Thousands of Cubans are risking their lives to claim asylum in the United States as the five-decade-old U.S. embargo continues to cripple the Caribbean country’s economy. Endless economic hardship, loosened travel restrictions and calm seas are among the factors currently encouraging Cubans to take the risk of sneaking into the U.S.
In this fiscal year alone, more than 25,000 illegal Cuban immigrants have arrived in the United States, according to a report by the New York Times. Many Cubans are getting on rickety, home-made boats and making the voyage Florida, while a few others are flying to Mexico in the hope of crossing the Texas border.
Cubans have lost hope in their economic prospects since 2008 when aged Fidel Castro handed over power to his own brother, Raúl Castro, instead of making ways for democratic process.
Cuba has recently passed new laws regarding foreign investment, offering tax cuts and investment security. But only a few foreign firms have taken interest in putting their money in the communist country.
The main hurdle is that foreign-owned companies can only hire local labor through a state agency, which will receive their salary and pay them in the weakened local peso.
Another threat to Cuba is Venezuela’s declining economy, which supplies Cuba with petroleum at a heavily subsidized price. Cuba is concerned that Venezuela will soon stop supplying it with cheap fuel.
To reverse its economic fortunes, Cuba has built a new seaport and a free economic zone based on the model of Singapore and it is negotiating with the European Union to enhance bilateral trade. But the U.S. sanctions, imposed over 50 years ago, have largely cut the country off from world trade.
The most influential newspaper in the United States, the New York Times, issues a strong editorial denouncing the US embargo on Cuba yesterday, arguing it is archaic and if not removed, will likely ‘cede’ trade opportunities to rival economic powers who will be able to wield greater economic influence.
The Obama administration has allowed Cuban Americans to send money to their family back home, but the restrictions on U.S. firms doing business in Cuba are still in place.