Thursday, April 21, 2022

US and Cuban officials hold talks amid tensions over migration. Will Havana again be rewarded for weaponizing migration?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

Cuban migrants forced back to Mexico by U.S. - Los Angeles Times

Original: CubaBrief

During President Obama's detente with General Raul Castro between 2014 and 2016 over 120,000 Cubans entered the United States in another migration surge comparable to Mariel. This was at a time of loosened sanctions, and under an Administration seeking normalized relations that provided an influx of international credits to the Castro regime. 

Secondly, tougher sanctions began to be put in place in 2017, but migration from Cuba during the Trump Administration returned to the lower pre-normalization levels of 2011

President Biden, during his 2020 campaign, promised a return to the Obama Cuba policy, and engagement by an Administration that, unlike his predecessor, would act rationally.

Cuban migration began to rise during the early days of the Biden Administration and was drawing press scrutiny in April 2021. In mid July 2021, Senator Marco Rubio warned of a Mariel-style crisis after the 11J protests in Cuba.

The Afghanistan pullout completed on August 30, 2021, and signaling Putin that he could make a minor incursion into Ukraine without serious repercussions, in early 2022 may have all sent a green light to Havana that they could further intensify the migration crisis with the belief that they could leverage additional concessions from the Biden Administration

The influx dramatically increased with Cubans traveling through Nicaragua in the last month of 2021.  In late November 2021, days after the United States condemned Cuban-ally Daniel Ortega for stealing the Nicaraguan presidential election on November 7, 2021, Managua lifted visa requirements on Cubans entering the country, creating a new and larger channel for an exodus. 

Havana's tactic against Washington is explained in Professor Kelly M. Greenhill's 2002 paper, "Engineered Migration and the Use of Refugees as Political Weapons: A Case Study of the 1994 Cuban Balseros Crisis." (Please let us know if you need a copy.)

Castro regime actions over the past 63 years demonstrate that Havana uses migration as a weapon and has the capability to open migration up or shut it down depending on foreign policy goals and the perceived risk that a hawkish administration may call their bluff or pursue some sort of action that would endanger the regime's future, or negatively impact the dictatorship internationally. Economic conditions and sanctions are not the determining factors in generating a migration crisis. It is the ability to obtain unilateral concessions from the United States without incurring a negative response.

Will Havana again be rewarded for weaponizing migration? They claim that the talk was focused on migration and not part of any broader thaw. Time will tell. Message to policy makers: Loosening sanctions is not the answer. Its been tried and failed three times. The fourth time won't be the charm.

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