy was not to put all his eggs
in one basket.
Last year he sent in a form to participate in the global lottery offered
annually by the United States government. "To have an American visa is
like winning the lottery. But in the end I chose other paths," commented
Alvarez on leaving an airline reservation office.
Yoandry and his wife ruled out the maritime route. Crossing the
dangerous Straits of Florida with its unpredictably ocean currents and
sharks, is not exactly an agreeable adventure.
The couple looked at three possibility. A marathon through a South
American country and Central America, crossing frontiers led by coyotes;
paying a sum that could vary between seven and ten thousand dollars to a
corrupt Mexican immigration official, or traveling through Europe to get
to the longed-for 'American dream.'
"We didn't rule out giving ten to twelve thousand dollars to a human
trafficker with a powerful boat that goes to the Florida keys. But in a
religious consultation, the [orisha] Itá said don't go by sea. With the
closing of the borders in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, with people
stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, and the extradition agreements between
the Cuban government and Mexico, it is hard to pay through that region,"
said Yoandry, adding:
"So we chose a tourist route via Italy. It was the embassy that informed
us about tourist visas and, incredibly, we had no problems. After
filling out the various forms, we bought two tickets to Rome."
For two years now, a Cuban tourist agency had offered a nine-day package
tour to several Italian cities. It costs the equivalent of four thousand
dollars per person, with stays in two and three star hotels with
"But, and this was important for us, the embassy gave us a visa for a
month, good for the rest of the European Union countries. After the nine
days, a friend living in Germany bought us two tickets on a train to
Barcelona and from there we traveled to Madrid. Through social networks
I men Cubans who are helping me to get work under the table. Then I hope
to contact a guy who has connections with Mexican officials and get a
tourist visa to Cancun," says Yoandry, who together with his wife
traveled with 11 thousand dollars and ten boxes of cigars to sell in Spain.
Consuelo, 35, explored a longer journey. "I filled out the form for the
2017 United States visa lottery. I don't have family in that country and
it is an excellent possibility. But you have to have a lot of luck to
win a visa. And when people decide to emigrate they are desperate and
they can't wait for good luck."
In the summer of 2015, Consuelo traveled to Russia, one of the few
countries that doesn't demand a visa from Cubans. In Moscow she bought
printed fabric to resell in Havana.
"In Moscow there is a network of Cubans who take you to the cheapest
stores. I looked into the possibility of buying a trans-Siberian train
ticket that would take me to a point close to the Russian border with
Alaska. But this is heavily guarded and even in the summer terribly
cold. You have to have several strategies to leave. Now, thanks to a
religious project, I am going to Canada soon. And from there I'll hop
over the border with a single step," says Consuelo.
It is incredible how Cubans have done detailed research, created
networks and designed protocols for emigration plans with the objective
of leaving Cuba. According to some official statistics in the last 20
years 660,000 Cubans have emigrated from their country.
For Diana, a demographer, the data isn't correct. "Don't play with the
ticket list. Just for family reunification, since the 1994 migration
agreements with Bill Clinton, the US consulate in Havana has awarded at
least 20,000 visas a year, which gives us a figure of 440,000 people at
a minimum. And only in the last two years, almost 100,000 people have
gone to the United States via underground routes."
Diana believes that the real figures approach or exceed a million
people. An authentic human drama in a nation where there is no civil war
nor huge natural disasters as in Haiti.
Fermin, 41, has no one in the United States and no money for a foreign
trip. He makes a living under the table, eats poorly and drinks too much
cheap rum. With a friend, last week he was outside the US embassy in
Havana. "I paid 20 Cuban convertible pesos to one of those guys who
works filling out the paperwork. Then you wait. Luck is crazy and it can
touch anyone," he said, sitting in a Havana park.
US embassy officials in Havana clarify that the lottery program is not
exclusive to Cuba. "It awards 500 visas on the island the person doesn't
necessarily have relatives in the United States," said an official who
said he didn't know the number of Cubans signed up for the lottery.
The timeframe for the new lottery is 1 October to 7 November 2016. Like
previous lotteries it has a global character, is administered by the
Department of State and offers permanent resident visas to those
citizens who meet the simple, but strict, requirements to qualify.
The requirements for participation are simple: be born in Cuba and, at a
minimum, have a high school diploma or two years of work experience. The
candidates are chosen at random by computer draws. The registration for
the 2017 Diversity Visa is made only through the E-DV website:
www.dvlottery.state.gov. On 2 May 2017, confirmed applicants must go
back to the site and check if their application was accepted.
But, as they say, Cubans who decide to emigrate do not put all their
eggs in one basket. They try through Central America, South America,
Europe or the visa lottery. They throw themselves into the sea in a
The ultimate goal is to reach the United States.
Source: Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván
García – Translating Cuba -