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August 10, 2007

Cuban Escapees: Why Florida?

D2 makes an interesting point in a comment here. So, if Cuba is so uniquely awful (not that I think it is, there are places worse: N. Korea and currently Zimbabwe come to mind) why is that all the refugees seem to aim for Florida, not Jamaica or the Dominican Republic?

I've always wondered why there are no (like almost literally zero) Cuban refugees in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic (which are at least as close to the eastern end of Cuba as Florida is to the western end), and suspected that this lends support to the economic migrant theory. Vietnamese boat people scattered all over the South China Sea looking for refuge, rather than making a bee-line uniquely toward Hong Kong.

So I thought I would try to find out why this was so. I think I have:


Those escapees are not over endowed with motor transport and so, when they strap a plank to their backs, sit on an inner tube or build a small raft then they are relying upon the ocean currents to take them somewhere, anywhere. Now I agree that my geography is not the very best but that would seem to imply that if you do that, you're going to get to the US, the Bahamas or the Turks and Caicos islands.


More than one-hundred Cubans at refugee camp in the Bahamas have begun a hunger strike to protest against living conditions and to demand visas to third countries.

So they do end up there as well. Just to show that neither my nor D2's theory is perfect:

More than two dozen Cuban refugees were picked up by a cruise ship off the coast of Jamaica, the Houston Chronicle reported Monday.

  The same Carnival cruise ship picked up 22 Cubans headed for the United States near Cancun, Mexico, late last month.

Perhaps this thing about currents isn't a 100% thing: or perhaps the escapees do indeed try to get to places like Jamaica? Or even, as the US is the only place that will actually allow such people in, it makes sense to try for the US, the current helping matters, but that it doesn't always quite work?

There is another view possible, of course:

The myth of the refugees was forged to support the counter-revolutionary interest of discrediting the Cuban socialist model and was strengthened by the application of strategies aimed at straining US-Cuba relations.

Finally, I'm not really all that impressed with the idea that "they're only economic migrants" as an explanation. I've been an economic migrant, moving from the UK, to Russia, to the US and now in Portugal as a way of bettering either my income or lifestyle. D2 has been one, descending from some hill farm in Wales to the civilization of the City. It's not just that it seems a little odd to dismiss others for doing what we have already done: we most certainly did not risk drowning, being eaten by sharks nor imprisonment if caught in order to do so. I agree that D2 had to move out of the comfort zone of the 15th century, but still not at any great personal risk. That people are risking these dangers rather seems to say something about Cuba, don't you think?

August 10, 2007 in Travel | Permalink


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Of course they are economic migrants, why should there be any stigma attached to that term? I moved from West Yorks to London via Munich for much the same reasons.

Economics is about more than money, but by all accounts Cubans are bitterly poor and US Americans do pretty well for themselves.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Aug 10, 2007 10:19:09 AM

The more obvious explanation for why they usually go to the US rather than Jamaica or the Dominican Republic is that Cuba has not banned atlases yet and on a raft with no navigation system you are quite likely to miss your destination.

Aiming for a tiny island like Jamaica is clearly a lot more risky than aiming for a huge continent like North America. If you miss your target in the USA then you will still land somewhere else in the US. On the other hand in you miss one of the islands near Cuba you will find yourself in the middle of the Atlantic or the Caribbean.

Posted by: Ross | Aug 10, 2007 11:11:35 AM

[Those escapees are not over endowed with motor transport ]

? yes they are. The majority of Cuban refugees in Florida show up on fishing boats or similar. The point I was making is that they're simply not like Vietnamese boat people, who genuinely were fleeing a nightmare totalitarian state. Cuba just isn't like 1970s Vietnam.

Tim adds: "The majority of Cuban refugees in Florida show up on fishing boats or similar."

Any references for that?

Posted by: dsquared | Aug 10, 2007 11:12:12 AM

Surely they go to Florida because that's where a large Cuban exile community got started.

And why would anyone in that position choose to go to another poor, small country like Jamaica or the Dominican Republic when they can go to the a rich, teeming society like the US?

Posted by: Smidgeon | Aug 10, 2007 11:29:49 AM

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0818/p02s01-woam.html , for example.

The Cuban-American community likes to build up the myth of the brave independent raft people (and there certainly are some of these), but in actual fact the majority of Cubans who get to the USA get there the sensible way; by paying a people-smuggler.

I've got nothing against economic migrants btw; only against people who try to use them to make a political point (and who in doing so effectively belittle the genuine hero refugees from communism in Berlin and Vietnam).

Posted by: dsquared | Aug 10, 2007 12:19:43 PM

As a matter of fact there are Cuban exile communities all over Spanish America.

Posted by: Peter Spence | Aug 10, 2007 1:41:06 PM

Ah, now I understand. If you pay a people-smuggler to get you out of a country rather than getting out on a life-raft then it isn't a tyrannical shit-hole after all.

Posted by: Smidgeon | Aug 10, 2007 7:39:21 PM