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Immigration Incoherence: Havana keeps pouring the whine, Miami keeps fermenting it

Cuban migrants on a sinking vessel
U.S. Coast Guard
Cuban migrants on a sinking vessel found by the U.S. Coast Guard off Key Largo, Florida, in February.

COMMENTARY Cuba blames the U.S. embargo for immigration surges but gives no reason to lift it. The U.S. faults Cuba but gives it the embargo to scapegoat.

More red whine is being poured out of communist Cuba this week — and this time Deputy Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal is the whinemaker.

Before a Thursday sit-down in Washington between U.S. and Cuba officials to discuss the most serious surge of Cuban migration to the U.S. this century, Vidal griped that if only the U.S. lifted its financial sanctions against the island’s repressive regime, the enormous Cuban sea and land exodus would end.

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“There is a differentiated and incoherent approach by the United States to the migratory issue,” Vidal groused. While the U.S. is helping other Latin American countries “reactivate their economies,” she whinged, Washington continues its “coercive measures” on Cuba’s “economic order.”

I’ll give you a second to stop chuckling at Vidal’s use of “economic order” to describe Cuba’s Marxist catastrophe — which is caused much more by the regime’s dunderheaded dogmatism than by the U.S.’s trade embargo. I, too, think the failed, six-decade-old embargo should be lifted. But let’s say the U.S. could actually be persuaded to scrap it — and then let’s ask what Cuba is doing to persuade los yanquis.

Nada. In fact, Cuba recently has gone out of its way to dig a deeper embargo hole for itself. How else can you put it when the regime hands out prison sentences as long as 20 years to teenagers simply for having taken part in anti-government protests last summer?

READ MORE: Yes, cruise lines screwed up in Cuba, But engagement built up Cubans' sense of control

It would be laughable if it weren’t so deplorable to hear Cuba red-whine about the embargo while handing the U.S. every excuse to keep it in place. More laughable and deplorable, even, than watching Cuba morally contort itself making excuses for Russia’s homicidal invasion of Ukraine after decades of decrying U.S. intervention in Latin America.

Following Vidal’s logic, the U.S. is supposed to loosen the Cuba screws simply because the Biden Administration is helping other countries in Cuba’s barrio, like Honduras, improve the dystopian conditions that make them explosive sources of irregular immigration, too. It’s an argument worth considering. And debunking.

I, too, think the failed, six-decade-old embargo should be lifted. But let’s say the U.S. could actually be persuaded to lift it; then let’s ask what Cuba is doing to persuade los yanquis. Nada.

You’ll find no more disgusted critic of the right-wing cabal that ran Honduras for the past dozen years — former President Juan Orlando Hernández and his thuggish National Party — than I was. I worried that funneling billions of dollars of U.S. development aid into Honduras while Hernández was still president — and while we maintained an embargo on Cuba — left Washington open to the kind of double-standard accusation Vidal is leveling this week.

But you’ll notice I just wrote words like “former” and “was.” For all Honduras' benighted flaws, voters were able to kick the National Party out of power last fall. Soon after Hernández left office in January, Honduras' judiciary approved his long-awaited extradition to the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges.


The point being: even in Honduras there are institutional doors open to reforming its hellish political and economic set-up. Those doors may look more like tight mail slots; but compared to Cuba’s they’re swinging barn doors.

So yes, there is a “differentiated” approach: Honduras offers at least a dull glimmer of hope for change; Cuba offers only the dull thud of dictatorial intransigence — which is never going to soften U.S. embargo intransigence, no matter how many Cuban balseros wash up on the Florida shore or migrantes walk up to the Texas border.

Cuban migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border at Texas.
Christian Torres
Cuban migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border at Texas.

And the fact that the Cuban regime ignores that fact only heightens suspicions that there’s no bigger fan of the embargo than the Cuban regime itself — because it gives Cuba’s communists an all too convenient scapegoat for their island's own hellish reality.

Then again, that raises the question: why does the U.S. — at the insistence of exiles in Miami — keep gifting Cuba that goat? Why does it keep fermenting Havana’s whine?

More important: why does it keep letting the embargo add another layer of misery to the one the regime has already slammed on Cubans? Or rather: why can’t America find a way to overhaul the embargo that keeps its hurt on a culpable regime but off a blameless people? The people fleeing in another desperate, rickety-raft wave to the U.S.

None of this of course will be resolved when U.S. and Cuban officials meet on Thursday. U.S.-Cuba relations, to put it in Vidal’s whine-speak, are much too incoherent for that.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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