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The “free visa” for Cubans who wish to enter Nicaragua has unleashed one of the largest exoduses of migrants from the Caribbean country to the United States. The arrival of islanders increased exponentially in December 2021, just one month after this came into force. measure, by registering the entry of 6,178 Cubans, while the monthly average prior to that date did not exceed 200.

From January to May 2022, the United States Customs and Border Protection Office reports 119,681 apprehensions of Cubans, a figure that more than doubles the total number of arrests recorded in fiscal year 2021. The economic and humanitarian crisis, and political persecution, as a consequence of the social outbreak of July 11, 2021, are propitiating a new massive migration of Cubans.

In this scenario, Nicaragua has become “the key to escape from prison,” says Alejandro Mena, a Cuban who left his country in February 2022, and used Nicaragua as a springboard to reach the United States. For the migrant, “Many young people in Cuba see their country as a gigantic prison.”

“I left Cuba because of political persecution,” says Mena, who was a member of the Archipelago movement, an organization that called for protests in November of last year.

Cuban David Domínguez took a flight from Havana to Managua, to venture on his journey to the United States, because the situation in Cuba “is very difficult.”

“In other countries people have dreams: I want to be a doctor, a police officer, a firefighter. Not in Cuba, the dreams of Cubans is to leave Cuba, and after they leave Cuba, to do whatever one wants”, he laments.

Country on the run: “We are going to Nicaragua”

The Cuban migration crisis has had many stories. The islanders have even traveled to Russia and crossed the Bering Strait to reach the US, says the journalist.

If people want to emigrate, they find any little hole where they can get into. And this one that Nicaragua opened, is something that has really favored that emigration.

The “free visa” for Cubans in Nicaragua is not the reason that has caused this new migratory wave, but it has facilitated it. What has caused this migratory flow is the internal situation of the country, which economically is totally fractured.

Cubans gather on social networks to investigate, plan and support each other on their journey to the US, through Nicaragua. Tickets from Havana to Managua are offered on social networks, at prices ranging between 2,500 and 4,500 dollars. In schools and neighborhoods, everyone talks about “going to Nicaragua.”

Experts on relations between the United States and Cuba consider that the free visa is an escape valve for the Cuban regime after the social outbreak, and a measure of pressure for the US Administration. However, the Cuban and Nicaraguan dictatorships remain silent about the mass exodus of the islanders.

Escobar quotes a Nicaraguan official, who gave an almost burlesque explanation when asked why Cubans traveled en masse to Nicaragua, and she replied that “in Nicaragua there are very beautiful volcanoes and Cubans want to get to know the volcanoes.”

“This is a joke in bad taste. I do not know any Cuban who spends his little economic resources to travel to Nicaragua to take a nature tour”, she questions.

Mena and Domínguez remember that on their flights to Managua, “no one went to see the volcanoes.” Everyone on the plane wondered in a low voice: “How much will your coyote charge you? Which route will you go by?” They were the talking points of US-bound islanders.

Trampoline from Managua to the border with Honduras

After landing at the Managua International Airport, the direct destinations for Cubans are the Mayoreo market, or one of the many hostels that house hundreds of Cubans in transit. There are many hostels “distributed throughout Managua”, where taxi drivers arrive at all hours to take them to the bus terminal that will take them to the city of Ocotal, and then to Jalapa, to cross into Honduras.

“They are sent as a springboard between the airport and the border with Honduras. It was amazing. There they went to look for Cubans at two in the morning, at four in the morning. He came to pick me up at 6:30 in the morning,” recalls Mena.

Mena and Domínguez had never left Cuba. Leaving their country has meant for both to recognize even more the dimension of the humanitarian and economic crisis of the Caribbean island.

“(The store) Walmart that upon arrival (in Managua), impacted me so much. See so much merchandise, so much food. I left there crying, especially when I went through the part of the jams and said: ‘how is this possible!’. In Cuba, my children can’t even eat chocolate with money,” says Mena.

Nicaragua became an attractive destination for Cubans in 2019, when the Nicaraguan dictatorship relaxed the immigration requirements for tourist visas. That year, 44,829 Cubans traveled to Nicaragua, 64 times more than the previous year, when only 701 arrived. to the island merchandise to sell.

In 2022, Cubans have only one destiny: to cross into the United States, where Nicaragua is only the first step in a long and dangerous journey that Cubans travel along with thousands of Nicaraguans and other Central Americans.

The statistics of the people who travel to Nicaragua are not published. There are calculations, but really neither the Cuban dictatorship nor the Nicaraguan regime have been kind enough to give reliable data. The cases of Cubans who travel to Nicaragua and return to Cuba are very rare.

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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