Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 19th 2017 Contents JANUARY 19 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG19
The end of 'wet foot-dry foot'
Tomas Regalado, the Mayor of
Miami---long a hot bed for Cu-
ban exiles---has described as a
"parting gift" the decision of
the waning Obama adminis-
tration to end the US wet foot-
dry foot policy toward Cubans seeking entry to
the US. The question is: a parting gift to whom?
President Obama announced the decision
on January 11 in a three-paragraph statement
on Cuban Immigration Policy.
Regalado believes the decision is a part-
ing gift to Raul Castro, the Cuban President,
with whom Barack Obama worked last year to
establish diplomatic relations between their
two countries after more than five decades of
tension and hostility.
But, in reality, the decision is more a part-
ing gift to the United States; one in keeping
with the policies on immigration that Presi-
dent-elect Donald Trump pledged, during the
presidential election campaign, to put in place.
The gift to the US is that it will no longer be
taking in, without question, any number or
type of Cubans who manage to land on US soil.
Over the years since 1995, when President
Bill Clinton put the "wet foot-dry" policy in
place, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have
jumped into in anything that could float in or-
der to reach US shores in the certainty that once
they got there, they would become US citizens
within a year. That persistent migration of a
large numbers of people has put a strain on
the US to absorb them.
The strain was worse before Clinton estab-
lished the policy.
Prior to 1995, Cubans on boats at sea were
picked-up by American vessels and carried
to the US where they were immediately given
In the previous year, over 35,000 Cubans
were taken off rafts and brought to US shores.
It was in response to that strain that Clinton
introduced the policy that stopped automatic
entry for Cubans who did not actually reach
In four years since October 2012, more than
118,000 Cubans landed at ports of entry along
the US border.
During the 2016 budget year, which end-
ed in September, Homeland Security reports
that more than 41,500 people came through
the southern border. Another 7,000-people
arrived between October and November.
And, it is not the US alone for whom this
migration caused problems. In recent months
Cubans trying to get to the US have travelled
through at least eight countries: Ecuador,
Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua,
Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
These countries have been under pressure
to handle the migrants gathered at their bor-
ders. If the decision to end the "wet foot-dry
foot" policy is a "parting gift" by Obama, it is
far more a gift to the US and the beleaguered
countries struggling to cope with the migrants
than it is to Raul Castro.
The US will no longer have to deal with the
arrival of unpredictable numbers of Cuban im-
migrants who turn up with full entitlement to
the benefits of residence and citizenship paid
for by US taxpayers.
In the case of Castro, his government will
now have to manage a population whose needs
have to be satisfied. The ease on the govern-
ment's resources that was provided by those
who left for the US is no more. This is hardly a
parting gift to Castro; it is more in the nature
of a poisoned chalice.
It is true that the Cuban government has
complained repeatedly that the policy has en-
couraged gifted professionals to leave, depriv-
ing the country of their skills, but is also true
that many who left were unskilled labourers.
More tellingly for the Castro government
is that the end of the policy will remove the
embarrassment of people risking their lives
to leave Cuba; a blot on the reputation of the
government which rightly boasts that it has
an enviable record in education and health.
Not surprisingly, simultaneously with
President Obama's announcement, the Cu-
ban government also proclaimed the policy
change calling it "an important step" in re-
solving illegal migration and bringing to an end
"special treatment" for those fleeing illegally.
Cuban detractors in the US---more particu-
larly the Cuban-American community---claim
that Cubans seek to flee Cuba because of po-
litical oppression and persecution. In fact,
while that claim might apply to some polit-
ically active persons, the reality is that, like
many other refugees from around the world,
Cubans have been leaving to find better eco-
And, the US has offered itself as a magnet
for such opportunities ever since it started the
economic embargo on Cuba. Indeed, had it not
been for the five-decade long embargo, Cuba
might have been better developed today and
its economy much stronger.
With a stronger economy---integrated into
the global network and having to respond to
the demands of liberalisation and competi-
tion---the tight political hold on the country
might have loosened.
In any event, the end of the policy is a further
step in the normalisation of relations between
the US and Cuba. That is a good thing for both
countries, notwithstanding the anger and ran-
cour that will be loudly vocalised in the com-
ing days and weeks by the Cuban-American
It is also a good thing for the Caribbean re-
gion which would benefit from the easing of
tension between the US and Cuba and the eco-
nomic opportunities that could flow from it.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
Ambassador to the United States and the OAS.
He is also a senior fellow at the Institute of
Commonwealth Studies, University of London
and at Massey College in the University of
Toronto. The views expressed are his own)
Parting gift for whom?
Links Archive January 18th 2017 January 20th 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page