Migrations in Cuba: persinting trends and changes
||Rolando García Quiñones
Director del Centro de Estudios Demográficos (CEDEM), Cuba
During the last four decades
international migration in Cuba has been characterized by its singular social, economic
and geopolitical causes, which continue to be latent. The beginning of the Revolution
changed the reasons for migration, which began to reflect political factors related to the
conflict with the U.S. and economic factors derived from such conflict (for example, the
embargo) and from the evolution of the revolutionary process, within a context of social
justice, which has confronted enormous financial difficulties, a frail productive support
system and limited resources and consumer goods.
Ever since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 the balance of external migrations has
remained negative, registering some surges during times of greater conflict in political
relations between Cuba and the U.S., and more critical economic situations.
A number of migration flows' stages or cycles can be differentiated in terms of volume and
1) The flow of emigrants following the triumph of the Revolution (1959-1962). These
emigrants define themselves as "exiles". The issue of migrations begins to
acquire ideological and political connotations within the framework of the Cuba-U.S.
conflict, a process that is complemented by the establishment of the embargo. At the
beginning of the 1960s the U.S. establishes the Cuban Refugees Program and uses the
problem of migration as a hostile tool against the Cuban Revolution.
From the perspective of Cuba, migration policies acquire a defensive, restrictive and
excluding character and emigration is viewed as "the abandonment of the
homeland", often labeled as "migration without return" or "definitive
2) A wave of emigrants from 1965 to the first years of the 1970's. The 1966 "Cuban
Adjustment Law" grants Cuban immigrants to the USA the status of 'political refugee',
and comparatively preferential treatment. 4
Following the 1962 October Crisis (or "Missile Crisis") the possibility of
leaving Cuba to enter the U.S. was suspended and the 'pressure cooker' theory, aimed at
internally destabilizing the island, led to Cuba's decision to allow the emigration of
large numbers of people through the Camarioca harbor (1966-1971).
3) Migration flows since 1980, from the harbor of Mariel ("Los Marielitos").
4) The so-called "Boat People Crisis" of 1994, which led to a revision of the
migration problem by both countries and the beginning of conversations on this issue that
culminated in the 1994 Migration Agreements and their 1995 complementary agreements. These
agreements are aimed at eliminating, or at least reducing, illegal migration, even though
they do not remove the preferences for Cuban migrants.
Thus, every migration wave has been conditioned by multiple factors, such as the
"temperature" of the conflict between both countries, the preferential treatment
granted by U.S. policies to Cuban immigrants, the political pressure exerted by Cuban
exiles and, obviously, Cuba's internal economic and social situation.
According to some sources between 1959 and 1999, 1,079,000 Cubans migrated to different
countries. Today, the total Cuban population residing abroad is estimated to be above
1,400,000 people. The U.S. 1990 census registered 1,043,932 people of Cuban origin, while
in the 2000 census that number totalled 1,241,685, 48.4% men and 51.6% women. Cubans
represent 0.4% of the U.S. population and 4.0% of the Hispanic population living in the
law modifies the immigration status of all Cubans inspected and accepted by the US
Immigration and Naturalization Services, to enable them to obtain residence status one
year and one day after arriving in the U.S.