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Cuban migrants arriving in Mexico. (INM)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 3 August 2017 — Fewer than 42,000 Cubans have emigrated since 2013 according to official statistics published in Havana. However, US officials say they have welcomed more than 141,528 Cubans during the same period. The enormous discrepancy between these data is explained by the lack of transparency of the Cuban Government, which conceals the magnitude of migratory movements by counting them in the general category of citizens traveling abroad.

“Cubans do not migrate in great numbers, but they travel more and more,” said Ernesto Soberón Guzman, an official with the Foreign Ministry. In 2016, 723,844 Cubans went abroad, according to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI).

Cuban Immigration. Sources: Cuban government and US Homeland Security. Orange line: Cuban emigrants admitted to the United States (US figures). Grey line: Cuban emigrants (Cuban figures)

If tens of thousands of Cubans who left the country do not appear as emigrants, it is because many of them return before the end of the two-year term that marks the end of their rights as residents on the island, explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta.

“Others have decided to undertake the process known as repatriation, which allows them to regain their residence in Cuba and stay abroad,” adds Acosta.

Cuban law considers that those who remain abroad “continuously for a term longer than 24 months and without the appropriate authorization,” to no longer be citizens.

Those repatriated are counted in the official statistics as resident in the country, although in reality they live abroad. The same thing happens with those who return before the expiration of the 24-month period of a stay abroad.

This management of the figures shows a sudden decrease in emigration. Prior to the 2013 reform, more than 45,000 people left, but in 2014, for the first time in over half a century, ONEI says that more people returned to Cuba than left.

Number of trips abroad by Cubans (Source, Cuban government)

These figures contradict the figures published by the United States, which registered the entry of 141,528 immigrants from Cuba since 2013, not including rafters, while the ONEI only reported a general total of 41,935 émigrés during the same four years.

In addition, the figures from Havana include all Cubans who leave the country permanently, whatever their destination. Ecuador, which was also a popular destination for Cuban emigration, received 33,700 people from the island since 2013. And in the same period Spain registered more than 15,000 new residents who were born in Cuba. That is, the sum of Cuban immigrants in Ecuador and Spain, not including the US, which is the primary destination of Cubans, exceeds the total number of migrants counted by Cuba’s ONEI.

Residents in Spain born in Cuba according to the National Institute of Statistics. Historical series since 2010. (INE)

Elaine Acosta, the sociologist, believes that both segments (the emigrants who maintain their Cuban residence and the returnees) have significantly increased the number of trips abroad from the island, as in the last five years almost half a million have gone abroad.

On the other hand, returnees were only about 14,000, according to the ONEI. This category implies that the citizen recovers his or her rights on the island, among which include participating in the electoral process, receiving free care in the national health system, being able to own property, and the coveted permit to pay import duties once a year in Cuban pesos (CUP) – versus in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), worth 25 times more.

“The quality of migration statistics leaves much to be desired because they respond to an ideology and there are no studies to break down the figures,” explains the sociologist, who regrets that the ONEI figures do not say how many Cubans who travel abroad have another nationality or residence. Another shortcoming noted by the specialist is that only the number of departures is counted, not the number of individuals who have traveled abroad.

For the sociologist, based in Miami, the national press uses the official figures to “depoliticize” the causes of the exodus. “This is an instrumental use of emigration to reinforce the thesis of economic migration and hide the reality that people are living,” he adds.

Osmanis Gálvez, 42, who emigrated to the United States three years ago, says he returns to the island at least once a year. He was recently repatriated after paying 100 CUC in an office of the Ministry of the Interior.

“I will not go to live in Cuba, but this is a way to inherit my mother’s house and bring her the products she needs without having to pay for them in dollars at Havana customs,” he says.

Frank, a Cuban who has resided in Miami for two years, did not need to be repatriated because on obtaining his permanent residence in the United States, he immediately traveled to Cuba and was able to “enter” before the two-year term expired. Since then he has been traveling once a week to Cuba as a “mule”to carry products to supply the island’s growing black market.

Although travel is one of the most common desires among Cubans, it remains the preserve of those who maintain work and residence outside national borders or have relatives abroad to finance the escape, since on the island the average official monthly salary isn’t even $30, and a plane ticket to Miami costs almost a year’s salary.

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