Migration policy and the Cuban embargo: cognitive dissonance reigns supreme


Roger R. Betancourt, on the blog Democracy, Development and Institutions


Embargos are restrictions on the flows of persons, goods and services and capital across countries, e.g., see Betancourt (ASCE Papers and Proceedings, 2014) for a detailed discussion of the topic as well as of the specifics of Cuba’ example.


In this posting I will identify major logical inconsistencies in the position of both supporters and opponents of the Cuban embargo on both sides of Florida’s Keys. These inconsistencies result from ignoring that restrictions on the flows of persons were as much a part of the original Cuban embargo as those on the flows of goods and services and flows of capital.


Logical Inconsistency # 1.


The Migration Accord of 1994, revised in 1995, between Cuba and the United States requires a minimum of 20,000 Cubans to come into the US as legal permanent residents every year. If the US has met this minimum obligation agreed upon by the Cuban government there are 400,000 Cubans in the USA already as a result of this Accord, which is still in effect.


Some perspective is provided by the fact that in 2006, for instance, the minimum of Cubans permanent immigrants allowed by the Accord on a per capita basis was 0.18 and the total admitted from Cuba as permanent immigrants was 0.42. The total on a per capita basis that came in from Mexico in 2006 was 0.17. Thus, in 2006 the Migration Accord required the US to take in more permanent immigrants per capita from unfriendly Cuba by this mechanism than the total per capita actually admitted from friendly Mexico. On this dimension the Mexican government should be asking the American one for an embargo!


Embargo supporters fail to mention that in the last 20 years this aspect of the embargo has been lifted. Embargo opponents make no victory claim about the lifting of this aspect of the embargo. Indeed, some of the latter keep insisting on calling the embargo a blockade despite this dimension having been unblocked with the Cuban government’s active approval for 20 years.


Logical Inconsistency # 2.


President Obama’s relaxation of restrictions on travel and remittances by Cuban-Americans and on people to people programs for everyone else represent a substantial lifting of the embargo with respect to person flows and capital flows.


Some perspective on this issue is provided by the Havana Consulting Group (August 21 2014), which points out that the number of US travelers has grown from about 245K in 2007 to 600K in 2013. Furthermore, in the first semester of 2014 the number of US travelers has been about 327K, which represents a 10% increase over the first half of 2013 and compares favorably to the 4.3% increase by Canadian travelers over the same period.


No acknowledgement or recognition of this lifting of the embargo by opponents of the embargo in the US or Cuba has taken place. Is this a refusal to accept victory? Similarly, no widespread condemnation of these events by supporters of the embargo in Cuba or the US has taken place. Is this a refusal to admit defeat?


Logical Inconsistency # 3.


The Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, amended in 1976, allows any person of Cuban origin to apply for permanent residency in the US after having been in the country for one year, regardless of how they got into the US. Cuba’s Migration Law, which was made effective in January of 2013, allows Cuban citizens to leave the country for two years without losing any privileges as a citizen, including their property. It reduced onerous exit visa requirements to the obtaining of a passport at a cost of about $100. US response to this law in August of 2013 has been to grant five year tourist visas to Cubans that apply successfully to the US Interests Section in Cuba.


Some perspective on this issue is provided by an article in the Havana Times (W. Cancio, April 22 2014). In fiscal 2013 (October 1 2012- September 30 2013) the US Interests Section in Cuba issued 32,254 non-immigrant visas, which represented slightly more than a 100% increase over the 15, 987 in fiscal 2012. Parenthetically, in fiscal 2013 this source reports that the number of permanent migrant visas issued by the Interests Section was 24,727, which is well above the minimum under the Accord discussed in Logical Inconsistency #1 above. In the first half of fiscal year 2014 (October 2013- March 2014) 19,500 non-immigrant visas have been issued by the US Interests Section.


Interestingly, many opponents of the embargo, and especially the Cuban government, have failed to acknowledge the flexibility (some would say generosity) of five year visas with multiple entries. Yet, they have attacked the Cuban Adjustment Act as an attempt to provide incentives for a ‘brain drain’ from Cuba. Meanwhile, supporters of the embargo have not complained about the Cuban Adjustment Act or the generosity of a non-immigrant visa policy which allows Cubans entering with these visas to apply for permanent residency after a year under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Citizens of the major immigrant countries to the US in absolute terms such as the Chinese, the Indians and the Filipinos would love to be Cubans in this regard, not to mention everybody else ranging from Haitians to the special relation Brits!


Perhaps the easiest way to reconcile these inconsistencies between US migration policy and the Cuban embargo is by differentiating between US policy toward the Cuban people and US policy toward the Cuban government. The Cuban Adjustment Act was a policy with respect to migration designed to benefit Cuban persons who migrated to the US by accommodating the primarily political refugees who came in the 1960’s. The Migration Accord was a migration policy designed to accommodate the primarily economic refugees among the Cuban people who wanted to migrate to the US after 1990. President Obama’s lifting of travel restrictions and restrictions on remittances by Cuban Americans are part of a discretionary migration policy softening the impact of separation on Cuban migrants of both types and accommodating their desire to help economically friends and relatives left behind. This desire is common to all migrants regardless of nationality. Inconsistencies between US migration policy and the Cuban embargo arise as a result of two institutional factors in the functioning of the US government: embargoes have been used as a foreign policy tool by US governments since Thomas Jefferson in 1809; in the US formal laws and treaties have a high degree of inertia, which is perhaps increasing due to the polarization of the political process.



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