The month after Nicaragua authorized free visas for Cubans, the country recorded —last December— the highest number of arrivals in the last two years: 6,178, according to data from Migration and Immigration. Official statistics reveal that, between January and November 2021, a monthly average of 137 Cubans arrived in Nicaraguan territory. Likewise, the increase occurred after a drastic decrease in trips from Cuba, due to covid-19.
The free visa for Cubans was approved, by the Government of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, on November 22, 2021, and since then it has caused thousands of Antilleans to use Nicaragua as a “springboard” to migrate to the United States, a phenomenon that although the national arrival figures for 2022 are not known, it already reflects a high migration of Cubans to this country influenced by the relaxation of Nicaraguan immigration measures.
According to data from the Customs and Border Protection Office, from December 2021 to April 2022, 102,168 Cubans were apprehendeda figure that already doubles the amount recorded in the previous fiscal report (from October 2020 to September 2021) which reported 39,303 arrests.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to The New York Times, revealed that “most of them (the apprehended Cubans) first flew to Nicaragua and then they made the trip overland to the United States”.
Cuban migration before the pandemic
Data from Migration and Immigration reveal that the year in which the most Cuban migrants have arrived in Nicaragua was 2019 and this was due to the fact that, in January of that year, the Government of Nicaragua relaxed the migratory requirements by moving the island from category C to category B.
This gave the Nicaraguan consul in Havana the power to grant a tourist visa to a Cuban without making so many inquiries, and without waiting for the approval of the National Directorate of Immigration and Aliens in Managua. Consequently, in that year, 44,829 Cubans traveled to Nicaragua, 64 times more than the previous year, when only 701 arrived.
The wave of Cubans was characterized by hundreds of thousands who regularly traveled to Nicaragua to buy products and then market them on the island. Meanwhile, others continued their journey to the US.
“A pair of shoes that you buy here, in Nicaragua, for two pesos there can be sold for 30 or 40. The difference is worldwide: soaps that cost six pesos here cost 20 there,” he said in a report by CONFIDENTIALpublished in December 2019, one of the Cubans who had already traveled about three times that year.
In the first quarter of 2020, the figures showed a high trend of Cuban migration to Nicaragua. Between January and March, 15,357 Cubans arrived in Managua, but in April there were no more visits. The abrupt reduction was due to the pandemic that, although at the time the Ortega government barely reported the first five infections nationwide, On the island, at least five Cubans were known who arrived infected after traveling to Nicaragua. In addition to other migratory restrictions that were experienced worldwide.
In December 2020 there was a peak of 1,588 Cubans arriving in Nicaragua, but the trend dropped in 2021. The Migration and Immigration report, published in the statistical bulletin of the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR) 2021, indicates that 685 Cubans arrived in the first quarter of that year; in the second 268; and from September to November: 554. However, only in December, when the free visa was already authorized, the figure was 6,178.
The Miguel Díaz Canel regime has not ruled on the establishment of a free visa for Cubans. Nevertheless, For the islanders, it is clear that it is an agreement between the two leaders.
“This is not something that came from heaven” or that “coincidentally it occurred to Nicaragua to make this measure.” This “is programmed, is studied and has an intention on the part of the Government,” said journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor-in-chief of the Cuban digital media outlet 14ymedio last December.
In his opinion, Nicaragua’s announcement and Cuba’s silence “is a compromise in which the two rulers have agreed,” which is done with various intentions. Between them, provoke an increase in the migratory crisis on the southern border of the United States and thus force the Joe Biden Administration to open a channel of negotiations with Cuba.
Last May, the Biden government announced that commercial flights to several Cuban cities will be restored and the limit of US$1,000 per quarter on remittances will be suspended. The measure was announced after both countries discussed the high migratory wave.