Immigration as a business – DW – 11/29/2023

Cubans also join the migrant caravans, which head first to Nicaragua.Photograph: Herica Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

Most of them are men and carry only a small backpack as luggage. The check-in line at Conviasa, at Havana’s José Martí Airport, moves quickly. The flight heads directly to Managua, but Nicaragua’s capital is only a gateway to a route that will reach the southern border of the United States. Despite Washington’s recent sanctions on airline managers that profit from the Cuban migration drama, planes continue to take off from Cuba toward Nicaragua.

A few days ago, Marco de Jesus’ world collapsed. With tickets, already purchased for him and his brother from the Dominican company Air Century to fly to Managua, a brief email informed them that this connection had been cancelled. It was one of the first companies to respond to a new US visa restriction policy targeting airline owners and executives who were selling tickets at “extortive” prices to migrants from the island to reach Central America.

For the 38-year-old Havana native, the American’s penalty could not have come at a worse time. After selling his house and an electric motorcycle, he was able to raise more than $4,000, the cost of two tickets for the short trip between Havana and Managua. “We have everything ready to leave, and now we are demanding our money back,” he warns uncertainly. Although he agrees that such high prices are “abuse,” he is willing to pay that amount again or more in order to “leave this country.”

Yoani Sanchez.
Yoani Sanchez.

Daniel Ortega’s regime understood well how desperate Cubans were. With the visa exemption for island citizens, which took effect at the end of 2021, he killed two birds with one stone: part of the big gains left behind by this constant influx of migrants, and in the process, increased pressure on the US border, with a consequent increase. Domestic criticism of the immigration policy pursued by the Joe Biden administration. He filled his pockets at the urging of some and put his arch enemy from the North on the ropes.

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Other companies, such as Venezuela’s state-owned company Conviasa and the Havana system itself, have also joined in the competition to cut that pie, amid concern among thousands of people eager to leave the island at any cost. Behind the scenes, the Cuban authorities supposedly allowed and turned a blind eye to advertisements carrying supposed tourist offers to see the “volcanoes of Nicaragua,” while everyone knew that these were trips of no return. For two years, money flowed into the pockets of the three regimes. No one knows for sure how much money they made, but considering the cost of each ticket, it could be millions of dollars.

Now part of the tap has been turned off with Washington’s new sanctions, but it is only a matter of time before tricks and detours emerge to maintain these lucrative links. Marco de Jesús and his brother don’t want to admit it, but they are just playing pieces for three authoritarian regimes that are insatiable when it comes to seizing resources and for which migration is the new spearhead of their geopolitics.

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