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date: 20 July 2019

Summary and Keywords

After more than a century of sporadic immigration from the island of Cuba to the United States, the trajectory of the diaspora accelerated steeply, beginning with Fidel Castro coming to power in 1959. In the ensuing years, as bilateral relations between the Communist regime in Havana and the administrations of President Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy soured and the exodus of upper-class, then middle-class, Cubans increased until Castro clamped down on it. Thereafter, the pace of departures became episodic, involving mainly working-class people, and their nature turned increasingly desperate. Three major immigration events punctuated the next 30 years: in 1965 from the port of Camarioca, in 1980 from the bay city of Mariel, and, again in 1994, a more general wave of flight that also heavily involved the port of Mariel. These bursts of seaborne migration came against a backdrop of constant, low-level, individual efforts to flee adverse circumstances in Castro’s Cuba. These include manifold political pressures, with opponents of the regime and cultural nonconformists alike facing harassment and imprisonment; as well as other severe economic challenges, with food scarcity, fuel shortages, and unreliable electric power making daily life difficult for the vast majority of Cuban citizens.

U.S. opposition to Castro has taken many forms, beginning with economic sanctions. A complete break in relations followed in early 1961, an invasion attempt at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, and, later, a Central Intelligence Agency–sponsored campaign of terrorist attacks and assassination attempts code-named Operation Mongoose. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, a nearly complete embargo has prevented any sort of trade or tourism. In response to the influx of new Cuban arrivals, U.S. policy toward the immigrants themselves altered radically, facilitating their arrival and assimilation as political refugees until August 1994, then actively preventing their entry as economic refugees, until this writing.

Keywords: Cuba, foreign relations, immigration, Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, Camarioca, Mariel, balseros, refugees

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