Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Cuba's White Flight

By David G. Young

Miami Beach, FL, August 23, 2022 --  

A giant wave of migrants from Cuba promises to again remake Florida and perhaps America itself.

Another 41 Cuban migrants arrived by boat in the Florida Keys on Sunday1, with 21 arriving the day before.2  Hundreds more arrived a week earlier.  Between October and June, US Customs and Border Protections reports apprehending 1,300 on the shores of Florida and another 4,000 at sea.3 

Stunningly, these mass arrivals are only a drop in the bucket compared to Cubans crossing the Mexican border.  Customs counted a total of 178,000 Cuban arrivals between last October and July.4 The unprecedented surge has now surpassed the combined size of the infamous 1980 Mariel Boatlift and the 1994 surge that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union

There are two main causes of the new migration.  Cuba’s economy is in terrible shape following three years where the pandemic depressed tourism.  The country is short on foreign exchange, and recently had to devalue the Peso by a factor of five.5  

Frequent power blackouts caused by fuel shortages were made worse by a disastrous oil depot fire that saw reserves go literally up in smoke.  And protests erupting last year caused the Cuban government to increase repression, yielding further misery.

Secondly, a new land route through Mexico has opened up providing a relatively easy way out.  Last November, the Nicaraguan government announced it would no longer require a visa for Cuban arrivals.6 This inspired tens of thousands of  Cubans to fly to Managua then take busses north to the U.S. border.  

Prior to this opening, many migrants had to fly to South American countries, then hire smugglers to guide them through the treacherous jungles of the Darian Gap separating Panama and Colombia.  A flight to Managua eliminates the most dangerous part of that trip.

Most Cuban migrants now walk across the southern border of the U.S. where they immediately surrender to Border Patrol agents, knowing that most will be granted asylum.  After being held briefly, the migrants will board busses or planes to join their relatives in south Florida or other parts of the United States.

This may seem crazy, but that convoluted journey is currently the easiest way.  Cubans can't just board a flight to the United States -- direct flights were ended at the start of the pandemic, and visa issuance in Cuba was halted  after the mysterious sonic attacks on the Havana embassy in 2017.  Lack of visas blocks Cubans from boarding flights from any country to the US.

If trends continue, about 210,000 Cubans — more than 1 percent of the country’s population — will arrive this year many joining relatives (mostly in Florida), and increasing the size of the Cuban-American community by 10 percent this year alone.  

The pipeline of new arrivals starts with legal residency, then green cards, and ultimately U.S. citizenship granting the right to vote.  Since Cubans already dominate Miami-Dade, the political impact of this surge there will be minor.  But the difference will be strongly felt in Florida’s statewide races and perhaps in national elections.

The days where Florida was a purple battleground are now gone.  Donald Trump’s successful wooing of the growing Cuban vote has turned the state solidly red.  Last week, in the wake of FBI raids on Tump's Palm Beach estate, Cuban American's organized a caravan from the Cuban suburb of Hialeah to rally behind the former president.7  

While most Americans' support for Trump waned during his presidency, for Cuban-Americans it actually increased.  Between the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, Florida's Cuban vote for Trump grew from 54 precent to 62 percent.8

It's not surprising that Cuban immigrants lean right, given their traumatic experience with a repressive communist regime.   Trump wins fans by taking a hardline stance on Cuba and painting his opponents as socialists.  What is surprising is that many Cubans also cheer Trump’s hardline immigration policies on non-Cubans that liberal Americans consider racist.  Why?

Over 85 percent of Cubans-Americans self-identified as white in the 2010 census, despite the fact that the last Cuban census reports the population as only 64 precent white with large black and mixed race communities.9,10.  Thhe strong white identity of Cuban-American community undoubtedly fuels their love of Trump and the America First movement.  Many do not see themselves as minorities -- they see themselves as white people who must fight for their rights against brown-skinned rivals.

To be sure, not all Cubans share these views, notably many Afro-Cubans.  But when it comes to electoral change, it is the majority that matters, and that majority has some pretty ugly politics.  It is ironic that the United States rightfully grants asylum to victims of communist oppression, only to have those refugees back a president who works to dismantle American democracy.

It will probably be 2030 before the hundreds of thousands of Cubans now arriving will have the right to vote with significant numbers.  But that day will come.  And long before that happens, there are hundreds of thousands of other Cubans exiting the naturalization pipeline, just waiting to tip the balance of the next election.


1. WPLG News, 41 Cuban Migrants Detained in 2 Separate Landfalls in the Florida Keys, August 22, 2022

2. Ibid, 27 Cuban Migrants in Custody After Two Landings in Keys Official Says, August 20, 2022

3. Associated Press, 187 Cuban Migrants Arrested Landing, August 15, 2022

4. Bloomberg, More People are Now Fleeing Cuba than During the 1980 and 1994 Crises, August 17, 2022

5. Central Banking, Cuban Regime to buy Foreign Currency Near Market Rates, August 4, 2022

6. Reuters, Nicaragua Eliminates Visa Requirement for Cubans, November 23, 2022

7. WPTV News, Mainly Hispanic Pro-Trump Caravan Rides from Hialeah to Mar-a-Lago, August 13, 2022

8. Politico, New Poll Shows Cuban-American Voters Align With GOP, March 16, 2021

9. US Census Bureau, The Hispanic Population 2010, May 2011

10. CIA world Facebook, Cuba, as posted August 23, 2022