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Cuba’s record exodus rolls on

Regional 20 Mar, 2023 Follow News

Some Cubans live in dire conditions

Cubans in their record numbers are still fleeing the island as it suffers its worst socio-economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The number of Cubans seeking entry to the US, mostly at the Mexican border, leapt from 39,000 in 2021 to more than 224,000 in 2022. Many have sold their homes at knockdown prices to afford one-way flights to Nicaragua and travel through Mexico to the US.

Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants find themselves in increasingly desperate straits. Internal migration from the poorer provinces has led to overpopulation in Havana. Those for whom the government can’t provide homes live in albergues (precarious abandoned buildings refashioned as temporary homes). Others live in solares (tenement buildings), some at serious risk of collapse.

Acute shortages of food and medicine are a daily reality in a country that’s been ravaged by a US trade embargo since 1962, and strict government control of the economy since 1959. Regular power outages have reminded Cubans of the early 1990s when Soviet subsidies ended as the USSR collapsed, leaving the island struggling.

To survive that “special period”, Cuba became reliant on hard currency earnings from international tourism and nationals working abroad. Both are now much reduced. COVID measures closed the island to foreign tourists and reduced visitor numbers by 75% during 2020.

Ill-timed currency reforms, which unified Cuba’s two currencies, in early 2021 created an inflationary shock. Food shortages have sparked a black market boom.

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