Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coy Policy On Refugees Of Cold War

For President Fidel Castro to lay the blame for the mass refugee exodus from Cuba solely at the door of the United States is patently absurd. The main reason why so many people want to leave Cuba is three decades of communist repression and economic mismanagement.

But it is undeniable that a great number of the thousands of people who have been setting sail for Florida aboard flimsy boats, rafts or even astride planks of wood have done so to take advantage of the former U.S. pledge to admit all asylum seekers from Cuba, encouraged further by Washington's economic embargo.

The U.S. decision last Friday to reverse its asylum policy and to detain all future boat people picked up at sea at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay was understandable given the scale of the exodus, but it carried with it an unpleasant odor of double standards.

Throughout the Cold War years, the issue of freedom of movement was one of the main sticks used by the West to belabor the communist camp. The denial of travel to Soviet Jews wishing to emigrate, to political dissidents, to artists and writers trying to throw off the bonds of totalitarian culture was raised at countless international conferences.

It was only when the Berlin Wall collapsed and the Iron Curtain was torn down at the end of 1989 that the West grasped the implications of the new freedom of movement and hurriedly erected its own barriers against a feared tidal wave of impoverished refugees from Eastern Europe and the Soviet republics.

As the lines of would-be emigrants snaked longer and longer around the Western embassies in Moscow, Warsaw and Bucharest, Western Europe began to talk more and more of the need to bar "economic refugees" trying to take advantage of the social benefits and financial opportunities of life in the West.

Now the United States in turn is talking about the need to curb the numbers of Cuban "economic refugees" -- a term that was rarely if ever applied to the thousands of exiles from the 60s, 70s and 80s who made their fortunes in Miami.

As with the collapse of the iron curtain, the gradual erosion of the Castro regime has forced the United States to reconsider its invitation to the huddled masses of the former communist world. This may seemmorally unacceptable, but it is also a simple fact of history.

But in the case of Cuba, Washington is at the same time encouraging people to flee by imposing an embargo and broadcasting to Cuba about the regime's shortcomings while refusing refugees entry to the United States. This dual policy is not imposed by history, it is hypocrisy.