Don't They Emigrate for Political Reasons?
Cuba can lay claim to an unparalleled record in the Americas: in proportion to its total population and its size (just 110.860 m2) it is the country that received the most immigrants in the early 20th century in the shortest period of time, and one of the three countries producing the most emigrants in the second half of the century, with this trend continuing in the most dramatic way.
What happened? In 1959 the island contracted the communist disease of Castroism, which would go on to set another world record: the longest and most devastating military dictatorship in the Americas.
This should suffice to explain why nearly two million Cubans who have emigrated since the Castro brothers seized power, and the reason for the current crisis of thousands of "overland boat people" stranded in Costa Rica, on their sojourn from Ecuador to the US. There are now almost three million Cubans or children of Cubans living abroad.
Those who have not personally languished under this dictatorship - a mix of fascism, Stalinism and Guevaraism - see the exodus of Cubans as a normal phenomenon of emigration, for economic reasons, from a less developed nation into the First World. Even many of the Cuban migrants themselves view themselves as economic refugees, with the regime in Havana endorsing this idea, of course.
But appearances do not matter, nor does the fact that today's Cuban emigrants no longer claim that they are in exile. Political factors, not economic, continue to drive this stampede, which constitutes a crime against humanity perpetrated by Castroism, as Cuba has lost and continues to lose, in a catastrophic way, the most precious economic resource a nation can boast in the modern era: its human capital.
When the totalitarian nightmare is over this will make rebuilding and redeveloping the country longer and harder.
A magnet for immigrants
Before the Castro brothers Cuba was a major magnet for immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and even the United States. It is enough to point out that when independence was declared in 1902 the country's population was 1.6 million, and from then until 1930 1.3 million immigrants moved to the island, according to statistics from the former Tax Ministry. In the last six years of that period alone 261,587 immigrants arrived, for an average of 43.597 people per year.
In those 28 years leading up to 1930, the influx of immigrants was led by 774.123 Spaniards. They were followed by 190.046 Haitians, and 120.046 Jamaicans, mostly to work on the sugar plantations and in the sugar industry, as in that period Cuba became the world's sugar factory. In 1919 the island had a population of 2,8 million, according to that year's census. That is, its population almost doubled in 17 years.
The list of immigrants during those 28 years was rounded out by a total of 34.462 Americans, 19.769 British, 13.930 Puerto Ricans, 12.926 Chinese, 10.428 Italians, 10.305 Syrians, 8.895 Poles, 6,632 Turks, 6.222 French, 4.850 Russians, 3.726 Germans and 3.569 Greeks. They all came as part of the economic boom taking place on the island, whether as investors, businesspeople, professionals or employees.
In 1925, with 181 major factories, Cuba produced 5,1 million tons of sugar (three times as much as in 2015), establishing itself as the world's largest sugar producer and exporter. The population grew rapidly, and in 1931 the island had some 3.9 million inhabitants, up 1,1 million in just 12 years. Between 1940 and 1950 Cuba exported 50% of all sugar marketed in the world.
Big growth rate
In addition, and very significantly, the capital invested was increasingly Cuban. In 1939 56 sugar mills on the island were owned by Cubans, producing 22% of the country's sugar, and by 1958 there were 121 owned by Cubans, producing two thirds of Cuban sugar.
The sugar boom bolstered other industries and the entire national economy. More immigrants continued to reach Cuba, of the nationalities mentioned above, along with Lebanese, Palestinians, Jews, Romanians, Hungarians, Filipinos and Mexicans (especially from the Yucatan), etc. In 1958 there were 12,000 applications at the Cuban embassy in Rome from Italians eager to emigrate to the island
Beginning in the late 40s and during the 50s foreign and domestic investment in the island soared. At the end of the decade Cuba had 59 commercial, savings and investment banks, with close to 300 branches, constituting a record for a small country during that era.
In the last 12 years of the "bourgeois" republic major factories spanning various industries were built, including mining (nickel extraction) and oil refineries, in addition to housing, theaters, cinemas, restaurants, bridges, avenues and highways, including the North Highway and the South Highway, the Monumental Highway, the Via Blanca, the Via Mulata and the "Noon Highway," among others, along with modern hospitals and clinics.
In Havana hotels went up, and dozens of high-rise residential buildings, including the monumental Focsa and the Someillán (the tallest in the Caribbean) for offices and businesses, and the Havana Bay tunnel was constructed, along with another two tunnels under the Almendares River, in addition to the impressive buildings on the Plaza Cívica and the "Sport City," with its Colosseum. By this point the city was the Latin American capital with the most cinemas.
Boasting 160.000 cars, Cuba was the Spanish-speaking country with the most vehicles (one for every 39 inhabitants). It also ranked first in home appliances and railway lines per square km. It exported more than it imported, and was one of the three most solvent Latin American economies thanks to its gold and currency reserves, and the stability of the peso, on a par with the dollar. In 1958 per capita income in Cuba doubled that of Spain and equaled that of Italy, according to UN data.
Such was the nation the Castros appropriated. One does wonder: had that formidable pace of economic growth not been disrupted, what level of development would Cuba enjoy today?
From nostalgia to oblivion
Revealing the difference between Cuba before and after the Castro regime is the fact that the first waves of emigrants went away sad. They harbored fond memories and nostalgia of having lived, before 1959, in a country that was on the rise, with its strengths and weaknesses, but with economic freedom, even under Batista's repressive military dictatorship. Many of those who emigrated afterwards, in contrast, especially over the last 25 years, particularly the youngest, usually have nothing but bitter memories of a pathologically repressive regime and an impoverished and dilapidated country that, far from missing, they just want to forget.
2.360 years ago, in his work Politika (from the Greek word polis, designating that which is public) Aristotle defined politics as the exercise of power to rule and achieve certain objectives, based on an ideology.
Castroism is grounded in a totalitarian ideology that stifles productive forces. The State owns everything and is to blame for there not being enough well-paid jobs. The ruling military junta, intrinsically repressive, prevents the country's citizens from using their talents to progress in life.
So, isn´t Cuban emigration really political?